Statesman of the Month: Matthew Stubenberg

Matthew Stubenberg studied political science in college. In law school, he discovered a passion for criminal law and clerked for the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. Now, he works for a legal nonprofit. 

Sounds like the making of a trial lawyer, right? Guess again. Stubenberg is one of the growing number of Juris Doctors to add “coder” to his resume. With several successful web applications to his name, he currently works as the IT director for the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.

“Even with nonprofit attorneys, we can only reach 20 percent of people who are in need of legal representation,” Stubenberg said. “It is unlikely that nonprofit lawyers will ever get five times more funding. The only way to reach those people is through technology.”

Coding was a skill he picked up in high school. He loved it, but his coding muscle atrophied as he pursued a law degree. When he graduated from law school in 2013, he realized that the problems confronting the legal industry could only be remedied with technology. 

After passing the bar exam, Stubenberg dusted off his coding textbooks and began rebooting his technical skillset. His first project, Not Guilty, was a smartphone app inspired by his experiences as a county court clerk, where lawyers were expected to carry around sheets of paper containing each judges’ information. The app digitized the physical paper and added biographical information about each judge.

 


“There are so many people that need legal help, and technology is the only way to do that,” Stubenberg said.


  

As the IT director of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Services, Stubenberg creates in-house, scalable technology solutions for underfunded legal aid and criminal justice programs. MDExpungement, his second project, is one of those programs.

MDExpungement was inspired by Stubenberg’s participation in his law school’s expungement clinic. Looking back on the experience, he realized that most of the attorney’s tasks could be automated.

Using MDExpungement, clients simply enter their case number into an online user interface. A computer program then “scrapes” public court documents online, pulling the relevant case file. The file is then pushed through an algorithm that determines whether or not the client’s case is expugnable. If it is expugnable, then MDExpungement automatically populates court forms using information pulled from the public record. All the client has to do is print the form and file.

Already in its second year, MDExpungement has generated more than 30,000 expungement filings and saved Maryland residents an estimated $750,000.

On the heels of MDExpungement’s success, Stubenberg created a database that analyzes Maryland court documents from over 7.5 million civil and criminal cases stretching back to the 1980s. The project is called the Client Legal Utility Engine, or CLUE. The program uses the same scraping function as MDExpungement and allows the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers team to holistically vet clients during intake. The process allows the team to catch any other pending legal matters that the potential client is facing, and in many cases, provide assistance on those issues as well.

Stubenberg has been able to demonstrate the utility of technology in improving nonprofit legal representation; however, he continues to encounter resistance from skeptics. 

“I am still in the process of convincing people that this is useful,” Stubenberg said. “People don’t like the idea of a computer taking over parts of an attorney’s job. It can be worrisome to them because they cannot see what is going into the back end of the program.”

Earlier this year, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender asked Stubenberg to help with bail bond reform. Data that was gathered and analyzed by CLUE was used in a final report on the issue, influencing Maryland’s highest state court to issue a ruling to stop holding defendants on bail simply because they cannot afford it.

Stubenberg said there were several other projects in the pipeline. His most recent project involves the use of virtual reality to train young lawyers for the courtroom. The training is available on YouTube. 

“I encourage every law student to take a computer programming class,” Stubenberg said. “Even if they don’t go out and become software developers, being able to recognize what can be automated and a basic understanding of how software works is invaluable.”

 


 

Every month, we honor a practicing attorney for going above and beyond in service to their clients and community. Do you know a practicing attorney that has served as a model for the legal profession? If so, we want to hear about it. Submit your nominations for Statesman of the Month to Tyler@CypressMagazines.com.