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,, 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 or follow Christy on Twitter: @ChristyBurkePR.