JD student discovers aptitude for legal technology at MLS

Second year student Wendy Li came to Melbourne Law School from China because she thought an Australian law degree would benefit her professional career. Little did she know she would be part of MLS’s first LawWithoutWalls X team – a four month-long competition in which students from law schools around the world collaborate to solve legal problems through innovation.

Wendy Li

It may come as a surprise to some that when Wendy Li arrived in Australia to study the JD, she was already a qualified legal practitioner in China.

“I grew up in Shandong Province, the hometown of Confucius,” she says. “In Shandong there is a very deep culture that emphasises education – which means there is no such thing as too many degrees!”

Wendy knew that having degrees in both common law and Chinese law would open up employment opportunities in Australian-Chinese trade and investment. Since beginning her JD studies, she has undertaken an internship at a large international law firm in China and a local firm in Australia.

Yet for Wendy, one unintended consequence of studying at MLS has been discovering her passion and aptitude for legal technology.

Wendy’s path from law student to legal tech prodigy began when her application was accepted to be a part of the LawWithoutWalls X 2017 (LWOW X 2017) legal problem-solving competition.

The competition brings together students from over 30 law and business schools around the world and tasks them with identifying and solving a problem relating to law. The theme assigned to Wendy’s team was ‘cyberbullying’.

Wendy’s team’s submission was a fully functioning online chat bot, which they built from scratch.

“We researched cyberbullying and discovered that when school-aged children are bullied they do not go to their teachers or their parents for help. Instead, they look for help online through forums or blogs.

“Our solution was a chat bot: it addresses students’ initial isolation, but still directs them to in-person help at a later time,” she explains.

One challenge for Wendy and her team was getting the language right, because the academic language she uses in her legal essays wasn’t necessarily appropriate for the app.

“We wanted the chat bot to use the language that actual teenagers use, so we had to talk with students and read their online stories,” Wendy says.

The comprehensive approach taken by Wendy’s team won them the ‘most viable’ award from the judges. Yet for Wendy, the real highlight of the competition was being paired with academic, business, entrepreneur and legal mentors from around the world.

“Our alumni advisors were from University College London and Sydney University, and our business mentors were from Brazil and New York.”

Wendy admits that her career goals are less defined now than when she first started her JD – but only because doing a second law degree has opened her eyes up to all the opportunities that exist for today’s legal graduates.

“I loved my commercial law internship, but my experience in the LWOW X competition has made me think that working in a start-up would also be an amazing job.

“I’m just going to stay open-minded and see what opportunities come my way!”