Law firms by nature are creatures of the adversarial process, but sometimes they find cooperation can be the best course to solving a problem for others.
“There was a problem that was presented regarding birth certificates for same-sex parents that are married,” said Stephanie Richter, senior website and digital marketing specialist at Thompson Coburn. “Whenever they have a child, there is a lot of confusion over how to fill out the birth certificate because there is a space for mother and a space for father, and that’s it.”
That prompted Richter’s firm to partner with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in the Global Legal Hackathon, an event that unfolded simultaneously in St. Louis and 45 other cities worldwide in which lawyers, programmers and others had only one weekend to devise a tech solution to a legal-practice problem. Their team came up with a website that can help new parents find resources and get answers via a decision tree that asks various questions to determine a couple’s exact situation.
“It seems very simple, but it is a very complex problem, and if you don’t fill this thing out correctly, [parents] could lose their rights,” said Richter. “So it has huge implications.”
BCLP was equally eager to address the issue.
“I think St. Louis is an area of thriving communities when it comes to things like technology and forward-thinking, innovative approaches to business and certainly a legal structure that can accommodate it,” said Christian Zust, director of the Client Technology Group at BCLP.
The result of the work at the hackathon was called “B-Ceen,” short for Birth Certificate Education and Navigation. The program was inspired in part by the real-life story of Kristi Smith, a member of BCLP’s Global Innovation Team, who encountered confusion when asking the hospital whether both she and her wife could sign their arriving child’s birth certificate.
B-Ceen aims to make that process easier for future parents.
“At the end, they are given some resources,” said Richter. “These are some options. Here are some people you can contact. It is just to help them out because this is a scary time. There is a lot of uncertainty, and if there is one simple thing we can do, we want to do it.”
Zust hopes to see it expand to other areas of the country.
“What we would love for this program to do would be to be a place where a same-sex couple from any state would be able to come and get information pertinent to their specific situation that they can rely on as being correct,” he said.
At the moment, B-Ceen is still in progress. But both firms hope to bring it online soon and perhaps even develop it into an app. It aims to cover a variety of issues, including steps to take before a baby is delivered, state laws regarding birth certificates and ways to amend existing documentation.
Teams from both firms said they are happy to work together to fix a problem faced by thousands of families.
“We just think that the collaboration between our two firms, putting aside any sort of history or competitiveness that we have in order to do something really awesome for our community, is so important and special,” said Richter. “That’s why we want to celebrate it.”
Added Zust: “It really is calling on not only the law firms in the community but the way we are looking to combine different constituents that have a commitment to resolving some of the same issues and helping some of the same causes, really bringing together the strengths they all bring to bear.”
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