After graduating from the University of Michigan, Dina Nikitaides worked as an interactive website designer for a large corporate retailer. She'd always wanted to go to law school but put it off until she figured out what to do with the degree.
Finally, she says, "I realized that the Internet would have an impact on the law, and vice versa. So it clicked—something that incorporated both of my interests."
Chicago-Kent seemed just the place.
She was fascinated by Professor Ron Staudt's work using technology to deliver legal services to pro se litigants, and she ended up working for him, during law school and after. Meanwhile, she liked the ways Chicago-Kent incorporated technology in the classroom.
"I think they've been smart about seeing where the legal market is going," Dina says. "A lot of people go to law school thinking of attorneys you see on TV, working at corporate firms and going to court. But there are many other career paths you can take. Chicago-Kent does a good job of recognizing changes and adjusting the education of its students accordingly."
Dina is now the interactive content manager for Illinois Legal Aid Online (ILAO), which began at Chicago-Kent and later became an independent nonprofit.
In her current role, she creates and refines form preparation programs, using Chicago-Kent's A2J Author® software as a foundation that enables users-do-it-yourselfers, rural residents, homebound litigants who can't get to court, and individuals who can't afford attorneys—to complete online forms that generate court documents for specific legal needs, ranging from divorce to expungement to foreclosure. Her work targets the gap that exists between those who don't qualify for legal aid (or exceed the capacity of legal aid) and those who can afford attorneys.
The rewarding part of the job, she says, is hearing the stories of those who benefit from the resources ILAO offers. Most of that feedback comes from people who use the form prep programs.
Legal aid attorneys provide additional feedback as well. When creating new resources, Dina reaches out to legal aid organizations around the state to learn what their clients need.
"They're our guides, our legal experts. They provide the knowledge and experience we need to create resources for the public, and we create products to support their work with clients. It's a great reciprocal relationship."
ILAO is continuously adapting to new technologies. For example, a growing number of users are now accessing ILAO's resources on their phones, and that requires adjustments to the content and format.
In addition, staff are always on the lookout for new technologies that can enhance their products. "With technology developing so rapidly, some are probably already out there," she notes. "We just may not have identified them yet as solutions to our problems."
Her advice to current law students is, "Be prepared for the unknown. Be prepared to change what you thought your career was going to look like. Being open to other avenues, especially ones that incorporate technology, is something all students in school today should be doing."
This profile appeared in the summer 2015 issue of Chicago-Kent Magazine as part of a feature on alumni working at the intersections of law and technology.