A Portland lawyer combines technology and litigation to battle incarceration of immigrants and refugees.
In 2014 countries in Central America erupted in horrific violence, fueled by gang warfare and corrupt security forces.
“Children and women were being murdered by the dozens,” says Stephen Manning, “and the U.S. responded by detaining and deporting them.”
Manning is an immigration attorney and founder of the Innovation Law Lab, a nonprofit that uses data-driven technology to assist immigrants and refugees.
Borrowing language and tactics from the open-source software community, the Lab functions as a crowdsourced legal representation system. It breaks cases down into discrete tasks and distributes the work to lawyers around the country.
The group’s software algorithm combs successful cases to understand how lawyers actually win — for example, how much face time they had with clients and whether government counsel cooperated.
“People win cases; technology doesn’t win cases,” Manning says. “What the technology has done is to revolutionize our ability to see data.”
The proof is in the outcomes. The Lab has represented 40,000 cases — and won almost all of them.
Because detention centers are sited in remote areas, it’s incredibly difficult for detainees to get representation, Manning says. “Massive collaborative representation allows local lawyers to deliver legal services in hostile locations.”
A similar spirit animates the Centers of Excellence, a Lab spinoff that trains attorneys outside the immigration space to provide assistance to asylum seekers or unaccompanied minors.
The initiative has expanded “as our latest president intends mass deportations,” says Manning, who launched centers in Atlanta and North Carolina last year; an outpost opened in Portland in February.
Capitalizing on what Manning calls the “force multiplier” effect, the centers tap the country’s top immigration experts to work with local counsel.
“Nonimmigration lawyers bring outside knowledge,” Manning says, “but since they are patent lawyers in their normal lives, or in-house counsel, they don’t understand what a deportation proceeding is.”
His group “takes the knowledge of the top 10 national experts, and multiplies their force across the country.”
Rose City attorneys have responded with enthusiasm. The Portland Center of Excellence trained 150 lawyers in February, and in March placed 30 lawyers on cases. The next placement is in May, Manning says.
Proceeds from the sale of the Lab’s proprietary software help fund the pro bono refugee and immigrant representation work.
Attorneys in other practice areas — real estate, patent law — have asked the group to modify the technology. But the four-person development team “just doesn’t have the bandwidth,” Manning says.
The task at hand is ambitious enough.
“We’re applying big data in a very progressive, powerful way to make sure the federal executive adheres to rule-of-law principles.”
This article is part of a package story on legal trends that was published in the May issue of Oregon Business.