Legal Informatics at School

From The Practice November/December 2021
In Brief: New offerings at the intersection of law and technology

In “Legal Informatics,” Ron Dolin discusses the need for law schools to adequately adapt to a changing profession, including by providing more classes, certificates, and programs that speak to the burgeoning legal informatics landscape.  Some schools have already begun to provide such programs. CodeX, the Stanford Center on Legal Informatics is one example aimed at furthering research and entrepreneurship in the legal informatics space. “At CodeX,” the center says, is “researchers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and technologists work side-by-side to advance the frontier of legal technology, bringing new levels of legal efficiency, transparency, and access to legal systems around the world. CodeX’s emphasis is on the research and development of computational law (complaw)—the branch of legal informatics concerned with the mechanization of legal reasoning.” CodeX also offers fellowships designed specifically for academics interested in research and teaching in these areas.

And that’s not all. On the degree front, Stanford Law offers an LLM degree in law, science, and technology. Similarly, Chicago-Kent College of Law offers an LLM in legal innovation and technology, as well as a certificate in legal innovation and technology. And, within curricula, David Colarusso, director of the Legal Innovation and Technology Lab at Suffolk Law School, also runs the class Coding the Law, which aims to teach participants to “think about technologies in the law by building your own.” The Legal Innovation and Technology Lab uses a clinical model to teach students about the growing landscape: projects have included collaborative online textbooks for teaching legal tech; online, open-source tools for courts; and an “issue spotter” powered by AI that allows individuals in the legal aid community to describe issues such as eviction or bankruptcy in nonlegal language and find them within the National Subject Matter Index. This last tool is important for developing common language and standards in the legal aid community. Colarusso even invented his own programming language for lawyers, QnA Markup.

At HLS, Evisort founding team members Jerry Ting and Memme Onwudiwe are also returning this spring to run a reading group for current JD and LLM students focused on startups and entrepreneurship. As Onwudiwe notes in “Contracting Out,” he spent more time at the Harvard Innovation Lab than at the law school. What, if anything, could HLS have done to provide the kind of training Onwudiwe and his colleagues needed to start Evisort? What will legal education look like, say, 10 years from now if it begins to take the changing profession seriously? As Dolin writes in “Legal Informatics, there are many reasons to be hesitant about innovation, but schools must adapt if they want to appear current to their digital native populations.

On the executive level, HLS Executive Education (HLSEE) has also stepped in to fill what they see as a gap in professional training; for the last few years, it has offered the program Computer Science for Lawyers. Topics in the program include programming languages, algorithms, cybersecurity, cloud computing, database design, and challenges at the intersection of law and technology.

Finally, some schools outside of law have begun to offer credentials in legal tech. For instance, Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing now offers a certificate in legal informatics. Graduates are advocates for technology alongside lawyers, rather than lawyers training to be technologists. (For more on informatics generally and collaboration between fields, see “Disciplining Data.”). This is, in many ways, akin to programs in bioinformatics or health care informatics: such degrees do not assume they are secondary to medical training but are important degrees to have within the medical industry for particular roles. Could legal informatics training soon be must-have credentials for those in legal operations departments or business development?


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