Bloomberg Law
March 14, 2023, 3:39 PM

ANALYSIS: Innovative Law Schools Embrace Experiential Learning

Susan Swihart
Susan Swihart
Legal Analyst

Increasingly, law schools are recognizing that the traditional law school curriculum doesn’t necessarily do enough to prepare students for the real-world tasks they’ll face as attorneys. Client counseling, business development, and project management are just a few examples of skills that many new attorneys find they need to learn on the job. In an effort to address this gap, law schools are beginning to adopt programs that give students the opportunity to practice these skills.

Bloomberg Law’s inaugural Law School Innovation Program seeks to identify and promote those law schools that are leading the way in reconceiving the traditional law school curriculum through creative coursework and experiential learning. In addition to the finalists that received the highest overall scores, we are spotlighting those innovative programs that are advancing legal education in six categories: business, experience, justice, pedagogy, student development, and technology.

Listed below, in alphabetical order, are the law schools that received the top scores for their offerings in experiential learning, along with a description of those offerings.

Albany Law School

Students at Albany Law School are learning to work with inventors to help turn their ideas into commercially viable products and services, as well as pursue intellectual property protections, through the Innovation Intensive program. Innovation Intensive partners with the Research Foundation for the State University of New York (SUNY) and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute to pair inventors with law students.

Through the program, students are exposed to every aspect of the technology transfer process. They assess the economic and commercial viability of the inventions, decide which corporate form a proposed technology startup should take, and engage in patent prosecution for eligible inventions.

The Innovation Intensive program readies students for the workforce because it “exposes them to experts in a wide range of technologies,” said Hon. Harold R. Tyler Chair in Law & Technology Raymond Brescia, a law professor at Albany Law School. The program prepares them “to identify their role in working with tomorrow’s technologies and the inventors and entrepreneurs who will seek to bring them to market,” he said. A science background isn’t necessary to participate in the program, and students can leverage the contacts made through it to further their careers and professional development, Brescia said.

Cardozo School of Law

The Filmmakers Legal Clinic (FLC) at Cardozo School of Law is an interdisciplinary clinic that pairs students with social justice-minded visual content creators to help them advocate for their causes, with a focus on underrepresented communities. Law students provide pro bono legal services that address the challenges posed by creating and distributing visual media. Students work across multiple areas of the law, including intellectual property and First Amendment law, while also learning practical skills such as negotiation, contract drafting, and client counseling. In this way, students learn to represent the whole client and step outside of traditional doctrinal silos.

By partnering with filmmakers and video journalists with few resources, FLC students learn to navigate complex legal hurdles with skills essential to be both excellent deal makers and wise counselors. Students also have the opportunity to represent organizations such as film festivals or nonprofits, gaining experience similar to that of outside general counsel. Finally, they’re also tasked with teaching a legal empowerment workshop to filmmakers.

Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, a clinical professor of law and the director of the Filmmakers Legal Clinic, said she was inspired to do this work as she realized that “people were increasingly moved by what they saw, rather than by what they read or big pieces of impact litigation.” Greenberg-Kobrin noted that the FLC allows students to become interdisciplinary lawyers, working simultaneously in several areas of law that are often siloed in law school. The program is “a rare combination of very complex IP and transactional legal issues, which present students with a breadth of experience, for clients without a lot of money or the possibility of a lot of money, and a high chance of impact on the social justice needle,” she said. FLC students emerge from the clinic with a greater understanding of how to advocate for all parties and how to approach lawyering as a force of social change.

Northeastern University School of Law

Creativity and experiential design are at the heart of NuLawLab at Northeastern University School of Law, an interdisciplinary innovation laboratory founded in 2012 that offers a variety of pedagogical pathways such as courses, external projects, and a graduate certificate in legal design. NuLawLab embraces the premise that all people are inherently creative, and aims to encourage law students, lawyers, and others to lean in to their creativity to help reshape the legal profession and support social change.

In particular, NuLawLab’s flagship seminar in legal design pairs law students with art students, and challenges them to use problem-solving methodologies to solve a specific legal design question. Students use these methodologies to work from brainstorming all the way through to prototype testing.

“People learn best via hands-on, real-world experience,” said NuLawLab Executive Director Dan Jackson. He emphasized that “all of our courses are practicum courses; students learn legal design by doing legal design.” Jackson also said the training sets law students up for success, because they can apply these same legal design methods in their careers as innovation in the legal profession progresses.

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation

The Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation (CPEI) brings innovation to Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law by using the expertise and perspectives of diverse advisers in the legal services marketplace to help develop new courses addressing areas of opportunity and growth within the industry. The advisory board and the extensive network of advisers do this over the course of a “design year,” where they first identify areas of change and opportunity in the legal industry, as well as specific practice needs for the area, and ultimately develop a proposal for a new innovative education experience to present to the administration for potential addition to the law school curriculum. One example of a new course created by CPEI is Client Strategies, where students simulate a discrete client problem with currently practicing lawyers over the course of an intensive, one-week class.

CPEI bridges the disconnect between the profession and legal education by integrating critical skill sets such as financial literacy, business communications, and client services, said CPEI Director James Lupo. Further, he said, it’s inherently flexible and responsive to changes in the legal services market as they arise.

“The work of CPEI generally intends to help the law school create learning experiences for students that reflect the modern practice of law,” Lupo said. Classes created by CPEI are always oversubscribed, he said, and alumni consistently report back that the skills taught in these courses were transformational.

Innovation Lab

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law tops the list a second time with its Innovation Lab, a collaborative effort with the Computer Science Department in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern. The lab brings together teams of law students and computer science students from varying degree tracks to develop technology solutions to real-world legal issues. Practicing providers of legal services identify the challenge that the student groups’ technology solution must solve, and pair them with a subject-matter expert and project manager. Each student team presents the system it developed at a public event.

The students learn project management using agile scrum techniques and learn to leverage “Improvement Kata,” a form of design thinking or lean thinking, to guide their path from brainstorming to iteration and, finally, to development. These skills prepare students for the emerging landscape of nontraditional legal roles, such as those in legal operations, legal data science, and legal engineering.

“By introducing people, process, and technology skills, we aim to inspire students to continue to learn about and apply these disciplines in all that they do,” said Daniel Linna, a senior lecturer and the director of law and technology initiatives at both the law and engineering schools.

Syracuse University College of Law

The Innovation Law Center (ILC) at Syracuse University College of Law has been offering experiential learning to law students since 1990, and works with New York state through its designation as the New York State Science and Technology Law Center. Students who enroll in the ILC’s two-semester clinic are tasked with helping real clients bring new technologies to market. Combining the legal, business, and technology fields, students engage in extensive research—including market analysis, competitive analysis, and intellectual property analysis—to evaluate and commercialize their clients’ technology.

Students learn skills beyond the traditional law school pedagogy, said Jessica Houghtaling, program coordinator at New York State Science & Technology Law Center, because they become familiar with a range of emerging technologies and learn how to develop strategies to bring them to the market. Students learn the fundamental principles of intellectual property, technology, and entrepreneurship, which sets them up well for future careers.

“The ILC provides students with a variety of different career paths, ranging from law firms, start-up companies, to technology transfer offices,” Houghtaling said. With all of the alumni from the most recent class finding jobs, the program continues to grow, with twice as many students enrolled this year than in prior years.

University of California College of the Law, San Francisco

California Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 states in its comments that to remain competent, lawyers must keep abreast of relevant technology. LexLab at University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, sees this charge as the heart of its mission. LexLab integrates technological literacy with the study of law in three ways: creating innovative curricula, hosting public events discussing the intersection of technology and the law, and teaching students real-life skills through its signature legal technology accelerator program.

The accelerator program invites entrepreneurs from the community to work with the students to teach them what it takes to run a startup, working with them in weekly office hours throughout the program. Simultaneously, students take the course “How to Build a Legal Tech Startup.” The program’s capstone project is “Demo Day,” an opportunity for students to pitch their business ideas and exhibit their products to a panel of investors and future customers.

Through this process, students enter their legal careers better understanding their clients. The skills learned through the accelerator program also take students beyond the traditional legal curriculum and prepare them for the growing legal landscape of careers that span multiple disciplines. A recent graduate and former participant in LexLab even returned to participate in the accelerator program as a partnering entrepreneur.

University of Denver Sturm College of Law

At the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, the Law + Innovation Lab teaches students how to use technology to address access-to-justice issues. The six-credit intensive course teaches students how to build technology tools on no-code platforms. The course culminates in a 10-week final project, which asks students to apply what they’ve learned to solve a real-world problem presented by non-profit community partners. Past examples include tools that help self-represented parties prepare and file divorce papers, inform unhoused youths about their rights, and identify signs that someone is being trafficked.

In creating the final project, students learn real-world skills such as project management, engaging in human-centered design, and even developing a go-to-market strategy to address barriers to adoption.

“Students in the Law + Innovation Lab learn by doing,” said professor Lois Lupica. The Lab “teaches students a range of skills not typically taught in law school, but very much in demand in a changing market for legal service delivery,” Lupica said. While some past students of the Lab say it inspired them to pursue public interest careers, others say that the technology skills gained in the Lab were exactly what they needed to distinguish themselves in the job market.

University of Minnesota Law School

Students at the University of Minnesota Law School participate in experiential learning through the Law in Practice (LiP) program. The program exposes students to the dynamics of legal practice through both traditional teaching and small group simulations led by local practicing attorneys. The course is required for all 1L students in their second semester, setting them up for success in their summer associate work and beyond.

The LiP curriculum centers on two simulated cases: one litigation case and one transactional case. The program provides students with a unique opportunity to build foundational skills like client counseling, deposition taking, and deal negotiating at the start of law school. The litigation case file culminates with a chambers conference with a sitting judge and a mediation with an experienced mediator, while the transactional case concludes with a simulated negotiation.

The legal profession has been criticized for not cultivating practical skills in the traditional law school curriculum, said Professor Randall Ryder, the director of LiP and the school’s moot court program. “Law in Practice addresses that criticism head-on by laying the foundation for what practicing attorneys do day to day,” Ryder said. It also allows students to practice these skills in a safe space, which “builds the skills and confidence students need to hit the ground running as a new practicing attorney,” he said.

University of Washington School of Law

The Tech Policy Lab (TPL) at the University of Washington is a collaborative research unit co-directed by the university’s School of Law, Information School, and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. It brings students from each of these schools together to consider the legal and policy implications of emerging technologies. Law students work closely with scientific experts to gain a nuanced understanding of complicated technologies and the effect of policy on them.

The TPL regularly hosts talks that focus on current events in technology that implicate a broad range of legal and policy issues, and often feature preeminent scholars and government leaders. “Competency in technology is a highly desirable skill for individuals in the workforce with legal backgrounds but is not necessarily available through traditional legal education,” said TPL Program Manager Alex Bolton. Bolton explained that TPL’s model allows students to build relationships in the field and access unique opportunities. “Students have also presented their work at conferences, provided testimony to legislative bodies, provide their expertise to traditional media, and appeared on podcasts,” he said.

Many TPL alumni have gone on to pursue careers that intersect with technology, working as attorneys at tech-focused firms or as in-house attorneys for entertainment companies.

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, Francis Boustany’s Feb. 16 article discussed schools being recognized for high ranking programs focused on pedagogy, Stephanie Pacheco’s Feb. 22 article walked us through top scoring schools focused on technological competence, and Mario Guzman Oliveros’s March 6 article featured schools that excel at teaching business skills in a legal education setting.

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

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