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Stanford Law is a hotbed for tech startups and legal entrepreneurs

Posted May 22, 2013 8:40 AM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky

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Taking a cue from the academic origins of many Silicon Valley inventors, Stanford Law School has become an incubator for legal technologists.

Not typically credited as innovators, at least five startups have been created by current students and grads at the school since 2009, Law Technology News reports. Lex Machina, a company that maps electronically available patent litigation events and outcomes to build a litigation database, is credited as the first. "I think Lex Machina broke the ice, showing the commercial potential of collaboration between the law, business, and engineering schools," says Clint Korver, a partner at Ulu Ventures, which has invested in three legal tech startups.

Even as many new companies are doomed to early failure, the law school continues to ramp up its commitment to budding entrepreneurs and businesses that make the practice of law more efficient using the latest technology, such as machine learning, data analysis, visualization, and advanced search techniques.

Law Gives co-founder and Stanford Law alum Pieter Gunst hosts an informal group for law students to teach themselves how to program, and the school’s 2009 change from semesters to quarters (undergraduates were already on the quarter system) encourages interdisciplinary cross-pollination—which sees law students enrolling in classes at the Stanford Design School, according to the report. Law Gives is a platform that matches those in need of legal help—particularly low-income users—with appropriate lawyers willing to provide it with the help of a machine that can interpret client questions. Other legal tech startups spun out of Stanford Law include Ravel Law, which is developing an alternative legal research system that relies on data visualization.

"Our motto is legal empowerment with legal technology," Roland Vogl, executive director of Stanford's Center for Legal Informatics—a joint venture between the law school and computer science department, as well as Stanford's program in law, science, and technology—told Law Technology News. Vogl also emphasized the center's commitment to the broader public interest, noting the disparity between the growing number of unemployed law grads and U.S. citizens in need of accessible legal services.

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Updated at 12:22 p.m. to correct a typographical error.

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