Teaching the Technology of Practice: The 10 Top Schools

Volume 40 Number 4

By

About the Authors

Richard Granat is president of DirectLaw Inc., a virtual law firm platform provider, and LawMediaLabs Inc. He also serves as co-director of the Center for Law Practice Technology at Florida Coastal School of Law and co-chairs the ABA’s eLawyering Task Force

Marc Lauritsen, author of The Lawyer’s Guide to Working Smarter With Knowledge Tools (ABA Law Practice Division 2010), is president of Capstone Practice Systems and of Legal Systematics. He directed the clinical program at Harvard Law School and has worked extensively on document drafting and decision support systems. He also co-chairs the ABA’s eLawyering Task Force

Law Practice Magazine | July/August 2014 | The Annual Big Ideas IssueLaw schools, like lawyers, are in a tough period. Demand is down. Competition is up. These trends are spurring innovation as well as nail biting. We report here on one corner of the emerging scene: the state of attention to legal technology in U.S. law schools, and we identify 10 schools that are leading the way.

TAKING THE PROFESSION TO TASK

In 2000, ABA President William Paul established an eLawyering Task Force within what is now the Law Practice Division (LP). Its mission has been to alert the profession to the challenges of practicing in an era of technological change and to advance knowledge about how lawyers can both prosper and advance access to justice by leveraging new electronic tools and media.

At an initial meeting of the Task Force, Gary Munneke, the leading educator on the subject of law practice management and then chair of LP, recommended that law schools update their law practice management and legal technology courses to reflect the impact that the Internet would have on the practice of law. Fourteen years later, only a small number of schools have made a sustained commitment to do so, and many neglect the technology of practice entirely.

LAW AND TECHNOLOGY

Academic attention to the “law of technology”—including intellectual property, defamation, product liability, software transactions, computer crime, Internet policy and related topics—has been widespread for decades. Most law schools have courses and other activities that address the rich fabric of legal, ethical and policy issues presented by the use of technology in business, government and society. Harvard has the Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Stanford has the CodeX Center for Legal Informatics. Both schools have cyberlaw clinics. Brooklyn Law School has an Incubator & Policy Clinic. Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law recently received a $1 million grant to establish and support the W. Bruce Lunsford Academy for Law, Business + Technology, to be operated by the NKU Chase Law + Informatics Institute under the leadership of Jon Garon. Many schools have a journal or law review on law and technology themes.

The “technology of law” has fared quite differently. This has to do with the uses of technology in law. Few schools have made substantial and sustained efforts in that area. Some—like Franklin Pierce Law Center (now the University of New Hampshire School of Law), Harvard, University of New Mexico, Northeastern and Stanford—offered pioneering courses on artificial intelligence (AI) and practice systems, but no longer do so. Some periodically offer practical courses on the technology of practice, but they are largely taught by adjuncts. Few have offerings that explore the impact that technology is having on the practice of law and how it can enhance the client experience and increase lawyer effectiveness. No schools that we know of require students to take these courses.

Much laudable innovation is occurring in related areas like entrepreneurship, financial skills, marketing and project management. There’s a growing recognition that students need to be practice-ready. And one must acknowledge that legal technology is just one of many subjects proponents are clamoring for schools to include in already-crowded curricula. Still, in a time when all aspects of society and business are being transformed by increasingly intelligent technology, one would think law schools could find room to focus on how the legal system and the practice of law are being transformed by innovative uses of technology.

A SURVEY

With the assistance of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, the eLawyering Task Force sent a detailed survey to the academic deans of the 203 ABA-accredited law schools in October 2013. Its purpose was to determine the extent to which legal technology and related subjects are the focus of courses and other activities.

The survey asked about document assembly and drafting, courtroom technology, decision support systems, the ethics of legal technology, legal tech start-ups, marketing, matter and knowledge management, new model law firms, online dispute resolution, project management, software development, legal process engineering, access to justice and legal technology, cloud computing, law firm Web development, online marketing issues, social media and lawyering, and computer security and law practice.

Only 32 law schools responded to the survey (approximately 16 percent of those surveyed), so it’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions. Of the respondents, one-quarter operate a center with a primary focus on the technology of law, and one-fifth offer more than two courses in that area. Three schools reported concentrations, certificates or joint degrees. We’ve combined survey results with our personal knowledge to produce the following list of law schools leading the field.

10 POINTS OF LIGHT

We’ve identified 10 law schools that presently offer significant attention to the technology of practice, by which we mean they offer multiple courses or have dedicated centers—and actively involve regular faculty. We present them in alphabetical order.

  1. Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School has taught courses since the mid-1980s in which students build computer-based practice systems under the leadership of Larry Farmer and Blair Janis. Two courses have been offered: a basic one in developing computer-based practice systems that is taught each year, and, periodically, an advanced course in the same subject. The courses examine the role of practice systems in the delivery of legal services and teach students to design and author practice systems employing widely used authoring programs. Practice systems are knowledge tools that assist lawyers in data gathering, decision-making and document drafting tasks. Over the years, the course has directly led to law practice and legal technology employment opportunities for about 40 to 50 students.
  2. Chicago–Kent College of Law has a Center for Access to Justice & Technology under the leadership of Ronald Staudt. Of the schools mentioned here, Chicago–Kent has the longest history and deepest commitment to using technology to learn and improve the practice of law. It has partnered with the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) for many years and has spawned innovations such as the online course on Topics in Digital Law Practice under the leadership of John Mayer. It is coordinating a national program financed by the federal Legal Services Corp. to train students in document automation using CALI’s A2J Author system to develop programs for legal service programs. This A2J Clinic Project now includes initiatives at Concordia University, City University of New York, the University of Miami and the University of North Carolina, in addition to Columbia and Georgetown, mentioned below. Next year an additional six schools will be selected for participation.
  3. Columbia Law School offers the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic under the leadership of Conrad Johnson, Mary Marsh Zulack and Brian Donnelly. This program is a pathbreaking offering that explores the impact of technology on law practice and the profession. More than just a course, this clinical program involves client work and collaborative projects with major public interest legal organizations and prominent jurists.
  4. Florida Coastal School of Law has established a Center for Law Practice Technology to develop distance learning courses in law practice technology. The Center’s co-directors are Richard S. Granat and Stephanie Kimbro. Courses offered include Law Practice Technology and Management, Document Automation Applications, Legal Expert Systems, Social Media in Law Practice, Training Lawyers as Entrepreneurs, Legal Project Management, Legal Process Re-Design, eDiscovery Management, Access to Justice and Legal Technology, and Ethics of Practicing Law in a Digital World. Students can earn 10 credits and receive a certificate in Legal Technology and Law Practice Management.
  5. Georgetown University Law Center runs an Iron Tech Lawyer Competition and a Technology, Innovation and Law Practice seminar under the leadership of Tanina Rostain and Roger Skalbeck. The Georgetown program has focused on the development of legal expert systems using a variety of platforms.
  6. Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law has a Law, Logic & Technology Research Laboratory led by Vern Walker. The Lab has a research program that has resulted in work products and related tools that make legal decision-making more accurate and more efficient. These products and tools can include searchable case files documenting the reasoning in decided cases, including the evidence assessment of the fact finder; descriptions/models of reasoning patterns that have been successful or unsuccessful in past cases, which could enable parties in future cases to develop strategies for evidence production or to determine reasonable settlements; critiques of reasoning patterns, and arguments for or against certain types of inferences in the face of uncertainties in the evidence; and software tailored to assist fact finders and attorneys in organizing and assessing the evidence in particular cases, and to assist in coordinating teams of attorneys working on a single case.
  7. Michigan State University College of Law’s ReInvent Law Laboratory, run by Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake and financed in part by a grant from the Kauffman Foundation, has sponsored national conferences on innovation and the legal system in London; Dubai, U.A.E.; Mountain View, California; and New York City during the past two years. Michigan State has built an impressive set of law practice technology courses that includes E-Discovery; Entrepreneurial Lawyering; Legal Information Engineering & Technology; Legal Analytics; Litigation: Data, Theory, Practice, Process; Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers; and 21st Century Law Practice. It offers a summer program in London that includes courses on Legal Information Engineering and 21st Century Law Practice.
  8. University of Pittsburgh School of Law has long offered courses on artificial intelligence (AI) by Kevin Ashley. These courses have covered such topics as AI-supported tools for legal information retrieval from text, including e-discovery applications, corporate compliance and social network analysis of legal institutions; and for helping judges and legal professionals with document drafting, sentencing and other aspects of legal decision-making. The law school has also established an Innovation Practice Institute to teach lawyers to be innovators. It does that through new classroom models, hands-on mentoring of law students and community partnerships that give students real world opportunities to work with 21st-century innovators, plus course work in understanding the new legal marketplace.
  9. Suffolk University Law School has established an Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation under the leadership of Andrew Perlman. The school offers courses on Lawyering in an Age of Smart Machines, Process Improvement and Legal Project Management, legal document automation, a survey course in 21st-century lawyering and decision support systems. The law school has created a concentration in Legal Technology and Innovation that is designed to provide law students with the knowledge and skills that 21st-century lawyers need. An article by Perlman in the January issue of Law Practice Today describes the Suffolk program in more detail.
  10. Vermont Law School has created a Center for Legal Innovation under the leadership of Oliver Goodenough and Jeanne Eicks. It supports a technology of law curriculum that includes an introductory eLawyering course and a suite of other courses that cover big data, information governance, data security and privacy, e-discovery, expert systems, e-governance, legal document automation, legal project management and the changing market for legal services.

GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM

While we have long been critical about the lack of attention by law schools to the increasingly essential topics of legal technology, it’s appropriate to end in a spirit of humility and optimism. We don’t have a clear window to everything that is happening in legal academia, and we apologize to any schools and educators that we’ve missed. As we were finishing up this article, for instance, we learned of a new course on legal informatics being offered by Michael Genesereth and Roland Vogl at Stanford Law School. There’s also been an encouraging upsurge in attention to the technology of law. A recent Gartner report predicts that by 2018, “legal IT courses will be required for the graduates of at least 20 U.S. Tier 1 and Tier 2 law schools.” The times, they are a-changing. Stay tuned.

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SUGGESTED READINGS

   

Two recent compilations provide a window to current developments at the intersection of legal technology and legal education:

   

  • Educating the Digital Lawyer, edited by Oliver Goodenough and Marc Lauritsen (New Providence: Matthew Bender 2012)
  • "Justice, Lawyering and Legal Education in the Digital Age," a symposium edited by Ronald W. Staudt and Marc Lauritsen, Chicago–Kent Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 3 (2013)