Christy Burke
Christy Burke

Christy Burke recently wrote in Legal IT Today about the small group of law schools that have incorporated legal innovation and technology into their curriculum. In this guest post, Christy highlights law schools embracing opportunities to expand experiential learning opportunities, collaborate with practitioners, and incorporate experiential work into classes.


Law schools are now responsible for providing at least six credit hours of experiential learning for their students, according to the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools 2016-2017. The ABA defines an experiential course as “a simulation course, a law clinic, or a field placement.” Law schools around the country have interpreted this requirement in diverse ways, injecting creativity into their curricula and attracting intrigued students and faculty in the best case scenarios.

Several schools have forged connections with other departments at their own institutions, other law schools, government agencies and courts, law firms, and corporations to go far beyond a “simulation” approach to experiential learning. By allowing law students to work on actual deals, participate in development of technology, and take courses in other areas such as business, engineering and entrepreneurism, these law schools are differentiating themselves from more resistant, steeped-in-tradition institutions.

Law schools need to differentiate themselves by offering students much more than the traditional bread-and-butter legal curriculum. — Mary Abraham

According to Dan Linna, Director of LegalRnD—The Center for Legal Services Innovation and Professor of Law in Residence at Michigan State University (MSU) College of Law, “There is great value in having law students work on real problems, particularly if they write about it in a variety of media, from blog posts to substantial research papers. The practical experience prepares law students for future success and helps them distinguish themselves when interviewing for jobs. LegalRnD has collaborated with the Michigan Bar Foundation, courts, ThinkSmart, CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium), law firms, Elevate Services, technology vendors, Elder Law of Michigan, and others to provide opportunities for law students to work on today’s problems and provide value to our partner organizations. Right now in my Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers class we are working on a data project for the Illinois Lawyers Trust Fund and Illinois Legal Aid Online. These are all great experiences for our students and they provide value to our partners. Future employers also value these student experiences. Our LegalRnD students’ continued success helps set us apart from law schools that don’t have legal innovation and technology programs. Some students tell us that they chose MSU Law because of LegalRnD.”

Mary Abraham (legal industry author, speaker, and consultant), agrees with Linna that providing an innovative, experiential curriculum attracts discerning prospective students. Abraham notes, “Law schools need to differentiate themselves by offering students much more than the traditional bread-and-butter legal curriculum. American law school students take on enormous debt to attend law school; they must be made ready for gainful employment when they graduate. Law schools like MSU Law, Suffolk, Georgetown, and NYU do a fabulous job of exposing students to innovation and legal technology, as well as new experiential learning. As a result, their graduates are more versatile. In a market of steadily declining demand for old-style lawyers, it’s far better that students become flexible lawyers who can thrive in a variety of legal career paths.”

Deborah Burand is Assistant Professor of Law at NYU Law School. She launched its International Transactions Clinic (ITC), having previously launched a similar clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. Burand says the NYU Law School Clinic works with real clients and law students who are involved first-hand with actual deal work. She explains that these experiences have tremendous advantages for the students. “Students enrolled in the NYU Law International Transactions Clinic are getting a first-hand experience in transacting cross-border deals. Through this year-long clinic experience, students are gaining skills that are critical to entering practice areas that involve international transactions. Students learn drafting and negotiation skills as applied to cross-border transactions. They also learn how to manage client relationships across diverse cultures. And because the clinic’s clients are doing deals aimed at tackling some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as poverty, lack of clean water and food insecurity, students are also learning how they can make a difference in the world by practicing law. In sum, we like to say that the International Transactions Clinic is crossing borders to make a better world.”

Don Philbin, a top-ranked mediator in Texas as well as adjunct faculty member and double alumnus at Pepperdine Law School, saw an opportunity to include law students in creating Picture It Settled®, a highly intelligent predictive analytics software tool that guides inside and outside counsel through the negotiation process, based on deep data harvested from thousands of cases.

Philbin explains, “We started gathering data and realized that students were interested in examining what happened during a real negotiation. We hired a group of students as paid research assistants to study and enter in tactical negotiation data from thousands of cases into spreadsheets. The data was then dropped into Picture It Settled. Our students had the chance to ‘look under the hood’ to see what outcomes resulted from which negotiation strategies. Many of them subsequently wrote about decision science, workings of the brain and experimental psychology. We helped some turn their class papers into published papers, thus helping them distinguish themselves in the legal profession while still in law school.”

Recently, some students have been telling us they chose Vanderbilt Law specifically because of our Program on Law & Innovation – it makes us unique … . — Larry Bridgesmith

With such convincing success stories and differentiation benefits as those mentioned above, it’s disappointing that more law schools are not creating hands-on experiential learning. Unfortunately, developing and getting approval/budget for experiential learning and innovative educational programs like teaching entrepreneurism, business management and technology can be extremely challenging in many law schools.

I recently published an article in Legal IT Today magazine focused on law schools that are “Winning the Battle to Teach Legal Technology and Innovation at Law Schools.” This article—inspired by a conversation with Dan Linna at the LegalCIO Conference at Legalweek in NYC this past February 2017—focuses on faculty from a handful of law schools that have made great strides in teaching technology to law students. But, I found there is clearly much more work to be done in convincing the majority of law schools to expand their reach beyond traditional legal education.

Vanderbilt Law’s Larry Bridgesmith, an adjunct professor teaching in the school’s Program on Law & Innovation, encourages all law schools to take initiative in establishing hands-on experiential learning. Bridgesmith says, “Law schools that believe legal education is a purely theoretical exercise must change their attitude, step up and get creative to connect students directly with law practitioners. As faculty, we can create opportunities in entrepreneurism for our students. The push needs to come from the institution’s leadership – faculty and deans. Recently, some students have been telling us they chose Vanderbilt Law specifically because of our Program on Law & Innovation – it makes us unique and the institution’s leadership and greatest supporters have encouraged us to expand this work.”

Despite clear evidence of its advantage, some law schools are still resistant to offering rich “real-world” experiential opportunities to students, or perhaps it’s not a high priority for them yet. However, such reluctance seems to do both institutions and their students a disservice. If law schools won’t reinvent themselves to include hands-on opportunities for students, they are at risk of falling behind highly motivated institutions that are already offering these dynamic experiential opportunities.

Click here to read “Winning the Battle to Teach Legal Technology and Innovation at Law Schools” from Legal IT Today’s March 2017 edition.

About the Guest Author
Christy Burke is president and founder of Burke & Company, a New York-based PR and marketing consulting firm. She has published columns in Legal IT Today, Legal IT Professionals, Law.com, Legal Tech (now Cybersecurity Law & Strategy), the ABA’s Law Practice Today, Intellectual Property Today, Attorney at Work, Peer to Peer and Marketing the Law Firm. For more information, visit www.burke-company.com or follow Christy on Twitter: @ChristyBurkePR.

The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) recently posted a Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit on its “Industry Guidelines” page. The toolkit’s stated purpose is to help “individuals and legal departments evaluate and develop legal operations skills.” Law students, lawyers, and other professionals will find it to be an excellent resource for assessing and building their legal-service delivery skills. While the toolkit serves as an excellent roadmap for a legal operations career, it also offers tremendous insight into the legal-service delivery skills that clients value.

Traditional lawyers and law students should take a close look at the CLOC toolkit. Continue Reading CLOC Legal Operations Career Skills Toolkit: Lawyers, Your Clients Value Legal-Service Delivery Skills

The ABA Center for Innovation shared its mission and launched its website last evening at the Chicago Legal Innovation meetup at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. “We must try new things,” said Geoffrey Burkhart, the Center’s Deputy Director.

The access to justice “crisis” has been known for decades; it is no longer news, Burkhart said. It is well known that public defenders are stretched very thin and far too many lack access to civil legal services. Burkhart voiced concern that we’ve become numb to the word “crisis.” He urged lawyers to take action and “try new things.” On the present course, Burkhart said, “lawyers are squandering a gift.” Continue Reading ABA Innovation Center Urges Lawyers to Try New Things, Identifies Innovative Law Schools

These are the days of great intentions. Around New Year’s Day, it’s energizing to think about future possibilities. The workout plan you’ll follow. The new skills you’ll learn. The career defining moments you’ll create.

But no matter how inspired, most people fail to move forward as envisioned. Many do not make it past the first week of January, overwhelmed by “urgent” tasks related to the return to work, school, etc. Today’s inspiration is insufficient for sustained, long-term career success. The key is converting today’s inspiration into an actionable plan. Continue Reading Convert New Year Inspiration Into Long-Term Career Success – Today!

Law students and junior lawyers often worry that they lack sufficient legal expertise to blog. This is driven in part by the emergence of many blogs that feature articles, not blog posts. But blogging opportunities include much more than applying extensive legal expertise.

Kevin O’Keefe, LexBlog founder and CEO, encourages law students and lawyers to share content, provide a take, and talk about the things that they’re doing. You can do these things without holding yourself out as an expert. One of the benefits, in addition to connecting with others, is that doing it well demonstrates interest in a niche and that you are doing the work to develop expertise. Continue Reading Permission to Blog: It’s Not All About Legal Expertise #90MinBlog

When I tell lawyers that I’m teaching the LegalRnD version of “Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers” next semester at MSU Law, I usually get one of three reactions:

  1. Wow, what a great class! I wish I was still in law school!
  2. Wow, what a great class! But I’m not good at math.
  3. Why teach lawyers quantitative analysis?

With all the talk about big data, forensic evidence in the courtroom, artificial intelligence, code, and robot lawyers, the value of quantitative training is becoming obvious. Many lawyers see opportunities to apply quantitative thinking in practice, especially at the intersection of law and technology. At the same time, data and artificial intelligence are transforming legal-service delivery. The challenge of exercising basic math skills in an introductory quantitative analysis class is nothing compared to the rewards from learning quantitative thinking.

But there remain far too many lawyers and law students–especially law students–who do not see the connection between quantitative thinking and the law. Why should law students take “Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers”? The better question is, “How can law students afford not to learn quantitative thinking?”
Continue Reading Why Law Students Should Take Quantitative Analysis: Big Data, Algorithms, Courtrooms, Code, and Robot Lawyers

Is the legal industry evolving fast enough to create demand for #LegalTech- and innovation-trained law students? Yes, is the short answer. In fact, current demand exceeds the supply of law graduates trained in legal innovation and technology. I base this conclusion on both my experiences at LegalRnD at Michigan State Law and the information in Roy Strom’s July 20, 2016 article in the The American Lawyer: “Law Schools’ Tech-Training Conundrum: If We Teach Them, Will They Get Jobs?” (subscription required).

Gary Gonzaelz talks to MSU Law LegalRnD students about his internship at Elevate Services.
Gary Gonzaelz talks to MSU Law LegalRnD students about his internship at Elevate Services.

Employers across the legal industry have had a difficult time finding law students and lawyers trained in legal innovation and technology. Joe Otterstetter, managing counsel and associate general counsel for the nearly 500-employee 3M legal department, says in the article that these skills are so rare right now that they’re incredibly demanded. He says that as more firms and legal departments get a sense for the value law grads trained in innovation and technology can deliver, demand for them will increase. In the future, he said that he expects to hire law grads trained in process management or legal analytics.

Law firms have also found a short supply of law grads with legal innovation and technology skills. AmLaw 100 law firm Baker Donelson has hired law grads with these skills, partner William Painter says in the article. Many of the 25 people that Baker Donelson employs in areas like knowledge management and process management are lawyers. Painter sharply criticizes law schools, saying they have been “for the most part . . . woefully inadequate” and “asleep at the switch” while the skills law students need to succeed in the legal industry have been changing.

Samir Patel talks about how learning blockchain technology and engaging on social media helped him land a summer position with Eris Industries.
Samir Patel talks about how learning blockchain technology and engaging on social media helped him land a summer position with Eris Industries.

Legal startups, legal aid organizations, and other legal-service providers are also looking for innovative and tech-savvy law graduates. Nina Kilbride, Head of Legal Engineering at Eris Industries, which develops blockchain and smart-contract solutions, says in the article that Eris struggles to find talented, tech-focused lawyers. She says there are not enough law schools teaching students skills to solve legal problems using technology. Continue Reading No Conundrum, #LegalTech and Innovation Training Helping Law Grads Get Jobs

Too much of today’s legal innovation and technology talk focuses on disruption, artificial intelligence, and whether robots can practice law. Interesting topics, yes. But this discussion threatens to distract us from discussing fundamental changes that can be implemented immediately to significantly improve legal-service delivery across the industry.

Discussions about artificial intelligence and the like can make legal innovation and technology feel inaccessible and overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be that way. Lawyers, law students, and legal-services professionals can learn fundamental disciplines and begin applying them today to modernize their practices and increase their personal value in the marketplace. Engaging and empowering all legal-services professionals is important for improving legal-service delivery and thereby improving access to legal services for everyone.

Learning is not compulsory[.]  . . .  But to survive, we must learn.”

―W. Edwards Deming

What fundamental disciplines should be leveraged to deliver legal services in the twenty-first century? While this list could include several additional items, the following five deserve your focus now:

  1. process improvement
  2. project management
  3. metrics, data, and analytics
  4. technology
  5. business of law

Continue Reading 21st Century Legal Services? Lawyers and Law Students, You Can Learn These Skills

For some time now, I’ve encouraged lawyers to leverage process improvement and project management to improve legal-service delivery. After I joined Michigan State University College of Law two years ago, I began to explore how applying these disciplines to career development could help us achieve our goals. Two years later, we have seen a 13.64% improvement in law graduate placement into “gold standard” jobs–full-time, long-term, bar-passage required or JD-advantage jobs.

I would not suggest that “lean thinking” deserves full credit for this improvement. First and foremost, I had the pleasure of working with a great career development team. We also engaged with and received great support from the dean, faculty, staff, board of trustees, alumni, and others. But “lean thinking” played an important role in our transformation of career services. At a minimum, it provided a framework and disciplined approach to improving our delivery of services and building a lean, “continuous improvement” culture. Continue Reading “Lean Thinking” Fuels 13.64% Improvement in Law Graduate Placement

Two years ago, I joined Michigan State University College of Law as the Assistant Dean for Career Development and a Professor of Law in Residence. It has been a productive two years. We assembled a great Career Services Office (CSO) team, transformed the office through “lean systems thinking,” and worked with students, faculty, staff, our Board of Trustees, and alumni to improve employment statistics significantly.

Recently, I was presented the opportunity to devote 100 percent of my time to teaching and being the director of LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation at MSU Law. While I will miss working with and leading the CSO team, I could not be more enthusiastic about the opportunity to improve legal-service delivery and access to legal services through LegalRnD.

Working with ReInvent Law

MSU Law alumni talk about their nontraditional legal careers and the need for T-Shaped lawyers: Amani Smathers (Legal Solutions Architect at Davis Wright Tremaine), Joe Kelly (Software Engineer at Seyfarth Shaw), Patrick Ellis (Counsel, Office of the General Counsel at General Motors), and Brian Pike (Knowledge Automation Architect at Riverview Law).
MSU Law alumni talk about their nontraditional legal careers and the need for T-Shaped lawyers: Amani Smathers (Legal Solutions Architect at Davis Wright Tremaine), Joe Kelly (Software Engineer at Seyfarth Shaw), Patrick Ellis (Counsel, Office of the General Counsel at General Motors), and Brian Pike (Knowledge Automation Architect at Riverview Law).

My connection to MSU Law began with the ReInvent Law program and its co-founders, Dan Katz and Renee Knake. Dan and I have know each other since our days as students at the University of Michigan Law School. After law school, Dan earned a PhD at Michigan and I clerked for Judge James L. Ryan on the U.S. Court of Appeals. After my clerkship, I joined the Honigman law firm in Detroit, resolving and litigating supply-chain and other business disputes and advising clients on information technology, cybersecurity, and data privacy matters.

Over the years after law school, Dan and I engaged in many conversations about law practice and the need for innovation and technology to improve legal-service delivery. Dan invited me to lecture to his Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers course. Dan and Renee invited me to help with workshops for their Entrepreneurial Lawyering class. Shortly afterwards, I began teaching as an adjunct law professor. First, I began teaching Negotiation at the University of Michigan Law School. Then I worked with Dan to develop and teach Litigation {Data, Theory, Practice, & Process} at MSU Law. In February 2014, I was invited to give a talk at ReInvent Law New York, Law Practice: From Art to Science.

It was because I was an adjunct professor at MSU Law that I received an email notice about the assistant dean for career development opening. I’d been promoted to equity partner at Honigman and was not looking to make a move. But I could not turn down the opportunity to work with students, industry partners, Dan and Renee, and other ReInvent Law supporters and contributors, including Dean Joan Howarth, Adam Candeub, Jim Chen, and Dan Barnhizer.

13.64% Increase In “Gold Standard” Job Placement Over Two Years

I’m proud of the career services team that I assembled and the results that we achieved. A key career services metric is the percentage of graduates placed into “gold standard” jobs–full-time, long-term, bar-passage-required or JD-advantage jobs. In our first year, the percentage of 2014 graduates reporting “gold standard” jobs increased by 9.36% over the prior year. In our second year, 70.45% of 2015 MSU Law graduates reported gold standard jobs, 4.28% more than the prior year and a 13.64% increase over two years.

In career services, we applied the foundational disciplines that hold promise for transforming legal-service delivery: process improvement, project management, metrics and data analytics, and technology. We developed a lean, “continuous improvement” culture, improved core processes, and implemented several new programs. (More on this and the numbers above in my next post.)

Launching LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation

LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation
LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation

In July 2015, we launched LegalRnD, which replaced ReInvent Law. I was honored that Dean Howarth entrusted me to lead LegalRnD. The program has generated many opportunities for MSU Law and our students. Interest in LegalRnD has continued to grow, so much that I proposed that I spend 100 percent of my time leading LegalRnD and teaching. I am thrilled that this has come to fruition.