"close up of metal lady justice holding scales"Since 2009, the ABA Journal has recognized lawyers who are pushing the legal profession forward, whether that’s by leveraging technology, improving systems, or imagining new ways of practicing law. Last week, it was announced that several friends of IAALS—including alumni Natalie Knowlton and Zack DeMeola—made the 2023 Class of Legal Rebels. “These forward thinkers aren’t waiting for the next major disruption to hit the legal industry,” the ABA Journal said. “Instead, they’re hoping to be in front of it—or in some cases, the cause of it.” 

Natalie, advisor to IAALS on regulatory innovation and longtime member of the IAALS team, has certainly been on the frontlines of disruption and was recognized for her work on regulatory reform, which has provided a foundation for efforts across the country to create a more user-centered and accessible legal system. She led our Cases Without Counsel project, a first-of-its-kind, multi-state qualitative empirical research study designed to explore experiences, behaviors, perceptions, and feelings from the self-represented litigants’ perspective—and in their own words.

“People don’t understand the line between giving legal advice and information,” she says, adding that consumers often felt everyone working in the court system was saying no to them, which creates tension. “And judges are concerned about how to balance their duty to remain neutral with their duty to dispense justice.”

Natalie brought her commitment to championing the user experience to our Unlocking Legal Regulation project, which launched in 2019. Unlocking Legal Regulation is dedicated to promoting a justice system that meets the demands of everyday people, by clearing regulatory obstacles to innovation, development, and collaboration. Natalie and the team worked to provide quality data, resources, and recommendations to states looking to implement regulatory reform, including Utah and Arizona among others.  

In addition to leading our work on family justice and regulatory reform, Natalie has written extensively on subjects such as access to justice, legal technology, and self-represented litigation, and has spoken on these issues at conferences throughout the country. 

Zack DeMeola, former director of education and the profession at IAALS, is also part of the Legal Rebels Class of 2023. He was recognized for his efforts to develop a professional identity formation program for the Law School Admission Council, a concept he first became familiar with at IAALS while working with our Foundations for Practice survey data. He and the team created tailored resources for students, educators, and employers to capitalize on the Foundations data and improve legal education and legal hiring. “Lawyers will tell us they want something, but they won’t behave the same way when it comes to actual hiring practices,” he explained to the ABA Journal. “We tried to use the data to get a shift in behavior.”

IAALS has had the privilege of collaborating with several other 2023 Legal Rebels. Stacy Butler was recognized for her direction of the Innovation for Justice (i4j) Program at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and University of Utah David Eccles School of Business, where she and her students apply design- and systems-thinking methodologies to expose inequalities in the justice system and create new, replicable, and scalable strategies for legal empowerment. Patrick Palace, former president of the Washington State Bar Association and vice chair of the ABA Center for Innovation, was highlighted for his efforts to push lawyers to embrace innovation and change in the profession, including as co-host of the third season of the ABA Innovation Network podcast and sharing how technology has transformed his own practice. And, Sonja Ebron and Debra Slone were celebrated for Courtroom5, their subscription-based platform that uses artificial intelligence to help demystify the civil court process for people representing themselves. 

We’re proud to count so many legal rebels among our friends and collaborators at IAALS, and anticipate much more disruption in their—and our legal system’s—future