Judging the Inaugural AALL Innovation Tournament


Earlier this year, I received a phone call from Beth Adelman, Director at the Charles B. Sears Law Library at the University at Buffalo School of Law. She asked if I had heard about the inaugural Innovation Tournament to be held at this summer’s AALL meeting in Austin. I said I had, but I didn’t have anything to enter this year. She said that was okay, as she was asking if I would like to be a judge instead.

The competition itself was simple from a judging perspective. I intentionally didn’t try to find out who the participants would be, although I did start to hear things once I got to Austin. As one judge on a panel of five, and with the main winner being determined by a vote of the audience, I didn’t feel much pressure, but rather was interested in the entries themselves.

The three entries are all highly useful innovations in their own way. I was especially interested in the first entry presented, the digitization workflow project created by Tom Boone and Matt Zimmerman from Georgetown. It was less flashy, and more complicated in many ways than the other two entries, but I’ve no doubt it will prove to be highly useful to the law library community, especially for large academic institutions with looming digital projects….in other words, people in my job.

Katherine Lowry was the winner of the judge’s prize for her proposal for an attorney facing chatbot. This I think has the largest possible application of the three projects presented, and I could easily see this adopted as a standard feature for many knowledge management and legal research platforms, especially for those firms large enough to have their own corpus of KM materials.

Jennifer Wondracek won the audience prize for her virtual reality public speaking app proposal. As a personal practice tool, I could it see it being very useful at all levels of the legal world, and almost seemed to me to border on a gamification of the oral argument experience.

As a judge, I found it to be a highly enjoyable experience. We were given a rubric with which to score the entries, and therefore what we were looking for was easy to determine and assess. Every entry was deserving of a prize in my estimation, and I’m sure I’ll take advantage of the end product of all three. I look forward to seeing (and perhaps competing or judging again) the future tournaments.


Dan Blackaby

Technology Services Librarian, Cornell University Law Library