Saturday, April 19, 2014

Experimental Legal Education and Law Without Walls


(thanks to wikipedia for this)

"Success of law schools depends on rate of experimentation", said George Kembel, co-founder of Stanford D School. With the dire state of legal education in the US right now there is an awful imminence to that prediction. Add to the mix that legal education is undergoing all sorts of changes around the world and we have a situation about which it is impossible to be complacent.

I have just returned from Miami where we celebrated the fourth ConPosium of Law Without Walls. The growth in LWOW is huge--in 4 years we've gone from 6 law schools to 26 law and business schools around the world, in every continent. Yet this year is special because we experimented with a new programme called LWOWX. LWOWX existed in virtual reality only. If our pilot works, LWOWX will be a way of making LWOW accessible to a greater community.

What is special about LWOW and LWOWX is that students get to experiment in ways they won't find anywhere in law school. Students have to mix law, business, finance, technology and design in creative ways that provide answers to problems. Of course LWOW is more than that. Students are placed in multicultural teams that span 19 time zones with mentors who are busy and all over the place. Now coordinate your meetings, work out which language and assign different bits of the tasks. Difficult? You bet. All you've got is four months to do it.

The way it works is that the students are given broad topics. Here are some examples:
  • The Death of the Cover Letter: Rethinking How to Find a Job and Build a Career
  • Cyber Justice: Using Technology to Provide Legal Services to Underserved Around the Globe
  • International Arbitration: What’s Under the Invisibility Cloak? 
  • Women in the Law: Is the Glass Ceiling Cracked, Smashed, or Unbreakable? 
Within these topics students had to design projects to solve a particular problem. The women in the law team developed a smartphone app for female lawyers to create an online community where their problems and difficulties could be aired and discussed. (Click link to see presentation.) The death of the cover letter group created
"JD Handshake -- A website for law students looking for jobs, and for employers seeking to hire law school students and graduates that allows employers to get to know candidates better than they can via the traditional resume and cover letter and interview process."
One of the key points about these projects is that they must have a business case behind them. This doesn't mean they have to be for profit ventures, there are plenty of not for profit projects. Either way they have to be feasible and sustainable.

Let me give two examples from this year. "Nirubi" is the project that won the LWOWX competition this year. It is based on providing help for women in the Sri Lanka civil war who feel they have no means of expressing their voice and feelings and so are powerless. Nirubi is designed to collect voices and to work with NGOs.

"Judgment Pay" was a website designed to use crowdsourcing to help poor people collect their judgment debts--that bit of the legal process we tend to forget, actually getting hold of your damages from the defendant.

Just Innovate tweeted:

Just Innovate @Just_Innovate
Team Judgment Pay: Business Need? [tick], Business Model? [tick], Competitive Advantage? [tick].... Judges impressed so far at
Judgment Pay won this year's ConPosium. And by the way the ConPosium tweets under the hashtag #lwow2014 were "storified" by Robert Richards at storify.com with lots of photographs of the teams and judges.

There will be many ways that LWOW will grow and extend, not just in school numbers but in features and roles. What is clear to all of us who attended the ConPosium is that for law schools to retain meaning and relevance in modern society they must go beyond their traditional remits. We can no longer rely on the conventional wisdom of legal education nor can we continue to mystify our students with the process.

I imagine because of our reliance on precedent we look to the past while we mildly attempt to predict the future. LWOW shows us how to be radical and fulfilling. It is a way of introducing experimentation and giving students (and faculty) good reasons for showing that legal education is worthwhile, fruitful and creative. We can start to see law students and lawyers as designers and innovators in a legal services market that is moving forward despite what we do in law schools.

It's worth remembering that within the eight regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007 are improving access to justice, improving the public understanding of law, and promoting competition within the provision of legal services. LWOW is showing us a way of achieving these objectives.

I return to Kembel's words: "Success of law schools depends on rate of experimentation". Yes.



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