Eight students from BYU Law’s LawX Legal Design Lab have developed an online resource called Goodbye Record designed to troubleshoot criminal record deletion errors in Utah and possibly other states.
I’ve written several times about LawX, a laboratory program launched in 2017 in which law students use design thinking to analyze and address critical issues in accessing justice. In each semester-long laboratory, the students deal with a different topic.
Previous LawX projects have led to the development of SoloSuit to help consumers respond to debt collection disputes that have been outsourced as a private company and Hello Landlord to help tenants communicate more effectively with their landlords about issues leading to eviction being able to lead .
In an interview yesterday, Marie Kulbeth, one of three associate professors who ran the lab that semester, and Tanner Schenewark, a 2021 graduate who attended (and now joins Clifford Chance in her New York office) told me that they did so chose Expungement as their topic this year, also based on BYU Law’s past experience of offering a Pro Bono Expungement Clinic.
The students initially planned to develop an app that would allow individuals to request deletion. When they investigated the problem as part of the design thinking process, they found that the bigger problem was that deletion often did not lead to the fresh start for which it was designed.
They found that system errors and outdated online information often make it difficult to completely erase a criminal history, even after it’s been erased, resulting in online leftovers that pop up during background checks and often prevent individuals from finding accommodation or employment to find.
An electronic toolkit
Given these findings, the students abandoned the app idea and instead built an online resource addressing three main ingredients that can help ensure second chances for those whose records have been deleted: employers, individuals, and governments.
“The idea is really to provide an electronic toolkit for the problem,” said Schenewark.
The employer component, which the Goodbye Record describes as a partner component, is aimed at employers and calls on them to accept the fair shot promise in order to implement and support a number of measures to reduce cases of false reports and thus give qualified persons a fair one Give shot at employment. Companies that do commit can display their company logo on the Goodbye Record website to let potential employees know that they are supporting people looking to make a fresh start.
The single component provides information to employees on how to overcome roadblocks after expulsion, including reporting violations to the Equal Opportunities Commission and Housing and Urban Development Department, and communicating with the eradication clearinghouse to help companies clear out evictions to support records from commercial databases.
Currently, individual petitioners in Utah are responsible for reaching out to all of the various agencies to ensure their records are cleared. This cannot be done electronically and often requires individuals to take time to work or find a job.
The government component looks at potential legislative and administrative solutions, including ways in which states and courts can improve the final step of deletion, restrict access points, and require commercial data subscribers to update their databases.
Addressing of downstream data
One solution the students have developed to address the government component is improved contract language between governments and data subscribers. The students found that courts and government agencies have contracts with public records companies to regularly provide criminal data, and that these companies often resell their data lower down. However, when deletions are granted, companies don’t always update their data, so criminal records continue to appear in online databases and during criminal records reviews.
The students developed a contract language that governments can use with these companies that does two things. First, companies need to regularly update their databases to reflect the deletions. Second, it provides an auditing process to ensure companies are complying with regulations.
The students also urge states to pass laws to shift the burden of distributing erasure orders from those who have been given the erasure to the agencies that keep those records.
Plans to go national
Earlier this month, LawX students presented their findings to the Utah Supreme Court and the Utah Courts Administration Office. As a result, the administrative office has committed to amending its aggregated data dissemination agreement to include the students’ language.
It is also considered to support legislation that would shift the burden of distributing deletion orders from individual petitioners to the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, which would have the power to electronically request other state agencies to remove deleted information from their records.
While student efforts have so far focused on Utah, they have designed Goodbye Record as a national resource and plan to move their lobbying work to other states once it starts.
In addition to Kulbeth, who is also COO and General Counsel at SixFifty, the lab was also led by Associate Professors Eric Vogeler, General Counsel and CCO at Genesis Block, and Justin Whittaker, Principal at Invisible Co., who shared his product expertise and business development and design thinking.
The lab also consulted with Utah Supreme Court Justice Constandinos “Deno” Himonas, who is known nationwide for his role in developing the Utah regulatory sandpit.
“I’m very excited about this project,” Himonas said in a statement from LawX. “It’s such a powerful example of design thinking and application. Instead of trying to repeat other efforts, LawX surveyed the room and tried to understand what the real chokes are in order to come up with some really innovative approaches to the extinguishing process. “
Justice and mercy
Given that Schenewark is now on his way to embarking on a career as an associate in the Transactions Group at Clifford Chance, I asked him if he thought his LawX work on a criminal justice issue would add something to his future career contributed.
As it turned out, it was his summer associate position at Clifford Chance, a company known for innovation, where he had the opportunity to work with legal automation startup Josef, that piqued his appetite for legal tech and drove him to LawX to enroll.
Working through the design thinking process in LawX showed him how complex legal issues can be and how many moving parts must be managed to address them, he said.
“If you are able to come up with a solution that is elegant and effective, I think it has been a great result,” he said. “I hope that I will push that forward in my career.”
Kulbeth pointed out something else that students learn. BYU Law tries to instill a sense of not only justice but also compassion in students, she said, and annihilation is an aspect of the criminal justice system that truly implies compassion.
The person granted expulsion has passed their time, completed all probation, paid all fines and now wants to have the chance to live their life and be part of their community.
“To me, that’s the meaning behind the project,” said Kulbeth. “We cannot have a perfect judicial system. We know we don’t have any. So we need to find a way in which mercy can be built into the system. “