Pali High Students Spearhead Innovative Gen-Z Research Group
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
When someone is motivated to make a change, there is no telling what can be accomplished. That is especially true whenever people with shared ideas work together.
One vivid illustration is the several Palisades Charter High School students who have brought together teens from multiple schools to create a Gen-Z research group
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, 14 teens from across the country have joined forces to pursue their love for the law. Forming what they call The Social Media Justice League, these future lawyers and change makers are using social media to help law firms win and negotiate their cases.
What began as a small group of Pali High students bound by their collective passion for law has grown into a band of like-minded teens from eight different schools, looking to completely disrupt the investigative process in civil and criminal cases. These teens want to expose others to the powers of social media and help older generations recognize how important an individual’s online activity can be to the outcome of a case.
“More often than not, people leave large digital footprints that highlight important details about their day-to-day lives,” Arielle Hatton, a junior at Pali High and president/founder of The SMJL, explained. “It’s these details that help to reveal missing information and fill in the blanks for cases that are difficult to win or settle.”
While some might view the team’s age as a hindrance, Hatton shared she sees it as a secret weapon, believing that their distinctive and fresh Gen-Z perspective offers them an edge.
“As members of a generation born into technology, we know the ins and outs of social media like the back of our hand,” she said. “Social media is native to us. It only makes sense that we be the ones navigating it. Another plus: We don’t cost as much as expensive private investigative firms. We just do it because we are passionate and want to prove that we can use our skills to make a difference.”
The seed for The SMJL was planted when a family member of Hatton was sued in what she thought was a bogus case. With her interest piqued, Hatton took to social media, and after diligently sifting through the plaintiff’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts, she was able to find posts that poked major holes in the other side’s case.
Hatton immediately presented her findings to her family member’s lawyer, who used her work to bring the plaintiff to the negotiating table.
“I was surprised to find that the attorney hadn’t done this research himself,” Hatton said. “After digging deep on multiple social platforms, I was able to completely change the outcome of the negotiations.”
It was then that Hatton realized the need for such a service in the legal field. She immediately enlisted the help of 13 of her peers, and The SMJL was born.
Her team includes fellow Palisades students Anirudh Chatterjee, Ethan Kim and Hemosoo Woo; Vice President Shani Shaham from Shalhevet High in Los Angeles; and students from Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach, Milken Community School in Bel-Air, La Jolla High in San Diego and Northwest Yeshiva High in Washington.
“A family member of mine was sued for millions of dollars, and I was so surprised that no one on their legal team had even thought to look online,” Hatton recalled of the case. “I presented what I found out to the lawyer and ultimately it went from being a multi-million-dollar lawsuit to being settled for a mere $35,000. It was then I saw the great need for such a service in the legal industry and the role we Gen-Zers play in that.”
Hatton touched on the fact that some attorneys are part of an older generation who may not have the inherent technological skills of her and her peers.
“We were essentially born with smartphones in our hands, and looking through social media is like second nature to us,” she added. “It only makes sense that we be the ones navigating it.”
Hatton was recently named co-editor-in-chief of Pali High’s online student newspaper, Tideline.
“To be honest, I was a little surprised,” she admitted of the accomplishment. “I’d only been in the class for two years and was competing for the spot with people who had been there since the start of their freshman year. I’m happy that my passion for journalism shined through in my interview, and that they saw value in my writing and leadership skills. It just goes to show that with hard work and effort, even things that seem impossible are within reach.”
Hatton takes her new position—and the responsibility that goes along with it—seriously.
“Being named editor-in-chief has been a dream since I joined the journalism class as a sophomore,” she said. “As a prospective lawyer, I find writing and researching to be incredibly valuable skills that I know will help get me farther in my legal career.”
Hatton was a staff writer as a sophomore and co-section editor her junior year, which she said allowed her to learn so much about the fundamentals of journalism, allowing her to “truly perfect” her writing and researching skills.
“Tideline has become a huge part of my life and I’m beyond excited to share its benefits with the rest of the class,” Hatton added. “Moving forward, I want to give the writers more freedom to cover topics that interest them and encourage them to test out a new section that pushes them out of their comfort zone. By trying new things, they’ll be able to grow as writers, just as I did.”
Hatton, who went to Paul Revere Charter Middle School before Pali High, said she dreams of being a criminal defense lawyer. She plans to take the pre-law path and major in either political science, English or psychology in college.
“In some cases, people’s social media accounts are private, which does make the kind of work we do a little more difficult,” Hatton explained. “However, our team has found ways to work around that by using our vast network of friends and family to find connections that help get us into these censored accounts.”
She said that in one instance, The SMJL team was able to find the most compelling online evidence via Yelp.
“Through our searches we identified a new witness who, with our help, was contacted and asked to testify,” she shared. “A majority of the time, we found that, more often than not, people keep their accounts public, which highlight important details about their day-to-day lives. It’s these details that we use to reveal missing information and fill in the blanks for cases that are difficult to win or settle.”
The SMJL has already worked with four esteemed LA law firms since its formation. Through meticulous social media deep dives, the team has been able to establish important timelines, identify new witnesses, track down people and disprove legal claims made in depositions. The teens hope to grow their group and extend their reach to provide assistance to more attorneys across the city and eventually the country.
“We want to create a movement,” Hatton expressed. “By bringing together people with a common love of the law, we want to foster our passion while simultaneously honing in our skills to help older generations succeed. As we continue to grow, we aim to have SMJL-like resources in multiple states across the country to help teach older generations of lawyers, defendants and plaintiffs all about the power of social media and the immense value someone’s digital footprint could add to their cases. We believe these older generations can learn just as much from us as we can learn from them.”
The SMJL appears to have a bright future and is ever expanding.
“We have two incoming cases from new attorneys and are excited to see what we can find,” Hatton shared. “The future lies in growing our team and expanding our client base. New people are joining every week. We have a goal of reaching at least 100 members and while it’s ambitious, we definitely think it’s achievable.”
Hatton shared that for the past year, she has been interning with a law firm where she writes legal-related articles and learns the intricacies of the criminal justice system.
“Without a doubt, my time there has played a huge role in inspiring me to start SMJL,” she said. “I couldn’t have done it without Vice President Shani Shaham and the rest of the founding members: Henry Fried, Anirudh Chatterjee, Siena Capeloto and Maddie Feng, who are helping us reach our full potential.”
For more information, visit thesmjl.com or email email@example.com.
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