An interview with Katelyn Ringrose, founder of Impowerus, and Carol Li, at the ABA TechShow.
Kevin O’Keefe: I’m here today at the ABA TechShow. I met you guys on Twitter on Sunday night, and what were you talking about?
Carol Li: I was just posting about our startup, and how I recently joined Impowerus and how we’ll be at South by Southwest next week a pitching in the student startup madness. We’re top eight in the student tech startups.
Kevin O’Keefe: You’re a student at the University of Notre Dame law school right?
Carol Li: Yes, I’m a first year student.
Carol Li: You’re also a student?
Katelyn Ringrose: Yes, I’m a second year at Notre Dame
Kevin O’Keefe: So you’re the executive director of Impowerus, is that right?
Katelyn Ringrose: Yes, I am
Kevin O’Keefe: What is Impowerus?
Katelyn Ringrose: Impowerus connects juvenile immigrants with pro bono legal aid. So we’re a platform for attorneys at firms to use to reach out to clients and begin video chat with them. They can manage their cases, they can time track, and really make sure that immigrant youth who wouldn’t otherwise be able to have access to an attorney get that access or representation.
Kevin O’Keefe: How did you stumble into this?
Katelyn Ringrose: Before attending law school I worked as a teacher for immigrant children in Washington state for several years, in the Tacoma School district. So I was working from seven to 3:30 at the school and then I would work with my kids. And I also worked in Seattle a little bit too with my students.
Kevin O’Keefe: What motivated you to go to law school?
Katelyn Ringrose: Well I saw that all my students had these problems and I felt like I was kind of putting band aids on their issues. And so I would help one student but then, you know, 10 more needed help and I just, I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to. So I decided to go to law school to really create a solution that was applicable to everyone and not just putting band-aids on wounds, really doing more adequate triage to assess things as they come in, but then also addressing the actual issue at play.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you went to law school with a clear mission in mind, you weren’t randomly going to stumble into something. You arrived thinking, I’m going to do something. It could be more of a solution for immigrant youth. And so when did you start? How long? How long ago?
Katelyn Ringrose: Immediately upon coming onto the campus, yeah. I was like, wow, I don’t have to work 13 hours a day with my kids anymore. I can start a business.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you were some sort of a deviant compared to most of the students who are sitting there saying “what do you mean you’re going to do that on the side?” So did you start recruiting other students to help you do this or what happened?
Katelyn Ringrose: There was a pitch competition on campus. It was put on by the Center and the McCloskey business competition. And so they had a 60 second pitch, where you, you know, said some sort of fun thing in front of 500 students and then they voted on their phones, and we got crowd favorite, and so I thought wow, maybe this is a thing that could work, maybe we can continue on with this. And at the time it was just me, and some friends who had been shop talking this over beer and wings and then ultimately I was like, can you guys come on board? Do you have any interest in this? And it turned out to be law students who have a range of experiences from years of doing pro bono work in large firms to being immigration attorneys now, and students studying immigration work before
Kevin O’Keefe: And Carol, you’re working and you joined the organization when you first got to school?
Carol Li: So I used to work at Seyfarth Shaw and their lean solutions group. I worked and got a lot of opportunities to see how project management and legal technology can really make a legal services more efficient. And so I came to law school kind of wanting to combine that legal tech passion with access to justice. And a professor directed me to Caitlyn. So I hunted her down. Let me join your team.
Katelyn Ringrose: I felt really bad because I saw carol’s email and I was like, oh, this sounds great. And then I just forgot, but then was like, actually I don’t need to interview you. I don’t need to do anything. You’re on a team. You seem awesome. And that was it.
Kevin O’Keefe: It’s an incredibly cool story. How many students are working on it now?
Carol Li: We have 17 students working on it now. Will 17 individuals, a few of them are now alumni who’ve graduated this last year and we have a lot of undergrads working on our team as well, just making sure that they’re building the skills they need to go into the workforce.
Kevin O’Keefe: So they’re okay too, though?
Katelyn Ringrose: They’re wildly smart. I will ask, “what are these financials, what are these pro formas” and they’ll go “let me explain it to you, sit down.” And we have business students obviously, because we’re really operating in a business environment, law students, and I think we really come together to make something quite different.
Kevin O’Keefe: What’s the greatest challenge now?
Katelyn Ringrose: The greatest challenge now? We’re going into our Beta testing phase over the summer and so we’re pouring a lot of time and a lot of effort into developing the product as we get feedback continuously. So really it’s going to be, you know, making sure that everyone sticks with it and works on it as though it’s our kind of child. And so making sure it’s saying alive as we move through development and getting that feedback.
Kevin O’Keefe: How can people help you now? What would you like lawyers to do, or the public to do?
Katelyn Ringrose: We would love for them to get involved. So just talk to us, give us feedback as we move through all of these various phases. Email me, reach out, take our survey. We have our survey up on Survey Monkey right now. You can see it on our website, you can see it on all of our social media pages, and so that’s a really good way to get involved.
Kevin O’Keefe: What LexBlog did, which was very spontaneous, we, we decided to dedicate our coverage to Impowerus. So on the entire site, every post from the ABA TechShow there is a sponsorship ad for Impowerus, so we can help as best we can. And then every tweet that goes out on the Notre Dame network and everything that’s getting retweeted it’s #SupportImpowerus. It’s very cool to hear what you’re doing, it’s very unique. Maybe they’re going on in other places, but to see a student arrive at a law school, with a clear mission in mind, think, “I’m going to do this,” and see the opportunities connected with this contest or whatever, and go “wow.” Some other people might think this is interesting, let’s see where this goes and just do it using the law school as the base, but also understand that you’re going to get a law degree when you graduate from a good school, but you guys will be incredibly well known and then you’re off to South by Southwest tomorrow. Right? So you’re, you’re competing in a contest starting this week or beginning of next week.
Katelyn Ringrose: Exactly. So we’re pitching on Monday. And we’ve been selected as one of the top eight student tech startups in the nation, which is another unexpected thing, like Kevin’s email, so we’re pitching on Monday, in front of an amazing board of judges, and that will be live streamed as well. Ultimately we want to find our partners moving forward, those who are able to help us and give their expertise and skills to our project
Kevin O’Keefe: Thank you guys, very much. It was great to meet you.