Taking Legal Power to the People
Alum’s apps promote autonomy for clients with disabilitiesBy Cathy Lawhon
Michael Iseri, J.D. ’15 calls himself hardheaded.
His life path backs up that assertion. In high school, he was shot in the skull while walking with his twin brother. He lost nearly 3 pints of blood and had surgery to remove the embedded pellet-gun shot. A 1-inch difference in the bullet’s trajectory could have been lethal.
Born with oromotor dyspraxia, which made it difficult for him to form words, Iseri overcame a severe speech impediment to graduate summa cum laude from UC Berkeley.
He doggedly applied to more than 15 law schools a year for three-plus years before being accepted at the UCI School of Law. Administrators of the LSAT had maintained that Iseri’s disabilities did not warrant any special testing accommodations – a ruling he labels “clear, outright discrimination” – so his scores were less than stellar. When UCI gave him a chance, he proved himself, graduating on time and passing the bar on his first try.
“All this has provided me a different perception of life than most people,” Iseri, 30, says today. “I have a greater appreciation and understanding of people’s stories, and I empathize with and relate to people who are struggling.”
Combining this perception and his education with a natural affinity for technology, he recently launched an enterprise called LAWPP that markets two mobile programs to lawyers and public-interest corporations. The Esq. A.I. computer application offers simplified versions of legal documents so that clients with learning disabilities, autism or language barriers can complete them in a way that promotes self-determination and respects their autonomy, Iseri says. It was born of his passion for public-interest law and his longtime advocacy for people with disabilities.
“Taking time to talk to people and mentor them one-on-one is something I love,” he says, “but I can have more impact through technology. I can allow clients to self-advocate and have access to accurate information. There’s too much out there that’s misinformation, fluff and noise.”
Essentially, Esq. A.I. utilizes a simple interface and custom artificial intelligence to automate almost any legal need. It enables anyone – from a seasoned attorney to a first-time client – to fill out legal documents, forms and letters quickly and correctly. For cybersecurity reasons, no content is transmitted on the internet, ensuring that it remains under attorney/client control. The program can switch easily to many different languages, which is especially useful for pro bono and public-interest law clinics.
LAWPP also provides guides with streamlined legal information and maps of local legal resources in California. The two published so far explore small-claims procedures and services for the homeless. With additional support and funding, other guides are planned on elder abuse, identity theft, domestic violence, landlord/tenant and housing disputes, traffic citations, etc.
Iseri says his products will let attorneys set up mobile clinics focused on basic public-interest law out of an overnight bag – necessitating only a touch-screen tablet and a wireless printer.
“It’s like the automobile in the age of the horseless carriage,” he says. “More importantly, technology is an equalizer in terms of people with physical disabilities, ADHD or autism.”