John Marshall clinic helps produce online ‘virtual lawyer’ for domestic violence survivors

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As published by Yahoo Finance 

An innovative partnership between The John Marshall Law School and technology company Anyone Can Learn to Code will result in a series of interactive online tools to assist victims of domestic violence in Illinois.

Professor Debra Pogrund Stark, director of John Marshall’s Domestic Violence Clinic, wanted to find a way to improve access to legal information for domestic violence survivors, many of whom lack the resources to hire an attorney. Recognizing the unique needs of the prospective users, she imagined a welcoming and encouraging online legal resource that would mimic how an attorney would help a client—a virtual lawyer. Users would be led step-by-step through a fact-gathering process with tangible results and practical guidance.

Jay Wengrow, founder and CEO of Anyone Can Learn to Code, teaches programming and creates internships for his students, so they can get practical experience while doing good work for worthy organizations.

Stark and Wengrow have established a collaborative relationship where student code writers work with law students and supervising clinical attorneys to create technology-enhanced legal resources for survivors of domestic violence who must advocate for themselves.

The first project addresses tax liability and educates users about “innocent spouse relief.” When an abusive situation leads to a spouse having financial liability that is solely attributable to the abusing spouse, the tax code allows for release from this liability, but it is difficult to obtain. The goal of the partnership between John Marshall and Anyone Can Learn to Code is to simplify the analysis and production of legal forms, so that a domestic violence survivor can determine whether he or she qualifies for the tax liability defense, and then produce the documents required to pursue the claim.

The law school and company will complete the interactive pre-qualifier and, before the end of the year, will create the interactive Form 8857. Guidance in tax-related matters is being supplied by Demetrius Karos, a Frankfort, Ill.-based tax and estate lawyer and CPA who is an alumnus of John Marshall and a supervising attorney with the law school’s Domestic Violence Clinic. His daughter, Kayla Karos, is a J.D. candidate at the law school and works on the project in the Clinic, earning credit toward graduation for her efforts.

“I’m not aware of any other law school engaged in creating this kind of technology-enhanced legal resource designed especially for survivors of domestic violence,” Stark said, “and we’re looking forward to expanding the scope of the project as quickly as possible. We’re working to create new and better ways to assist victims and survivors in desperate need of legal assistance.”

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