Student is an MSU Law Innovation Assistant

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Irene Mo remembers when her parents – immigrants from Canton (Guangzhou), China, with limited English-speaking skills – struggled to find an attorney to help them purchase a Chinese restaurant. The experience left a big impression on Mo, then in middle school and now a 2L student at Michigan State University College of Law.

“Unless you’re looking in Big Law or immigration law, there’s a large disparity of Asian-American attorneys in the legal field,” notes Mo, the sole Asian-American in her class at MSU Law’s Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute (TPI), where only 32 students are selected each year. “It’s a rarity to see an Asian-American litigation attorney, especially in the Midwest, and I would like to see more Asian-Americans in that field.”

Mo has been an Innovation Assistant for MSU Law’s LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation – since last May, a work undertaking she terms her most rewarding to date. With her passion for providing efficient, quality legal services, this position has given her numerous opportunities to meet thought-leaders in the legal innovation and technology field.

“For example, I’ve been able to work under second-generation lean senseis to improve processes for non-profit legal organizations,” she says.

LegalRnD also has earned her kudos. In June 2015, she and her team won the challenge at LexHacks in Chicago to create an email application to detect personally identifiable information. After every team submitted their solutions for different challenges, participants were given an opportunity to privately present their solutions to each challenge judge.

“My team had developed an e-mail add-on to detect personally identifiable information at the point of distribution and I believe it was our private presentation of that application that won us the challenge,” says Mo, who afterwards wrote an article, “Execution Plus: Selling Why Your Solution is The Solution.”

For the “Code the Deal Legal Hackathon” last October in Los Angeles, Mo and her team built an Android application to inform tenants of potential legal issues with their leases. The project won the HP Haven on Demand Prize, Real Estate Prize, and Grand Prize.

“This event was different from LexHacks as our team had committed to building a solution for only one challenge and went into the weekend with more preparation,” she says. “I was able to apply the project management skills I had developed during my second year at MSU Law by overseeing four other law students and two programmers in building the Android application.”

Since joining MSU Law, Mo has developed a passion for increasing access to legal services by applying lean process improvement, project management, and technology and innovation – and has put these LegalRnD principles in practice as co-chair of the “Help 150 Families Campaign,” an Alternative Spring Break program that provides free tax preparation services to low-income taxpayers in rural Michigan.

“By running our Alternative Spring Break program efficiently, we’ll be able to help more low-income taxpayers than in previous years,” she says. “Providing this free service is important because low-income taxpayers are often victims of identity theft and fraud.”

Last February and March, the program assisted 120 taxpayers. Ten volunteers, supervised by two licensed tax attorneys, each donated more than 40 service hours. Mo raised more than $1,000 over the course of 30 days for the program, but that only covered one third of the costs. This year, as co-chair, she has set a personal goal of raising $2,500 through the end of March, money that will allow up to 10 MSU Law students to assist taxpayers.

“As the child of Chinese immigrants, I’m forever thankful for the helping hands that allowed me to be in my current position,” she says. “My parents had to turn to me for almost every interaction that required them to use English. I’ll never forget organizations, similar to the Help 150 Families Campaign, which reached out to my family and helped us become more independent.”

A member of Phi Alpha Delta, Mo serves as president of the MSU Law American Chinese Attorneys Club, vice president of the Intellectual Property Law Society, treasurer of the Asian Pacific Law Students Association and treasurer of LegalLaunchPad, as well as American Bar Association liaison to the MSU Law Student Bar Association.

  She has been a Student Navigator for ZeekBeek since last April, helping State Bar of Michigan members claim their profiles and grow their online presence; providing feedback to ZeekBeek regarding the expansion of directory features and products; and representing ZeekBeek at State Bar events and technology showcases.

“Working for a start-up is exciting,” she says. “Student Navigators are constantly asked about their opinion on ZeekBeek’s strategies for reaching out to law students and practitioners.”

Last summer, Mo clerked at Legal Services of South Central Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she gained practical client-facing and litigation skills; and at the Michigan Poverty Law Program, where the majority of her work was spent on public policy research for clean and affordable water legislation.
“It’s been interesting to watch some of the policy issues I researched play out as the media coverage of the Flint Water Crisis has increased,” she says.

Mo started her academic career by graduating in the top five percent of her class at Plymouth High School, then earning her two undergrad degrees in economics and mathematics, with distinction, from th
e University of Michigan-Dearborn, where she tutored at the  Math Learning Center. She also served in student government as Inaugural Chief Justice of the Student Judiciary, Director of Internal Relations, Director of Research and Development, Speaker of the Senate, Senator, and Fellow, and served on several student government committees.

“I love learning so when it came time to pick a major, I had trouble picking just one,” she says. “I loved the challenge of mathematics and the rigor that was needed to be successful. Economics was a strong complement to mathematics because it uses data analytics and statistics to explain market behavior.”

An Introduction to Cryptography class piqued her interest in information privacy and security law, a field in which she would like to practice.

“I’m fascinated with the idea that the most widely used cryptosystems are based on the assumption that there is no efficient algorithm to factorize very large prime numbers,” she says.

During her undergrad years, Mo worked as a legal clerk at Bodman PLC in Detroit, where she drafted legal documents and client correspondence and assisted in document retrieval and retention to support paralegals and attorneys.

“I enjoyed the experience of learning to work in a Big Law environment,” she says. “Everyone I had the opportunity to do work for always made it a point to tell me, ‘Thank you. I appreciate it.’”          

Mo, who served as Finance Director for Democrat David Knezek’s successful 2014 bid to represent the 5th District in the Michigan State Senate, enjoys living in East Lansing.

“With my previous experience in politics, it’s exciting to live so close to Michigan’s Capitol where laws and policies are made,” she says.

In her limited leisure time she enjoys doing CrossFit workouts. “I love the challenge of continuously improving to achieve perfect technique in my Olympic lifts and increasing my personal records,” she says.

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