In this week’s blog post, Ann reflects on her semester back in the college classroom with some reflections from her student, Neha.
Taproot Law stands apart from traditional law firms because yes, we are a legal firm, and, we are a legal tech firm that provides user-friendly and educational services, resources, and digital tools to folks across the U.P. We also recognize that technology is complex, with affordances and limitations, especially when it comes to the ways our clients do or do not access technology on the ground. Some clients we work with are tech savvy and prefer to do everything online. Others don’t have e-mail and prefer to talk on the phone or in person. So, how does a legal tech firm effectively meet the needs of such a diverse client base in both digital and physical settings? We posed this conundrum to the MSU students we worked with this semester and they mightily tackled this question head on while learning about best practices for research and improving products and services.
You can take the teacher out of the classroom but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher
In addition to my work at Taproot, I am also an educator by trade and a couple years ago, you could find me teaching full-time at Michigan State University in the Experience Architecture (XA) program. XA students are aspiring designers, researchers, and engineers who are interested in building and designing experiences for people in digital and physical environments. When I taught XA courses, we often worked with a community partner to solve problems and improve their products. This collaboration required deep research, innovative thinking, and direct communication with the community partner. It was an all-around rewarding experience for the students who got “real world” experience, community partners who learned new insights about how to improve their products, and me who was so proud of the innovative projects and recommendations my students developed for the community partner.
When I got settled at Taproot, I realized the design and tech work we are doing would make for a perfect way to partner with the MSU XA program as a community partner. When I reached out to my colleague, mentor, and director of the XA program, Casey McArdle, about the idea, he not only welcomed Taproot as a community partner, but also invited me to teach a research course this year. Back to the classroom I went!
This fall, in collaboration with my students, and through an additional partnership with MSU professor Kate Birdsall’s students, we engaged in hands-on learning experiences to improve Taproot’s legal products for clients across the Upper Peninsula.
At the beginning of the semester, the XA students met with the Taproot team to learn about our work and the products we are developing. We discussed our successes and challenges and from there, students worked on team-based projects to practice user experience research and make recommendations on how we can continue to improve our services and products. Frankly, after meeting with these students, we were blown away by the smart questions students asked us and so excited for how the semester would unfold.
Good research isn’t easy
Research, when done well, is HARD. Especially when it involves human beings. XA students set out to understand Taproot’s client base as well as the needs of our team–two approaches so crucial to understanding a person’s experience with a product or service. This required students to look beyond the classroom and collect data through methods like surveys, interviews, and analyses.
(Snapshots of the beginning stages from a couple student groups)
One of my students, Neha, reflected on her experience, “One important takeaway from working with Taproot Law is the importance of taking a measured and thoughtful approach to research. Rushing through the research process can lead to incomplete insights and ineffective solutions. I learned that it is essential to listen to clients, understand their unique needs, and approach each project with patience and empathy.” Indeed, students had to think pretty creatively about how to step out of their college-student lives for a moment and learn from people with different perspectives and experiences than their own through intentional and strategic research.
We have work to do!
It was rewarding to serve these people and offer them a voice in the fast changing digital world. Our effort connected technology to folks who felt overwhelmed by it so it felt rewarding in the end. –Neha
You know what else is HARD? Getting critical feedback that shows we need to make changes in order to more effectively meet the needs of our clients. It’s hard, but so valuable, because that’s exactly what we set out to do with our human-centered work and values. The XA students we worked with this semester, dug in and put together recommendations for updated design approaches for our website to make it more accessible, usable, and digestible, as well as specific strategies for communicating with folks who prefer online experiences and those who prefer to stick to the phone or in-person meetings. These strategies range from reevaluating things like preferred methods of payment and the platforms we use to communicate with our clients.
The same excitement we started with when first talking with MSU students at the beginning of the semester was ignited again when we met with them to hear their final presentations. I think I can speak for the whole Taproot team when I say it was a privilege to collaborate with this group during the fall semester. We’re so excited to implement changes in the new year that we know will make a positive difference for our clients and our team. And, stay tuned for more updates, because I return to the MSU classroom again in January! Go green, go white!
The hands-on human interactions and the emphasis on thorough research have equipped me with practical knowledge that will benefit me in my professional journey. –Neha
In addition to a new semester for Ann in January, check out upcoming events for Taproot below!
Thursday, December 21, 8 p.m. EDT: Tune in to WNMU-TV to watch Erica on Ask the Lawyers!
Wednesday, January 17, 6-7 p.m. EDT: Join Erica for an interactive workshop from our “What to Expect” series, Caring for an Aging Loved One