Valparaiso University Law School Named Top 20 Most Innovative Law School by preLaw Magazine

We identified schools that are on the cutting edge when it comes to preparing students for the future.

Fall 2017 – preLaw Magazine

By Tyler Roberts

Valparaiso University Law School named Top 20 Most Innovative Law School

Artificial intelligence. Big data. Design thinking. Legal technology. These can be scary concepts for aspiring lawyers. After all, these advances are challenging the status quo of the legal profession and threatening to take away work traditionally performed by first-year associates.

And it’s not just new lawyers who are affected. The legal marketplace is changing for all. Clients are demanding more for less — more efficiency, more attention to their needs and greater transparency. In addition, there is a widening gap between legal services and those who can’t afford them.

The good news is that cutting-edge technology and new approaches can help these situations. “Lawyers are interacting with technologists, using predictive analytics and natural language processing,” said J.B. Ruhl, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School. “The first time you hear about that should not be after you leave law school.” Ruhl and others believe law schools need to train lawyers to be innovators in order to prepare them for practicing law in the 21st century.

“Its magical thinking to believe that you are going to solve all of these problems when you know nothing about the tools typically deployed to solve problems in the universe,” said Dan Katz, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Institute of Technology. Lawyers should understand business, technology, process improvement and workflow optimization to increase the value of their services, Katz said. Fortunately, many law schools are responding by introducing innovative courses, clinics and programming to prepare students for the changing legal marketplace.

The National Jurist took a look at programs across the country and identified 20 law schools with innovative curricula, programs and approaches to preparing students for the future. We start in Silicon Valley, where Stanford University Law School is breaking new ground.


Stanford University Law School 
Design thinking has become a buzzword in academia, and Stanford Law School is leading the way in legal education. The concept is that you use logic, imagination and systemic reasoning to solve complex problems. The law school combined forces with Stanford’s, which focuses on design and creative thinking, to create the Legal Design Lab.

The program combines the efforts of lawyers, technologists and designers to create a new generation of legal products and services. It hosts workshops and teaches classes on how design and technology can be used to solve problems in the legal world. Some of the lab’s previous projects have included Navocado, a platform of interactive guides to court processes, and the Court Messaging Project, which offers open-source messaging software that courts can use to send automated messages to clients, reminding them to attend court appearances.

Brigham Young University – J. Reuben Clark Law School 
Brigham Young University recently launched LawX, a legal design lab that will use design thinking to address issues surrounding access to justice. The course is structured like an idea incubator and will be run like a startup.

Design thinking does not necessarily entail a technological solution. Rather, it is an approach that can be used in all areas of legal practice, explained Kimball Parker, a Utah lawyer who will lead LawX. Design thinking involves rapid prototyping and testing, allowing the designer to find elegant solutions to complex problems. “We want our law students not just to be experts in the legal system as it is but to aggressively think about how to make the system better,” said Gordon Smith, dean of the law school.

For their first project, students participating in LawX will develop automation software to assist pro se defendants in responding to complaints. The final product will help defendants respond to a lawsuit and avoid a default judgment.

Suffolk University Law School
Robotics, automation and big data may take over many tasks currently performed by lawyers, but that doesn’t scare Andrew Perlman, dean of Suffolk University Law School. He sees these new technologies as presenting opportunities for lawyers to practice at the top of their license.

Through the law school’s legal technology and innovation concentration, students learn to adapt to changes in the legal industry with cutting-edge legal skills, such as automated document assembly, legal project management, design thinking and virtual lawyering. Students also have the opportunity to use their expertise in the law and technology to build new legal tools and develop innovative legal services.

“We want to know how we can make the delivery of legal services better, faster and cheaper,” Perlman said. “If we do that, then we can reach new consumers and make lawyers more competitive.”


University of California Hastings College of the Law
Just 40 miles north of Silicon Valley, UC Hastings has created its own innovative program. The Startup Legal Garage is the flagship program of UC Hastings’ Institute for Innovation Law. It provides cutting-edge research on topics such as drug pricing, patent trolling and artificial intelligence.

Each year, 50 law students provide corporate and intellectual property work for early-stage tech and life science companies under the supervision of local attorneys. The Startup Legal Garage teaches students to become partners in enterprise and more than just “the lawyer in the room.” In this approach to legal education,  students bring their deals into the classroom, which allows faculty to harvest hypotheticals in real-time and bring the teaching of legal doctrine to life.

Albany Law School
Want to work with real-life technology entrepreneurs with marketable ideas? Students participating in Albany Law School’s Entrepreneurship Law in Emerging Technologies program have an opportunity to do just that.

Students are tasked with identifying the legal challenges that entrepreneur clients encounter and finding solutions. Students not only receive instruction on business development and intellectual property but also learn the science behind new technologies so they can practice in a rapidly emerging field.

Vanderbilt University Law School
Vanderbilt Law School launched its Program on Law and Innovation, or PoLI, in 2015 to train its students to be innovators in the legal profession. Students participating in the program learn about new legal business models, technologies such as artificial intelligence, entrepreneur skills and how increased efficiency can widen the availability of affordable legal services.

Professor J.B. Ruhl, who directs the program, said programs of this type are the future of legal education. “I don’t see how you could envision a law school not having something going on inside that has a lab-like atmosphere exposing lawyers to modern-day practice,” he said.


Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Institute of Technology
Tomorrow’s lawyers will need a fundamental understanding of the market forces affecting the business of law, as well as skills in technology, process improvement, analytics and workflow optimization, professor Dan Katz said. For students at Chicago-Kent College of Law, these skills have been incorporated into their law school curriculum. Katz is the director of the law school’s Law Lab, a teaching and research center focused on legal innovation and technology. The Law Lab positions its students for success in traditional law practices and alternative legal markets by using innovative technology and business processes to solve legal issues.

Chicago-Kent also offers a Justice and Technology Practicum in which students can gain experience with document assembly and automation tools. Throughout the semester, students research real-life justice problems and use cloud-based A2J Author software to break down complex legal information in a straightforward way for self-represented litigants.

University of Washington School of Law
Located in Seattle, the fastest growing tech city in the U.S., University of Washington School of Law is well positioned to offer innovative student experiences in global business and technology law. The global business concentration offered through the law school’s Global Business Law Institute gives students a chance to learn about the challenges of the global legal marketplace and what can be done to meet those challenges. The curriculum and training is developed in collaboration with the institute’s advisory board, which includes executives from Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks.

“It’s the support from these leading global companies and firms that makes the institute so remarkable,” said co-director Scott Schumacher, associate dean for academic administration. “We are collaborating with those on the cutting edge, learning what training and skills are necessary for global business lawyers to succeed.”

Northern Kentucky University – Salmon P. Chase College of Law
The W. Bruce Lunsford Academy for Law, Business + Technology at Northern Kentucky University equips students to deliver legal services that incorporate traditional legal knowledge, business analytics and efficient use of technology.

The academy also emphasizes growth areas such as intellectual property and privacy, provides instruction in business analytics and informatics, and introduces students to legal and consumer technology. Classroom instruction extends beyond traditional law school methods, giving students hands-on experiences in drafting and editing intellectual property documents and creating apps that can be used to expedite legal proceedings.

University of Miami School of Law
Imagine the possibilities if you were able to bring the global marketplace into a law school setting. University of Miami’s LawWithoutWalls (LWOW) does just that. “We are changing the way we train future lawyers and also the way lawyers practice,” said Michele DeStefano, founder and director of LWOW. LWOW students and supervising attorneys communicate with one another from around the world, identifying issues and finding solutions to corporate, legal and justice issues. The program lasts four months, culminating in real solutions at the intersection of law, business and technology, DeStefano said.

“We are creating new products, new services and new ways to do business, as well as increase efficiencies in legal departments or law firms,” she said.


University of Oklahoma College of Law
From day one, students at University of Oklahoma are immersed in tech. As part of the law school’s Digital Initiative, all students work from iPads and use digital tools to research, annotate, organize and present information on a digital platform.

Sure, most law students in 2017 are savvy enough to find their way around an iPad. But the University of Oklahoma teaches its students to use digital tools such as cloud computing, Dropbox and e-book publishing to increase efficiency and efficacy. In other words, the school creates students who can increase the value of their time and services — a skill desired by law firms and legal departments.

Cornell Law School
Want to spend an entire semester in New York City exploring legal issues related to information technology, such as  privacy, cybersecurity, regulation and constitutional law?

Students who participate in Cornell’s Program in Information and Technology Law do just that. Spending a semester taking courses at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City, students learn about the substantive legal issues arising from new technology.

“The program provides an exciting new way for our students to study this important area of the law in the heart of the fastest growing tech market in the country,” said Eduardo Peñalver, the school’s dean.


University of Minnesota Law School 
Not all legal education innovation comes in the form of design thinking, technology or entrepreneurship. Some law schools, such as University of Minnesota, are finding new ways to train and secure the public servants of tomorrow.

The Minnesota Law Public Interest Residency Program connects leading public interest and government organizations with high-achieving law students. Participating students work full time during their third year for a nonprofit or government agency. Students who complete the program have a guaranteed, full-time legal position with the same organization following graduation

Duke University School of Law
Duke University is staking its place on the frontier of legal innovation through multiple legal tech initiatives, including its Access Tech Tools. This clinic allows students to develop tools to expand access to legal services. Duke University also has an incubator, the Duke Law Tech Lab, which leverages the university’s faculty, students and alumni to support innovations in the delivery of legal and regulatory services.


Elon University School of Law
Elon University has introduced a new curriculum that requires a full-time, courseconnected placement for every student. The Residency Program is designed to provide students with experiential learning and real-time feedback from lawyers and judges.

In the program, second-year students work 32 to 36 hours per week during a 10-week trimester. A learning plan is developed by the supervising attorney and faculty members to increase proficiency in at least two legal skills.

Valparaiso University Law School
During the spring semester at Valparaiso University Law School, first-year students take Introduction to Experiential Learning, a course designed to link legal doctrine to real-world practice.

The course builds on the lessons that students learn in their first-year courses, culminating with rotations that are similar to medical school clinical rotations. During each rotation, a client is paired with a team of law students who work to address the client’s question.

“This breaks through the wall of bringing experiential learning to first-year students,” said Derrick Howard, associate dean of experiential learning.

The program allows students to test their knowledge prior to final exams, as well as hone soft skills such as interviewing, active listening and counseling. And the clients? They are lawyers who evaluate the students’ performances and provide feedback.

Regent University School of Law
Through Regent Law’s Integrated Lawyer Training, students participate in a number of opportunities designed to enhance their legal education through hands-on training and ethical formation.

Students learn workplace skills, such as basic accounting principles and technological competence with e-discovery, e-filing and other cutting edge law office technology. Third year students also have the opportunity to participate in a for-credit apprenticeship, where they work and study under an attorney while taking online coursework. The aim of these new initiatives? To create graduates ready to integrate into a 21st legal profession.


University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law
Founded in 2013, UNT Dallas College of Law is forging its own path. The public law school, which has the lowest tuition in Texas and has one of the nation’s most diverse student bodies, is forgoing the traditional law school model of one final exam or paper. Instead, all courses include multiple quizzes and assessments to keep track of students’ progress and catch those who are falling behind early enough to support them through each semester.

Mitchell Hamline School of Law
When it comes to online legal education, Mitchell Hamline is leading the charge. The law school began its Hybrid J.D. program in 2015 after receiving ABA approval to conduct 50 percent of its courses online. Students come from all over the country to participate in the program. Many of them are also working full time.

The law school recently announced an Executive J.D. enrollment option. Similar to the Hybrid J.D. program, students attend class on campus twice a semester and perform the rest of their coursework online. There are also additional leadership workshops.

Georgetown University Law Center
Most students go to law school without a background in science, math or engineering, but that should not stop them from pursuing an interest in legal tech. Students at Georgetown University have the opportunity to learn beginning and intermediate computer programming as well as participate in the law school’s Iron Tech app building course.

Georgetown University’s computer programming courses teach easy-to-learn and powerful programming languages. Students learn how to assess quantitative data and sift through complex databases using simple programming techniques. The concepts students encounter shed light on substantive issues of legal practice such as privacy, intellectual property and consumer protection.

Students participating in the Iron Tech course also gain technical skills by working with nonprofits to create apps that facilitate access to justice. At the end of the program, a panel of judges chooses the best app.

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