Law Practice Management and Technology

The Bottom Line Volume 34, No.2, April 2013

Message from the Guest Editor New Tricks for an Old Dog: Teaching Legal Tech By Ron Dolin, J.D., Ph.D.

Ron Dolin

I was fortunate last term to teach a new course at Stanford Law School that I called Legal Technology and Informatics.1 Legal informatics could be defined as a computational perspective of law: where legal information resides, and how it is manipulated and transmitted. In putting the course together, I had to select from a wide array of potential material that I thought was important to train a new generation of lawyers and “legal technologists”. In this article, I will discuss some of what I included and why. In addition, as the guest editor of this issue of The Bottom Line (TBL), I invited some of the people whom I thought were working in areas of interest to practitioners. My goal is to inform lawyers about some of the changes coming as a result of legal technology, as well as to help prepare them not only to utilize new methods, but also to help build them.

Although there is a decades-old history to the application of technology to the law (e.g. the conferences ICAIL, JURIX, TREC), in many important ways legal technology and informatics is transforming into something new. It is not surprising that technology would invade and transform any field at some point. Law, though, is often a bastion of tradition and risk aversion (often for good reason), so it is also not surprising that law has not generally been among the early adopters of the “new new thing”.2 This is perhaps especially true under the pyramid-based, billable hour model of many law firms, where the incentives to capitalize on technological improvements in efficiency and accuracy are often absent.3 Nevertheless, it seems that the law is currently undergoing a transformation, in no small part due to technology, that is disrupting the status quo.4 As a result, TBL felt that it was important to highlight some of the changes afoot in the profession so that practitioners can better anticipate, accommodate, and even accelerate a new paradigm of law and legal practice. Throughout this article, I’ll be introducing the other articles in this issue as they relate to some of the material I’m describing. In this case, the article by Marc Lauritsen, “A Time to Tool Up,” focuses on the growing importance to attorneys of a hands-on awareness of upcoming tools, while the article by lawyer and venture capitalist David Hornik, “Bringing Technology to the Law,” focuses on some of the areas most likely to experience these changes.

The class was composed of nine sessions in the quarter, each with a main theme and a guest speaker (some of whom have been included in this issue). As I describe the material below, I highlight the major points that I hoped to present to the class. Legal technology cuts across all areas of law and technology, and the class was designed as a survey – touching on broad topics with pointers in both the syllabus and course reader for the interested student. For anyone interested, the full syllabus is availableat https://beta.lawgives.com/communities/legal-technology-class/syllabus.pdf. The thrust of the class was to help law students understand how to look at legal problems from a computational and engineering perspective, as well as to understand the context under which technology is more likely to be adopted within the legal system. For another perspective on teaching law and technology, the article by Ronald Staudt and Andrew Medeiros, regarding their “A2J” Access-2-Justice program at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, focuses on practical, hands-on technology training.

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