The District of Columbia's legislature is hiring a legal-hacker-in-residence — a "Free Law Innovation Fellow", modeled in part on the success of the Code for America fellows program and the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.
The program is designed by V. David Zvenyach, the general counsel for the DC Council, and a role model for legal hacking. A year and a half ago, David was instrumental in opening the DC's legal code. Since then, he's become a prolific coder with a lot of projects under his belt. Like any other coder on the web today, David understands the power of small tools to make big changes.
The Free Law Innovation Fellow will work with David inside the DC Council, and will have the chance to build tools whose impact could easily transcend DC. The legal world operates at, well, a different pace than other sectors, and is at the very beginning of transforming itself through technology. This fellowship is perfectly positioned to play a big role in the revolution of legal systems and technology across the United States.
This is a magnificent experiment on the part of a major legal body in the United States, and something we should be very happy to see. But for that experiment to be a success, terrific people need to apply!
The fellowship in David's words:
The Innovation Fellow is as much an experiment as anything else: can developers, working in the open and side-by-side with practicing lawyers, make government work better and more accessible? Can lawyers learn to improve their practices by observing and integrating collaborative methods and tools that developers have mastered over the years? And can we do this in a sustainable way, engaging fully with the open-source community?
My theory is that developers can help make government data more accessible—through proactive disclosure of datasets and through smarter internal policies. My theory is that developers can build tools to help government lawyers work more effectively and with a greater focus on serving the public interest.
Let me be blunt: if my theory is right, the Innovation Fellow can be a complete game-changer for the public sector. But, for this to work, we need the right person for the job. We need a civic-hacker-in-residence who has the ability to understand a problem, ship code, and to get the job done. Most importantly, we need a person who wants to make a difference—in our nation’s capital and beyond.
So what kind of projects might the Free Law Innovation Fellow work on? Looking at the projects David and the DC community have done so far should point in the right direction:
- http://dccode.org/simple/ - A radically simple browser for the DC Code.
- http://codingforlawyers.com - An introducing to coding for lawers.
- https://twitter.com/scotus_servo - A Twitter-bot for tracking new cases and silent changes to the Supreme Court's docket.
Unlike some government jobs, this position shouldn't be a major financial sacrifice. The fellowship pays $80,000 for the year, with a $5,000 discretionary budget for travel and servers and stuff. That's more than enough to live in the District and enjoy yourself during your work for the Council.
If you want to apply, you don't have to draft a formal resume and cover letter. Just answer a few questions and submit the form.
And hey: you don't need legal hacking experience to apply. Bring your tech skills, your talent, and some civic enthusiasm, and get to work making DC's legal infrastructure a model for the rest of the world.