Lean machine: 'Innovation Intern' hopes to fix problems

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MSU Law student Dan Elliott, pictured here at the British Museum in London, has studied abroad in England and Poland, and interned in Australia.


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
 
Dan Elliott, a 3L student at Michigan State University College of Law, enjoys finding innovative, better ways to solve everyday problems.
 
“I’m not gonna be the guy to solve how we propel ourselves to Mars, but I hope to find ways we can make our lives on Earth even just the slightest bit better,” he says.

Elliot, who is pursuing a juris doctor degree and an MBA in finance/corporate law, is an Innovation Intern/Lean Apprentice at the MSU Demmer Center for Business Transformation. He spent a year working with Plymouth-based Sergent Results Group and the State of Michigan on the “No Wrong Door” Project to learn about the process elderly and disabled clients go through to receive information or benefits. 

“I enjoyed working with people who worked in state government – their dedication to the people of Michigan inspired me every day to understand that I was working for something larger than myself,” he says.

Elliott, who earned his undergrad degree in political science and economics at Indiana University, was drawn to science and technology early, with an intense interest in understanding how things work. An undergrad course on “Computers in Business” piqued his interest in how technology can make things work better or aggregate information faster. 

His interest in law was furthered during a summer internship with an attorney at the Indiana Department of Transportation.

“I think pursuing the study of law intrigued me because law school really teaches you how to construct and deconstruct arguments,” he says. “Once you gain an appreciation for your side and the other, then you see not only where both sides are, but where the law is most likely going to go.”

Elliott was an early participant in MSU Law’s new LegalRnD program at the Center for Legal Services Innovation.

“The forward thinking really excited me,” he says. “And the logic behind applying business principles to the practice of law in order to better serve clients put the cherry on top.” 

Elliott enjoyed working with two law students and two coders to win the June 2015 eVantage Challenge at LexHacks in Chicago. The team developed a program that detects personally identifiable
information (PII) in an e-mail or e-mail attachment and stops it from sending, placing two copies – one redacted – in a drafts folder.

He also led the winning team that took the Grand Prize at October’s Code the Deal Hackathon in Los Angeles, with B1GTENANT, a program providing a documentation process to inform tenants of their rights and to help proactively avoid future legal issues. B1GTENANT gives consumers the ability to scan a lease to flag illegal or problematic clauses, upload pictures of an apartment with a date and time stamp, and fill out an inventory checklist. 

“After sharing experiences like a hackathon, which is similar to a moot court competition in time spent with teammates, you get to know people pretty well as you see them under stress, relieved when it’s over, and everything in between during a short amount of time,” he says.

Elliott participated in two study abroad programs. A two-week 21st Century Law Program in London – his first trip to Europe and where he enjoyed touring Parliament, riding the “London Eye” giant ferris wheel, and seeing a Shakespearean play at the Globe Theatre – showed him ways that legal services could be provided in the U.S. based on U.K. reforms that allow for non-lawyer ownership and
outside investment in law firms.

“The classes revolved around LegalRnD materials and culminated with a conference,” he says. “Little did I know at the time, but that two weeks in London completely changed the trajectory I was on in life.”

The program in Poland focused mainly on comparisons of law across countries.

“It was really interesting to see how history has shaped different cultures and their laws,” says Elliott, who during his stay visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp. “It was an incredible experience,” he says. “Of everywhere I’ve been, Auschwitz had the biggest impact on me because it was horrifying to see something that was a factory of death.”

Last summer he enjoyed a week in Sydney, Australia, where he visited the Zoo, Harbor Bridge and Opera House, before spending four weeks as an MSU Law Inaugural Innovation Intern handling a broad range of matters with Kain C+C Lawyers in Adelaide.

“Both the work and the atmosphere made me really appreciate the opportunity,” he says. “I got to work with experienced attorneys and apply decision tree analysis to their practice of law in order to provide better communication to their clients.”

With his business background, he found one regarding an IPO most interesting, and it was also so complex that a decision tree – a graph of decisions and possible consequences – would have lost its communicative effect.

He enjoyed a trip to the managing director’s farm, a wine tour, an Australian football match, and a bike trip to the beach.

“It was cool to look at an ocean and realize the next closest land was Antarctica,” he says. 

A native of the Indianapolis suburb of Beech Grove, Elliott now makes his home in Lansing, where his interests include playing and watching basketball, fantasy sports, and reading nonfiction. He appreciates the diversity of people on campus and in the area.

“My undergrad was essentially a college town, which is true of East Lansing, but then you get the feel of a state capital down the road in Lansing,” he says. “You don’t just see students everywhere – instead, you can expand your horizons to meet new people who have completely different lives than your own.” 

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