Bloomberg Law
Feb. 22, 2023, 10:00 AM

ANALYSIS: How Innovative Law Schools Prioritize Tech Competence

Stephanie Pacheco
Stephanie Pacheco
Legal Analyst

Technology has become an integral part of society, and law schools are realizing that if they want to produce practice-ready attorneys and legal professionals in the 21st century, they must incorporate technology into their learning environment. Through tech-focused certificate programs, technology labs, tournaments, and interdisciplinary instruction and collaboration, some law schools today are prioritizing the tech competence of their students.

Bloomberg Law’s inaugural Law School Innovation Program recognizes law schools that are changing legal education through innovative instruction and experiential learning. In addition to program finalists, we are highlighting top scoring programs in six categories: business, experience, justice, pedagogy, student development, and technology.

Here are the law schools being recognized, in alphabetical order, for their innovative programs that are leading the way in infusing legal education with technology and tech competence.

DePaul University College of Law

At DePaul University College of Law, Interdisciplinary Tech Education for Law Students in Cybersecurity & Data Privacy gives law students the ability to achieve tech competence as it relates to the practice of law while they work towards their JD through a Certificate in Information Technology, Cybersecurity, and Data Privacy.

With access to introductory IT courses such as Information Security Management, Business Continuity & Disaster Recovery, IT Auditing, and Intro to Programming, students are able to learn foundational tech competencies that will be essential to their legal practice. Additionally, the program offers interdisciplinary courses in Data Privacy and Cybersecurity, led by law professors with advanced IT degrees—a unique approach that allows students to learn both the law and the relevant tech in their respective areas.

This Certificate program leaves law students “better equipped than many others to bridge the communication gap that is so common between IT and legal,” according to Anthony Volini, professor of legal practice and one of the founders of this Certificate program. Additionally, students who earn the Certificate or participate in the various courses are better able to understand, analyze, and advise on privacy and security concerns surrounding emerging technologies, Volini said.

Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law

Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law is recognized for three of its innovative programs: an innovation technology tournament; a course in computer technology as it relates to the practice of law; and a learning lab that integrates law, logic, and technology.

The National Innovation Tournament

The National Legal Innovation Tournament presents law students with the opportunity to proactively identify and solve problems in the legal industry with interdisciplinary collaboration and technological solutions. Students work with colleagues enrolled in the university’s computer science program to identify a problem in dispute resolution, explain why the problem needs to be solved by lawyers, and then develop and present the solution in the form of an app.

“[L]egal instruction rarely teaches law students to collaborate with experts from other disciplines to solve problems within the profession,” said John Tsiforas, the school’s director of law & technology, distance education, and analytics. “This limits the tools that are available to lawyers, which in turn limits the advancement of legal services.” The tournament, he said, “remedies this deficiency in legal instruction by teaching students to collaborate with such experts.”

Computer Technology in Legal Practice

Computer Technology in Legal Practice, a course offered multiple times a year by Hofstra University, teaches students not only the impact of technologies on the practice of law but also how to use prominent technologies to efficiently and effectively deliver legal services.

Structured to mimic a small to mid-size firm environment, the course requires students to use legal technology for various tasks—conflict checks, tracking time, e-filing, client billing and management, e-discovery, and document management—while also assessing the ethical implications of using technology properly in the practice of law.

According to Tsiforas, the course “produces practice-ready attorneys” who “look at technology progressively and critically” and “understand how the technologies work and why they are used.” A lack of loyalty to the billable hour allows the students to “prioritize impact, access to justice, and efficiency” when assessing the use and development of legal tech, he said.

Law, Logic & Technology Law Lab

Hofstra University’s Research Laboratory for Law, Logic and Technology (LLT Lab) encourages students to research a variety of legal arguments and documents to create semantic data, training protocols, and software applications to ultimately develop technology that enhances legal practice and education. With linguistic and logic-based analytics and technology, students integrate their doctrinal education with innovative, collaborative empirical research to make legal decision-making more efficient, accurate, and accessible.

Students in the LLT Lab have designed a range of software applications aligning with their goals—such as document assembly applications; automated legal argument mining; and their most recent project, a chat bot to assist with New York State’s Small Claims Court. “By the time the students complete their time in the Lab, most of them understand how to conduct empirical studies of adjudicatory decisions, how to develop a typology of kinds of relevant evidence (argument premises) employed in cases, and how to identify factors that the tribunal considers when assessing the credibility or trustworthiness of individual items of evidence,” Tsiforas said.

Michigan State University College of Law

The Center for Law, Technology & Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law, one of the longest-running programs of its kind, pioneers education for future lawyers and new kinds of legal professionals in a time of rapid change. Innovation and technology skills must be a part of the modern lawyer’s toolbox, and the Center prioritizes this with its students.

“The Center explores the exciting and ever-changing intersection of technology, law, innovation, and practical skills along with cutting-edge new legal careers to prepare the next generation of lawyers for the legal issues—and legal industry—of the future,” said Director of the Center of Law, Technology & Innovation Dennis Kennedy.

“Technology permeates every area of law practice and every aspect of a lawyer’s daily work today,” Kennedy said. With technology becoming the cornerstone of society, tech literacy “is essential for new lawyers and comfort with technology must be part of their toolsets.”

Suffolk University School of Law

Suffolk University School of Law is home to two particularly innovative programs: a certificate program in legal innovation and technology and a legal innovation and technology lab.

Legal Innovation & Technology Certificate Program

As one of the first of its kind, the Legal Innovation and Technology Certificate Program at Suffolk University is a fully online, noncredit, six-course program designed to help legal service professionals develop the knowledge and competencies necessary to leverage legal technology and innovation in the delivery of legal services for the 21st-century legal market.

The curriculum, developed by a team of legal experts, provides participants with the relevant insights and applicable skills required to meet the demands of a constantly evolving industry—no matter what stage of their career they’re in. The certificate program supports students in the development of valuable skills through projects that require the direct application of concepts taught to their own workplace challenges and opportunities. Areas of focus include identifying and managing the impact of new technology adoption on the culture, processes, and risk exposure of the business; the advantages of developing human-centered solutions to support diverse stakeholder groups; and how to apply creativity and innovative thinking to build resiliency and value in an increasingly competitive legal market.

Dee Masiello, director of continuing and professional education at Suffolk University, said that “technology is everywhere in our lives and the law should be no different.” Yet there is a “gap in legal education,” as many law schools “notoriously do not teach practical skills,” she said. In an effort to bridge that gap, Suffolk “provides students with the understanding of where and how technology is used throughout the legal sector” through the Legal Innovation and Technology Certificate Program.

Legal Innovation & Technology Lab

Law students at Suffolk have the opportunity to participate in the Legal Innovation & Technology Lab—an experiential education experience that affords them the ability to work alongside legal tech professionals for both external and internal clients.

The Lab prioritizes improving the legal industry by increasing access to justice with its open-source products. Two examples of these are the Document Assembly Line, an effort to help litigants navigate the legal process through a guided interview process and mobile forums; and Spot, an AI-powered legal issue spotter.

“We learn by doing, recognizing that to build something is to better understand it,” said David Colarusso, director of the Legal Innovation & Technology Lab. With the Lab, Colarusso said, the school is “expanding our students’ understanding of what’s possible, and just as importantly, what is not,” which “inspires them to find new solutions.”

The University of California College of the Law, San Francisco

The University of California College of the Law, San Francisco offers a concentration in “Technology & Innovation in the Practice of Law” to their students—a set of courses focused on technology and how it may impact the law. UC Law SF was the first to offer courses in both legal operations and legal informatics, both of which are included in the concentration, along with courses focusing on access-to-justice initiatives, design thinking, and how to build a legal tech startup.

Throughout the various courses, students learn nontraditional skills such as developing and pitching a presentation to stakeholders or presenting a solution to experts. Students even participate in a weekend-long hackathon to promote interdisciplinary collaboration with developers, designers, and other professionals to solve legal problems discussed in their design thinking-based course.

Alice Armitage, professor and director of applied innovation, LexLab at UC Law SF, said legal education must change to reflect client needs. “Clients no longer want their lawyers to provide legal advice in a vacuum,” she said. “Our concentration teaches students basic business principles, new problem-solving methods, additional ways of analyzing and thinking about issues, and practical skills,” which Armitage emphasized are must-haves for the 21st-century attorney.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content in our Law School Innovation Program page.

In previous articles in this series: Francis Boustany’s Jan. 17 article announced the Law School Innovation Program’s top 10 overall innovations, his Jan. 25 article provided details on each of the overall finalists, Abigail Gampher’s Feb. 6 article highlighted the top-scoring applicants for justice and innovation, Jessica Blaemire’s Feb. 14 article focused on schools that rated high in student development, and Francis Boustany’s Feb. 16 article discussed schools being recognized for high ranking programs focused on pedagogy.

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