Innovation and tech needed in law school curriculums to increase access to legal services

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Law schools have an obligation to introduce innovation and technology disciplines into their curriculum, not just to prepare graduates for the future, but to increase access to legal services.

This from Dan Linna, a professor of law at Michigan State and Director of LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation. Talking with Ed Sohn about Linna’s Law School Innovation Index:

Everyone needs to get behind solving the “access to legal services” problem. We have this stench, this terrible problem, where approximately 80% of people in the U.S. lack access to civil legal services, not to mention the myriad of problems with our criminal justice system and public defense.

A huge portion of our citizens are disconnected from the law. How is that sustainable for us as a society?

Acting is the right thing to do for all of us in the legal profession.

I’ve tried to answer [President of Legal Services Corporation] Jim Sandman’s call to accelerate legal-service delivery innovation and technology adoption across the legal industry. The overall mission is to increase access to legal services, because it’s the right thing to do, and because the current disenfranchisement of so many threatens the rule of law and democracy.

……

I believe that we need a shared mission and vision. Why are we part of this profession? How can we help people and contribute to something bigger than what’s right in front of us?

The Law School Innovation Index measures the extent to which law schools have incorporated true legal-service delivery innovation and technology disciplines into their curriculum.

Too many legal innovation discussions get stuck talking about efficiency. But we can improve quality and outcomes. We can prevent problems and improve the user experience. We can expand access at all levels and help preserve and expand the rule of law! We can contribute to multidisciplinary teams solving “wicked” problems. We must innovate and think big, especially in law school.

……

Schools have been called innovative for a wide range of activities. Some have built curricula around legal-service delivery innovation and technology disciplines. Others are called innovative because they offer classes about the law of technology, which is great, but it doesn’t address the need for improvements in the delivery of legal services.

Law and technology, a phrase I hear every day (and 55 times a day at conferences), is not enough, per Linna.

If you tell students to take engineering courses because they’ll be better patent lawyers, that’s great, but that sounds like it falls into the “law and” technology category.

Yes, lawyers should work with technologists to learn and shape the law of technology. That’s incredibly important. But we also need law students working with engineers, product managers, behavioral scientists, and other scientists to improve the delivery of legal services.

I recall dinner with Linna in East Lansing a couple years ago in which he presented me a draft of the mission statement for a soon to be LegalRnD. Focused on a the delivery of legal services and the 80% of people who didn’t have access to legal services, I liked it.

Truth be told, I wondered how great an impact he and the Center could have.

But with the Law School Innovation Index and earlier, the Legal Services Innovation Index measuring law firms’ use of tech and innovation, Linna and the Center are having an impact. An impact measured in talk, dialogue and pressure on law firms and law schools to act. But it’s a big start.

Like many legal tech entrepreneurs, I left the practice to help others through innovation and the effective use of technology. But when you get your face up against it in everyday business, it’s easy to lose sight of the end game.

Linna’s work is pulling me back in and motivating me to think big in my use of innovation and technology to bring access to legal services. Asking, “Why are we part of this profession? How can we help people and contribute to something bigger than what’s right in front of us?”

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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