Legal Technology

SoLI summit emphasizes breaking down silos, rethinking legal education

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Updated: Law schools and lawyers must change the way they operate in a brave new world driven by data, technological change, and process management.

That was a recurring theme at SoLI—Summit on Law and Innovation on Monday at Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, Tennessee. According to panelists, presenters, and conference coordinators, there must be collaboration and cooperation between lawyers and those in other fields.

“We are not soloists in the law anymore,” said Larry Bridgesmith, who co-led the conference with his colleague, Caitlin (Cat) Moon. Bridgesmith is an adjunct professor and Moon is the director of innovation design at the school’s Program on Law & Innovation.

The energetic program featured a series of igniter sessions on innovation in legal education, legal practice, and legal technology. The conference also featured a panel discussion of legal operation managers on “leading lawyers without a license” and a human-centered design boot camp in which attendees worked in teams.

“Radical collaboration between cognitively diverse people is essential,” Moon said.

Chris Guthrie, dean of Vanderbilt Law, led the first igniter session by discussing factors that cause a lack of innovation at law schools and factors that can help move law schools forward.

Four factors he identified in holding back law schools are institutional mindsets; law school governance; regulation; and law school finances. But, he also identified four factors conducive to law school advancement: the university and a preference for multidisciplinary studies; human resources; new revenue streams; new employment opportunities; and new partnerships.

A fifth factor—human resources—was identified as a negative in that traditional hiring of staff is time-consuming, requires faculty oversight, and may be subject to budget constraints. However, human resources can also be a positive when a law school develops relationships with practicing attorneys and uses them as secondary or affiliated faculty.

“I predict we will see more innovation in law schools,” Guthrie said.

Alyson Carrel, an assistant dean of law and technology at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, said schools must “ensure that all students receive training in 21st century competencies.”

“We need to sprinkle legal innovation and technology in doctrinal classes,” she said.

Ritu Khanna, executive vice president of strategy and business development at LexisNexis, recommended that law schools consider alternative programs of one or two years in length and focus more energy on teaching students about the practice of law. She called this time a “brave new world for aspiring lawyers.”

Casey Kuhlman, CEO of Monax Industries, recommended that law schools do a better job in teaching students risk assessment and process management. Meanwhile, Elizabeth Renieris, global policy counsel at Evernym, gave practical advice to law students, urging them to test and experiment and embrace experiential learning opportunities. “Stay true to you,” she said. “The world is much bigger than BigLaw.”

Other sessions reinforced the notion that lawyers need to expand their horizons and be willing to think outside the box.

“Lawyers are trained to anchor ideas in precedent,” noted Lawton Penn, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine and head of DWT De Novo. “Unfortunately, lawyers are not trained to venture into uncharted territory.”

She also said the traditionally trained lawyer must embrace technology and be open to acquiring other skill sets. “Clients care about process,” Penn stressed. “Clients want efficiency, not waste, and we in the legal profession must deliver value.”

That includes embracing artificial intelligence rather than being fearful of it.

“Robots will not take your job,” said Shawnna Hoffman, global cognitive legal co-leader at IBM. “Robots will take away the things that annoy you, like processing invoices.”

Finally, the path to innovation could run through nonlegal channels. Patrick Palace, who runs a workers’ compensation and personal injury firm in Tacoma, Washington, called for “radical collaboration” between lawyers and other professions, including those well-versed in technology. He called for an “entire reregulation of the profession” and stressed the need to eliminate restrictive rules on law firm ownership.

“Maintaining the status quo will lead us to failure,” he said.

David L. Hudson Jr. is a regular contributor to the ABA Journal, serves as the ombudsman for the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and is an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School.

Updated on May 3 to reflect Cat Moon’s new title.

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