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Latest Developments in Technology Education at Law Schools

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Technology education in the law continues to be in the news. Why? Because the topic continues to be a sore spot with judges who find most attorneys appearing before them ill prepared to talk tech. (see February blog post “Federal Judges Judge Attorney eDiscovery Knowledge Still Lacking”) I’ve continued to report on developments in the area throughout the year in blog posts such as “The ABA Starts to Get serious About Technology Education – Sort Of” and “The Technology Education of Today’s Lawyers,” as well as reports from tech conferences such as the great event at the University of Florida that Professor Bill Hamilton puts on every year.

Now come several reports on the newest developments in law school technology from Bob Ambrogi, legal technology journalist and award winning writer of the blog, LawSites.com. His recent focus on law schools dealing with technology education has welcome information about some important progress.

Ambrogi’s first report comes from Suffolk University Law School in Boston, where Professor Gabriel Teninbaum directs the Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology. The school has announced that next year they will offer an online technology training program for non-students called the Legal Innovation & Technology Certificate Program, a series of six courses of 10-12 weeks around topics such as, Legal Operations, Process Improvement & Legal Project Management, 21st Century Legal Profession, Design Thinking for Legal Professionals, The Business of Delivering Legal Services, and Legal Technology Toolkit. The problem though? Each course will cost $3000, a price which will certainly be problematic for recent graduates, as well as most solo practitioners.

The second report comes from BYU Law School, where LawX was started to teach law students how to design and build a technically based legal startup. The design lab project is run by Kimball Parker, a litigator with Parsons Behle & Latimer in Salt Lake City.

LawX has become a terrific example of what legal technology can do to be truly effective. In Utah, as in most of the country, going to court without a lawyer is the standard for many people. Only 2 percent of tenants have lawyers in eviction cases, and debt-collection cases are even worse, with 1 percent of defendants represented by lawyers. LawX addresses this access to justice issue by having a small group of second- and third-year law students step into the role of entrepreneur to design and build a solution.

Parker started by designing a system to help unrepresented litigants answer a complaint, assuming the clients know nothing about the legal system. Future projects have yet to be developed, but this is certainly a good start, and I’ll be reporting on their progress. For more on LawX see BYU’s Daily Universe column and Bob Ambrogi’s Above the Law column.

Finally, a good tool for keeping track of all these new projects, Bob recommends the Law School Innovation Index. This is a project of The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law designed to measure how well law schools are preparing students for the next generation of legal practice.

The first iteration measures programs at 38 law school programs with a goal of eventually adding in all 200-plus U.S. law schools. Program Director Daniel W. Linna Jr., a Professor of Law in Residence at MSU Law, says, “In this prototype, we begin with the premise that law schools must teach students about legal-service delivery innovation and technology. We distinguish between the study of legal-service delivery innovation and technology (i.e., innovation and technology applied to improve legal-service delivery), on the one hand, and the study of law where it intersects with technology (i.e., law applied to technology, what we call ‘law and [technology]’ courses), on the other hand.”

Linna went on to define the project’s ultimate goal: “We should be teaching lawyers about the business of law, process management, how to use data, and how to be entrepreneurial. We want to give law schools a roadmap for how to do this.”

Can it be, then, that the tide is finally turning and law schools are teaching not just technology, but also usable technology? Something that will generally be responsive to the new demands for technical competence and specifically to positively impact the profession by raising the skill level of practitioners? These reports seem to indicate that this may be the case – at least some very positive steps in the right direction.

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Author: Tom O’Connor, Senior eDiscovery Consultant

Tom O’Connor is nationally known as a consultant, speaker and writer. In his consulting work, Tom specializes in working with law firms and their corporate clients to manage their electronic discovery needs. As senior eDiscovery consultant for Advanced Discovery, he assists clients in database design, implementation and training. He also addresses specific eDiscovery issues such as retention policies, litigation holds and document exchange protocols. Tom speaks at major legal conferences and writes for both the Advanced Discovery blog and national legal publications.

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