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ANALYSIS: Meet the Law Schools Leading the Way in Innovation

Jan. 25, 2023, 10:00 AM

As law firms, businesses, and their clients adapt to the new realities of the legal and business worlds, law schools must prepare students in new ways—beyond traditional law school curricula and teaching methods—to give students an experience and education that better prepares them for their post-graduation careers.

Bloomberg Law launched its inaugural Law School Innovation Program as a means of promoting, acknowledging, and connecting the law schools that are innovating in the legal education space and providing their students with new ways of learning the law.

Law School Innovation Program Finalists

Ten finalists for the program were selected from nearly 90 applications, representing more than 60 schools in 27 states, by a team of evaluators that rated the programs based on four criteria: innovation, impact on students, ability to advance the legal industry, and replicability.

The finalists’ innovations ranged from business and technology to well-being and privacy, and they represent a wide cross-section of developments in legal education. They are listed here, in alphabetical order, along with additional details about each one.

Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Law School affords students the opportunity to serve “socially-virtuous” startups and entrepreneurs through its Brooklyn Law Incubator and Policy Clinic (BLIP Clinic), a full-service law firm focusing on transactional law, technology law, intellectual property, and other related areas. The BLIP Clinic allows students to explore areas of law that are particularly important to startups and to guide clients through legal and regulatory schemes that apply to their organizations. Started in 2007, the BLIP Clinic is one of the largest of its kind, often including upwards of 30 students per semester.

Founder and director of the BLIP Clinic, Jonathan Askin, sees participation in the clinic as an opportunity to prepare next-generation attorneys to represent next-generation clients.

“Very few law firms or law schools have adequately trained burgeoning attorneys to understand the full spectrum of procedural and substantive issues that will confront the tech-oriented lawyer and client.” Askin said. “BLIP is an effort to train this new generation of attorney who understands all the issues that might confront the tech entrepreneur in the digital world.”

Drake University Law School

The First Year Trial Practicum offered by Drake University Law School provides 1L students with the foundational experience of observing an entire jury trial, which is a graduation requirement for the law school.

Through the First Year Trial Practicum, students are able to view the trial as well as interact with the judge, attorneys, and jury (after the verdict). In addition to observing the trial, students are also provided the opportunity to discuss the happenings in the courtroom with small groups and hear expert panel discussions related to the case and its major legal facets.

“The Trial Practicum teaches powerful lessons about proof, facts, evidence, and the lay jurors’ role in our judicial system,” said Steven Foritano, director of the First-Year Trial Practicum. “It brings to life the substantive and procedural law taught in the first year, diversifies the learning theory by which our students are taught, and provides professional role models in action.”

Georgia State University College of Law

The Legal Analytics & Innovation Initiative (LAII) at Georgia State University College of Law offers students the ability to immerse themselves in topics at the crossroads of law, technology, and innovation. The certificate in LAII allows students to focus on one of two paths—Legal Analytics or Technology & Innovation— providing them with the ability to develop distinct, identifiable skills in data science, analytics, technology, operations, and process improvement.

Through the program, the school strives to develop future-ready lawyers who understand how technology impacts the practice of law and are ready to develop technology solutions that allow them to practice more efficiently, effectively, and ethically.

“There are lots of law school courses that teach about things like legal technology and legal analytics,” LAII Executive Director Patrick Parsons said. “However, we are really proud that our courses, including Introduction to Legal Tech and Innovation, Legal Innovation, Legal Process Engineering, and the Legal Analytics Lab, give students experience in performing real-world legal technology evaluation, process, and analytics tasks.”

Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law

The Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s National Appellate Clinic Network is a collaborative project that brings together faculty and students from various law schools with the goal of advancing appellate clinic practice through the use of technology and shared resources.

The network includes a database of hundreds of legal briefs and motions that are collected by network participants and is publicly available, allowing students and lawyers alike to use the resources, streamline their legal practices, and improve client representation.

“Writing your first appellate brief can be a daunting endeavor. It can be so intimidating to stare at a blank page, knowing you’ll need to put together ten thousand words or so to convince a set of judges that they should side with your client,” Xiao Wang, director of the Appellate Advocacy Center, which oversees the National Appellate Clinic Network, said. “The National Appellate Clinic Network bridges that gap, by making available hundreds of briefs, written by senior law students and supervised by clinical faculty. If you’re trying to plot out how to structure your argument, the Network is a great place to start.”

Santa Clara University School of Law

The Privacy Law Certificate offered by Santa Clara University School of Law provides students with an intensive program to prepare them for a career in privacy law. To receive the Privacy Law Certificate, students not only have to take courses related to privacy law but also must pass a certification test administered by the International Association of Privacy Professionals, publish a paper on a privacy topic, and complete an externship or internship related to privacy law. The certificate program has a history of placing more than half of its students into in-house privacy law jobs as their first-post-law school position.

“Law school is often characterized as a ‘generalist’ degree because graduates are prepared for a wide range of careers. The Privacy Law Certificate turns that principle on its head by encouraging students to specialize,” Eric Goldman, supervisor of the Privacy Law Certificate, said of the program.

“Many students mistakenly think they maximize their job opportunities by pitching themselves as generalists so that they remain eligible for any jobs they find,” Goldman said. “In reality, the students who specialize their law school experience are actually more likely to increase their employability.”

St. Mary’s University School of Law

The ABA-accredited, fully-online part-time J.D. program at St. Mary’s University School of Law is the first of its kind, providing law students with the ability to complete their legal studies remotely. The program gives its students the same opportunities as full-time, on-campus students, such as career services and academic advising, but allows flexibility for those who cannot necessarily attend law school in-person or full-time. This model improves overall access to legal education and provides students the ability to study law conveniently.

Colin Marks, associate dean of strategic partnerships & innovation at St. Mary’s University School of Law, said accessibility to legal education inspired this innovation and use of technology made it a reality.

“St. Mary’s utilizes technologies such as Zoom and our learning management system, Canvas, to create an interactive learning environment beyond what a pure residential student would experience,” Marks said. “While the typical residential J.D. course has face-to-face interactions, due to the small class size, the online cohort receives far more individualized interactions with their instructors, as well as regular graded formative assessments with feedback to ensure they are grasping the materials being presented both synchronously and asynchronously.”

Suffolk University Law School

Suffolk University Law School’s Legal Innovation & Technology Concentration (LIT Concentration) is the first law school concentration of its kind, which educates legal professionals on innovations, concepts, and technologies that are changing the legal field. The LIT Concentration requires students to take relevant coursework (such as technology-related courses), complete a project, and participate in an externship to ultimately prepare the students to become more innovative legal professionals. The LIT Concentration provides the backbone academic course structure to other programs within the overall Suffolk Law LIT Institute, such as its clinical data-science LIT Lab and its professional online LIT Certificate.

LIT Concentration Director Dyane O’Leary said her inspiration for leading the Concentration is a simple one: the students.

“They’re in law school to prepare for their new career—not law practice as their professors experienced it years—often decades—ago,” O’Leary said. “It’s my job and my challenge to keep pace with the enthusiasm of this new generation of law students, almost all of whom are digital natives ready to build on their comfort with technology, and transition that comfort into their new professional lives.”

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

The Integrated Education on Well-Being and Thriving in the Law implemented at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School teaches students that self-care and well-being are not only critical to a lawyer’s mental health but also an important element of effectively practicing as an attorney. To further this mission, students are provided with well-being and psychological resources, and the importance of well-being is taught throughout the curriculum. Additionally, the law school ensures that all students are introduced to topics related to well-being and practice through a well-being module taught in each Professional Responsibility course—the only required course in the upper-level curriculum.

“My experience with anxiety during law school and in practice limited my ability to imagine how I could contribute to the legal profession,” said Jennifer Leonard, chief innovation officer at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. “I saw the same dynamic repeated often in the brilliant students I counseled during my time in the Office of Career Strategy.”

So, “when the 2016 National Task Force Report suggested new ways to integrate these topics into the formal curriculum, our dean greenlit a proposal that John Hollway, a senior fellow at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center, and I created to teach the direct connection between well-being and a lawyer’s ethical obligation to clients,” Leonard said.

University of Richmond School of Law

The University of Richmond School of Law’s Legal Business Design Hub primes its students to lead the movement to modernize the legal profession and build new types of organizations, businesses, and teams that better address the functional, emotional, and social needs of their clients, their peers, and themselves.

It serves as an epicenter for the applied research and exploration of emerging challenges and opportunities within the business of law, and it is dedicated to advancing design-driven innovation and entrepreneurship capabilities in students, lawyers, faculty, and researchers. Its goal is to accelerate and instigate the building of new business ventures and forward-thinking solutions designed to address critical challenges facing the future of our legal systems, services, and businesses.

“Put simply, in 2023, we are firmly in the modern legal era where new skills and methods that complement the traditional legal mind are vital.” Josh Kubicki, director of the Legal Business Design Hub, said. “Our students gain hands-on experience with the fundamental building blocks for lawyers to create, build, and improve new legal services and products such as business acumen, financial literacy, strategy and operations design, entrepreneurship, and workforce culture.”

Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

The Leveraging Technology to Promote Access to Justice Course at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law prepares students to assist underserved litigants through technology and the law. Students are given the opportunity to work with community legal aid organizations, identify the specific problems these organizations face, and address said problems through technological solutions.

The Leveraging Technology to Promote Access to Justice Course is unique in that it utilizes self-regulated learning and infuses important facets of technology and technical skills into the law school context.

“Students who engage in active learning graduate from law school secure in their professional identities, and with the professional agility to innovate, adapt, and grow,” said Amy Emerson, assistant dean for library and information services and an associate professor of law at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. “These students will shape the future of the legal profession through technical expertise and fresh perspectives sparked by independent thought and strengthened by the fulfillment that comes from implementing a tangible work product designed to promote access to justice.”

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

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