With a new emphasis on legal innovation, law schools are using experiential learning and technology tools to meet the future needs of law firms and legal departments.

Getting law students practice-ready by graduation has always been a challenge for law schools, but many schools have begun to look beyond traditional legal training to enable students to compete in an increasingly tech-driven legal market.

Philip Weiser, professor of law at University of Colorado Law School, heads the school’s Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. He says he thinks that changing law student mindsets to consider the technology needs of future clients, rather than future employers, could give them a leg up after graduation.

“Part of the issue is that we need to train lawyers to think like clients, not to think like lawyers. If lawyers aren’t familiar with how to analyze and present data or how to use technology to do things the way their clients do, whether it’s Excel or PowerPoint, they’re at a huge disadvantage,” Weiser says.

Colorado, along with the University of Michigan Law School, has highlighted entrepreneurialism in their approach to legal technology training. The program Weiser leads connects students to local entrepreneurs and legal departments at technology companies for internships so students can “start to see their roles as problem-solvers and as collaborators” more than just knowledge aggregators.

“I think that corporate legal department experience is going to be 10 [times] more powerful in this direction than most law firms, because most law firms are not going to be at the cutting edge,” Weiser says. He adds that Big Law tends to be “operating at the legacy mode.”

Some law school programs have partnered with technology vendors to get students both technologically prepared for careers in law and thinking about ways they can use technology to boost efficiency and workflow in practice. Several legal technology companies have extended their products to law schools, often for free, in hopes of helping the programs improve their efforts to train students.

Larry Bridgesmith, a professor of law at Vanderbilt University Law School, leads the school’s program on Law & Innovation. This program offers hands-on courses in legal project management and design using technologies like artificial intelligence-based legal research platform ROSS Intelligence, legal virtual assistant tool Kim, and drag-and-drop programming platform Neota Logic. The companies behind all three companies donated their technologies to students.

The program Bridgesmith leads will host its first legal hackathon in April, an event he says “brings students together with practicing lawyers and technologists and system engineers all for the purpose of learning how to work with each other.” Collaboration with technologists is a key skill for the next generation of attorneys, Bridgesmith says.

His goal in the hackathon is “not to make a lawyer an engineer or a developer, but to get used to working together to accomplish something.”

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