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Hacking the Law: Evolution or Revolution?

by Guy Alvarez • April 8th, 2014 • Future of Law | Blog

future of legal technologyWhat is the future of legal technology? Will it evolve over time or will it be violently disrupted by a series of events?

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what the future of legal technology might hold when I attended an all day conference at my alma mater,  Brooklyn Law School entitled “From Bleak House to Geek House: Evolving Law for Entrepreneurial Lawyers.”  This was the first time I had returned to the law school since I graduated twenty years ago and was delighted to see how far my law school had changed.

The conference which ” focused on the challenges and opportunities that are changing legal education and the practice of law…and included demonstrations of forward-looking legal products and services exemplifying the new face of law practice,” was organized by Professor Jonathan Askin who is the founder and director of the Brooklyn Law School Incubator and Policy Clinic and the Innovation Catalyst for the school’s Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship.

Interestingly the day began with Dean Nicholas Allard addressing the news that had been widely reported of Brooklyn Law School’s 15% tuition cut in order to address law school accessibility and affordability. This announcement in itself represents the evolution of law and legal education here in the United States. In a country where tuition rates continually rise, Brooklyn Law School has decided to go the other way and actually cut tuition in order to make it more accessible by those that want to attend law school and make a difference.

“This is what a true and broad-based tuition reduction program looks like,” Dean Allard said. “Today, BLS is saying ‘enough’ to the spiraling tuition hikes that burden many students. Brooklyn Law School’s action creates a model for attacking the national problem of skyrocketing tuition costs. Law school is still expensive, and this is by no means the total solution. It is, however, a very important step in the right direction.”

Allard further asserted that lowering tuition is not just about BLS.  “This is about addressing issues that every law school is grappling with – allowing qualified students from all backgrounds to become attorneys. It’s about students being able to graduate from law school without crushing debt. In turn, it’s about untold millions of Americans being able to have access to quality, affordable legal services.”

I must say, I felt proud to be a BLS alumni after the dean’s announcement and the presentations and discussions that followed made me feel that there is a new sense of optimism for the future of law as a profession and the future of legal education. A month ago, I wrote a post that called for a change in the way legal education is administered  in the United States. In that post, I called for law schools to law schools to start teaching social business skills to law students as part of their curriculum in order to react to the social business transformation being undertaken at most Fortune 500 companies across America. While I am disappointed that the topic of social business was not addresses during the symposium, I was highly encouraged by what I heard and saw.

The day’s agenda included a series of presentations and panels by legal educators, practitioners and law students who discussed the concept of “hacking the law.” This concept which originated at Brooklyn Law School in 2012 when a group called the “New York Legal Hackers” was created has evolved over the last few years to include lawyers, law students, developers, academics, entrepreneurs, technologists and policy makers interested in the changing nature of the law and legal industry. Today the legal hacker movement has grown to  ten groups across the United States who meet regularly and hold “meet ups” and “hackathons” where “legal hackers spot issues and opportunities where technology can improve and inform the practice of law and where law, legal practice, and policy can adapt to rapidly changing technology.”

One of the highlights of the day was the “Lightning Keynote” from New York City Council Member, Ben Kallos, who chairs the NYC Committee on Governmental Operations and has been actively involved with technology and law since childhood. Mr. Kallos who said, “the law is not immutable, we change the law everyday” encouraged attendees and law students to “hack the law and learn how to think.”

Other presentations included discussions on experiential legal training, collaborative legal platforms, access to justice through technology, approaches for funding legal processes and the lawyer as the “CTO.” You can view all of the videos from the presentations here.

To me, the most exciting and encouraging presentations of the day were the demos by law students who are a part of the BLIP clinic. The demos included an application to combat revenge porn, an online repository for small inventors and a program called G-Corp that helps to set standards for socially responsible online ventures. These demos are an example of the great work the BLIP clinic is doing by matching law students that need real world experience with entrepreneurs and start-ups who cannot afford traditional legal services. This may very well be where the future of law is heading, at least a part of it. In a country where it is becoming increasingly difficult for law students to gain employment after law school, these kinds of clinics provide fertile grounds for law students to gain meaningful experience and to develop relationships with fledgling businesses and entrepreneurs.

Nonetheless, the challenge remains for law schools to teach students social business skills that will enable them to take advantage of the opportunities by law firms and corporations that are undergoing social business transformations. Perhaps law schools can deploy enterprise social networks to let students understand the value of collaboration and communication in a business environment.

At the end of the day, I was unable to answer my question. I am not sure if we are heading for a revolution in the law or if the law is going to continually evolve. What I am sure of is that the future of legal technology seems brighter than it did before.

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