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More Than a Power Lawyer

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Entrepreneur Dorna Moini (JD 2012) deploys tech to close the justice gap 

By Christina Schweighofer 

Dorna Moini (JD 2012)
When she applied to USC Gould, Dorna Moini JD ’12 thought she’d become a human rights lawyer. Things turned out differently; after six years in corporate litigation, she is now a founder of a technology company, HelpSelf Legal. Her commitment to serving the most vulnerable remains unchanged. “We’re using tech to empower those who don’t have access to lawyers,” she says.
 
Created late last year in Los Angeles, HelpSelf Legal offers individuals a range of low-cost services on a simple, mobile-friendly platform where it’s equally easy to file a restraining order or petition for the expungement of a marijuana conviction. But the company’s customizable document automation platform also caters to lawyers, enterprises and legal aid organizations seeking to automate their own business processes.
 
Legal nonprofits working to close the justice gap are a priority for Moini. “Eighty-six percent of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans last year received either inadequate or no legal help,” she says, citing a Legal Services Corporation study. By providing workflows for high-volume intake processes, the HelpSelf Legal platform allows organizations offering pro bono services to help more clients.
 
Moini, who worked for six years in the San Francisco Bay Area as a trial lawyer with Sheppard Mullin and Sidley Austin, emphasizes that her company — the other co-founder, Michael Joseph, is an engineer — doesn’t aim to replace lawyers with technology. “We have seen that our technology enables lawyers to serve a higher volume of clients and focus on more challenging, higher-quality legal work,” she says. 
 
The daughter of immigrants from Iran, Moini says she became passionate about human rights and helping those who can’t help themselves early on; she learned growing up “that the freedoms we have in the U.S. are not necessarily available in other countries.” As an undergraduate student at NYU, she helped draft anti-discrimination and antislavery legislation in Mauritania, and at USC Gould she participated in the Post-Conviction Justice Project and the International Human Rights Clinic.
 
One year after leaving private practice, the trial lawyer turned legal entrepreneur admits that she sometimes misses being in the courtroom and especially the strategizing, teamwork and adversarial nature of the profession. At HelpSelf Legal, she wears many hats, from marketing to sales to product development. “I’m not just a lawyer,” she says. “Through technology, I’m able to impact more court cases than I ever could as a single attorney.”
 
Meanwhile, there’s also Lola, an English bull terrier — and a rescue dog. “She lies at my feet at my desk waiting for us to give her some equity,” Moini says, “because, like any startup, we have free snacks.”
 
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of the USC Law magazine.
Photo: Brett Van Ort

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