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Saturday, August 2, 2014

NY Times: Socrates Takes a Back Seat to Business and Tech in Some Law Schools

New York Times:  This Is Law School? Socrates Takes a Back Seat to Business and Tech, by John Schwartz:

Like a number of law schools looking to the future of a challenging profession, [Michigan State] is pushing its students to understand business and technology so that they can advise entrepreneurs in coming fields. The school wants them to think of themselves as potential founders of start-ups as well, and to operate fluidly in a legal environment that is being transformed by technology.

Michigan State professors don’t just teach torts, contracts and the intricacies of constitutional law. They also delve into software and services that sift through thousands of cases to help predict whether a client’s case might be successful or what arguments could be most effective. They introduce their students to programs that search through mountains of depositions and filings, automating tasks like the dreary “document review” that was once the baptism of fire and boredom for young associates. ...

With the marketplace shifting, schools have increasingly come under fire for being out of touch.

Catherine L. Carpenter, vice dean of Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, tracks curriculum across the country. She said schools are trying to teach their students to run their own firms, to look for entrepreneurial opportunities by finding “gaps in the law or gaps in the delivery of services,” and to gain specialized knowledge that can help them counsel entrepreneurs.

At Indiana University’s law school, Prof. William D. Henderson has been advocating a shake-up in legal education whose time may have come. “You have got to be in a lot of pain” before a school will change something as tradition-bound as legal training, he said, but pain is everywhere at the moment, and “that’s kind of our opening.” He advocates putting more technology and practical training into the curriculum to adapt to a field that is less about “expensive, artisan-trained lawyers” and more about providing legal services at lower cost.

Bill Mooz, a visiting professor at the University of Colorado law school, has started a four-week summer boot camp called Tech Lawyer Accelerator to provide, as he put it, “all of the things they don’t teach you in law school and they don’t teach in law firms but which you need to be effective in today’s world.” Students are brought up to speed on tech tools designed to make legal services more efficient. They hear lectures from companies like Adobe and NetApp. After the four weeks, they spend the rest of the summer, or even the following semester, working directly for a company. Mr. Mooz calls the program “drinking from a fire hose.”

At Northwestern Law, Daniel B. Rodriguez, the dean, is expanding clinical education while using faculty members with technical and business experience to instruct in “the law/business/technology interface.” ...

These programs might be especially important for schools that aren’t in the top education tier, to combat the “very elitist” attitudes of the legal employment market, said Brian Z. Tamanaha, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “Will it be enough for them to pick the M.S.U. grad over the Michigan grad, to name a local competitor? That remains to be seen.”

Another skeptical law professor, Paul F. Campos of the University of Colorado, said he finds Michigan State’s approach “admirable” but declared himself amused by the focus on tech. “The irony here is that these new technologies are destroying traditional legal jobs!”

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