I genuinely believe all law schools make a significant effort to serve their local communities, and I am convinced we succeed.  Our legal clinics provide hundreds of thousands of hours of free legal services each year to people who could not otherwise afford such services, and our externship students support our local, state, and federal governments and scores of non-profits. Our scholarly work advances the law in myriad ways, and our faculties volunteer their time to serve our society.

As those of you at public universities well know, however, public higher education faces particular pressures to justify its public funding by demonstrating relevance and positive contributions to state and local economies.  The West Virginia University College of Law has added two new legal clinics (bringing its total to nine clinics), both of which are designed to contribute directly to economic development in the state of West Virginia. In a region that has long relied on the fluctuating fortunes of a single economic resource—coal—this work adds direct value to the state.

The law school’s new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Law Clinic (EILC), directed by Professor Priya Baskaran, provides transactional assistance to West Virginia’s small businesses, nonprofits, community organizations, and burgeoning entrepreneurs. All the work is pro-bono, of course, and the clinic exclusively serves West Virginia clients. By working with individual clients and also supporting community business efforts, the clinic helps shape the business climate of West Virginia. The clinic, for example, provides legal services and training to new entrepreneurs and community organizations that work to address poverty.

The law school’s new Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic (LUSD) also aims to help West Virginia communities meet their economic goals. Under the direction of Professor Kat Garvey, the LUSD delivers conservation, municipal planning, and land use strategies to local governments, landowners, and nonprofit organizations. The clinic’s conservation focus helps preserve West Virginia’s natural beauty and enhance the tourism industry. Because many communities in West Virginia are small and don’t have professional staff to tackle land use issues, the clinic works with officials to develop comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances. And these comprehensive plans are essential—not just to helping communities grow and prosper—but to helping communities persevere after a disaster. In 2016, much of West Virginia was devastated by floods, but, according to Garvey, communities with comprehensive plans not only knew how to rebuild, but also were in a better position to receive grants to fund that effort. Now, building on common concerns throughout the region, LUSD is helping communities work together by creating the state’s first regional comprehensive plan.

These and WVU’s seven other legal clinics show students “that lawyers are important to people and communities and train them to practice law,” says Gregory W. Bowman, Dean and Professor of Law, but they also “make the West Virginia University College of Law critically important to its state and the region.”

Law schools continue to tinker with the first-year curriculum, with some law schools adding Legislation and Regulation courses, others adding professionalism or professional identity-focused courses, still others adding international law courses, and a few affording students first-year electives.  Texas A&M University School of Law has added another possibility to the mix—a required, first-year, one-credit Dispute Resolution Survey course.   In January, all first-year A & M students must take the new course during the week prior to Spring semester.  Over five days, the course introduces the students to the continuum of legal dispute resolution processes, particularly negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and new developments such as collaborative law and online dispute resolution.

“We introduced the Dispute Resolution survey course as part of a set of changes to the 1L curriculum, designed to ensure that we were preparing our students for effective lawyering and leadership in the 21st century,” says Robert B. Ahdieh, Dean & Anthony G. Buzbee Endowed Dean’s Chair at Texas A&M.  “With an eye to the changing landscape of dispute resolution at home and abroad, its complex interactions with almost every area of practice, and the law school’s distinctive strengths in the area, the course was an ideal addition to our first-year curriculum.”

Members of the faculty who teach in the law school’s dispute resolution program team-teach the course.  Each faculty member focuses on his or her area of specialization.  Professors Cynthia Alkon and Peter Reilly introduce the 1Ls to negotiation concepts and skills.  Professors Nancy Welsh and Carol Pauli focus on mediation and new developments, and Professors Michael Green and Guillermo Garcia provide an overview of the practice and law of arbitration.  Although the course includes substantial reading and some lecture, the students also engage in hands-on learning through exercises and simulations.  By the end of the course, students should be able to counsel clients regarding the basic differences among these processes, identify the issues that are important in choosing among and participating in them, and understand the role of lawyers.

The course has an ambitious set of seven learning objectives.  According to the law school, by the end of the course, students should be able to

  1. Explain to a client the primary differences among the dispute resolution processes of negotiation, mediation and arbitration.
  2. Identify the issues involved in counseling a client regarding which process would be appropriate for resolving a given dispute.
  3. Explain the basic structure and theoretical foundation of each of these dispute resolution processes and how the goals and structures of each one can vary in response to different contexts.
  4. Describe their role as a lawyer within each of these dispute resolution procedures.
  5. Be aware of ethical rules that apply to lawyers when serving as an advocate or neutral in a negotiation, mediation or arbitration.
  6. Identify and apply statutes and case law relevant to the enforcement of dispute resolution clauses providing for the use of negotiation, mediation and/or arbitration to resolve disputes.
  7. Assess their own performance as a lawyer in a dispute resolution process, provide constructive feedback to others, and identify ways to improve skills in representing clients effectively.

A significant number of my posts so far have focused on technological innovation.  This week’s post, however, focuses on an innovation that, for the most part, does not rely on technology.

Drake University Law School launched a new Institute for Justice Reform and Innovation in July. The nonpartisan Institute serves as a center for research and training on topics including implicit bias, sentencing reform, and improving trial procedures; it forges relationships with lawyers, judges, former jurors, court administrators, multi-disciplinary academics, non-profit advocacy groups and think tanks, and law students to achieve its goal of enhancing justice in the 21st century.

The institute is led by the Honorable Mark Bennett, a U.S. district court judge and nationally-renowned scholar and speaker on cutting-edge legal topics. One of the nation’s leading experts on implicit bias, Bennett has published more than 1,400 opinions and 24 law review articles in journals including the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Judge Bennett will also teach a class at the Law School, serve as a resource for faculty and students, and continue speaking and writing on a national level.

“I am very excited for Judge Bennett to join us,” said Jerry Anderson, dean of Drake Law School. “He has devoted his entire career to improving the justice system in our country, and we look forward to providing him with a platform to continue this important work in collaboration with our students and faculty.”

An important goal of the Institute is providing information and education about Trial by Agreement and Pre-Trial Agreements, which Judge Bennett considers to be two of the most significant innovations in decades for the civil justice systems in state and federal courts. The basic idea—developed by Texas trial lawyers Steve Susman and Thomas Melsheimer— is for the lawyers to agree to discovery principles and trial principles in the abstract, before they get into any conflict.  The agreements focus on ideas that would likely be acceptable to both sides, that would not inherently benefit either the plaintiff or defendant. According to Judge Bennett, this approach reduces costs and minimizes delay.

Judge Bennett has incorporated Trial by Agreement into his supplemental trial management order entered early in every civil case. Lawyers in all filed civil cases are required to read about Trial by Agreement, discuss it with their clients, and file an affidavit to that effect. Judges are encouraged to follow Bennett’s lead, and trial lawyers and litigators are urged to suggest use of Trial by Agreement in their cases.

Another feature of the Institute is its repository of academic articles and other resources relating to both civil and criminal justice. Resource topics in the Civil and Criminal Repository include:

  • jury instructions: comprehension and plain English,
  • judges,
  • post-verdict juror questioning,
  • witness memory and demeanor, and
  • implicit bias in the law.

Like any law school, the University of Miami School of Law sought to find a way to include a public service experience in its orientation, both to create more meaningful connections between students and the Miami community and to help its students begin developing the soft-skills they will need to be successful practitioners. The law school created its own version of a “hackathon,” putting students on teams that challenged students to solve legal problems including athlete activism, cryptocurrency, municipal bankruptcies, and healthcare litigation.

Students were randomly assigned to one of eight hacks so that each hack has about 45 students per hack.  Six community stakeholders were invited to join each hack. These people included alumni and other practitioners, law faculty, faculty from across the University in disciplines similar to or related to the fields represented by the hack topics, and activists and policymakers who worked on the issues raised in the hack topics.  The students were not asked to created new technologies (which is the typical expectation of technology hackathons); rather, the students were asked to “hack” (create) a way to address their issue.

Each topic was related to the law school’s Living Law Talks in which 12 mini-lectures are delivered by law faculty (four rounds of 3 concurrent panels) to 1L students during orientation; each lecture includes 10 minutes of lecture and 10 minutes of Q&A, after which students switch and go to the next lecture.  The Talks themselves are an opportunity for faculty to use their scholarly agenda, a particular project, or a current event/phenomenon to make connections with students early in their law school careers.

Facilitated by upper level students who followed a hack-guide developed by Acting Dean & Professor of Law Osamudia R. James and other members of the law school’s orientation team, the hack groups were given a specific problem to consider, as well as a prompt to consider a product, process, or legislation that might address the problem articulated in the hack.  The students’ worked in small teams and their work culminated in a five-minute presentation that they would deliver to the larger hack group of 45.

The hacking exercise was designed to develop soft skills: a capacity for teamwork, innovation and creativity, the ability to offer problem-solving skills and not just isolated legal knowledge, and an awareness of the interdisciplinary nature of legal problems (both within the law, e.g. a problem that includes tort law, and contract law and civil procedure, as well as in concert with other disciplines, e.g. a legal problem that invokes larger sociological or political issues).

Students were able to see themselves as problem-solvers invested in understanding issues from the vantage point of multiple stakeholders. At the same time, students worked closely with each other, getting to know each other very quickly, and getting accustomed to speaking up even before the first day of class.  Finally, students were able to connect with members of the local Miami community in only their first moments of law school.

From my perspective, by creating this unique orientation experience, Miami Law itself has hacked a solution to the problem of translating new law students’ passion for justice and change into a unique and exciting learning opportunity and connections with the local Miami community.

Given the fierce competition for prospective students and rankings in the modern era of legal education, it is surprising and exciting to discover two substantially different law schools putting aside their competitive instincts in an effort to serve their communities.

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law has joined forces with Brigham Young Law School to explore solutions to reduce evictions in Arizona, Utah and beyond. This new project kick-started Arizona’s new Innovation for Justice (I4J) Program this fall and builds upon the initial success of BYU’s LawX Legal Design Lab, which launched in the fall of 2017.

The Arizona class is taught by Stacy Butler, director of the the law school’s Innovation for Justice program. Kimball D. Parker, LawX director and president of Parsons Behle Lab, a legal tech innovation subsidiary of a Salt Lake City law firm, leads the LawX initiative. Both classes focus on improving access to justice with the use of design thinking, systems thinking, technology and interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Students get to take a deep dive into a specific project to produce a community deliverable. They engage with the community and in doing so, begin to understand how their learning can be applied outside of the classroom,” said Marc Miller, dean of the UA James E. Rogers College of Law.

“Given the sheer volume of evictions in America, we believe this is the right issue for LawX to tackle in its second year, and we welcome collaboration with the University of Arizona Law School,” said D. Gordon Smith, Dean of BYU Law School.

To tackle the overwhelming eviction problem, twelve Innovation for Justice students and six LawX students utilize a design thinking approach throughout the fall semester to understand why tenants disengage with the civil legal system, identify innovative approaches to educating and engaging tenants, and develop strategies for delivering possible solutions into the hands of those who need help most.

The students check in with students at their sister school via video conference and utilize collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Slack to share research insights. Depending on the findings, the collaboration could result in a combined project that can be applied beyond Arizona’s and Utah’s borders, or it could result in separate projects that address regional barriers to eviction reduction.

“An eviction can be life-changing to an individual or family, and it can result in homelessness; our research determined that evictions have one of the highest rates of default among those who can’t afford an attorney,” said Parker.

Like most of my dean colleagues, I am in a constant search for new ways to expand the career opportunities of my students. We all aspire to arming our students with skill sets that differentiate our students in the job marketplace. This fall, Golden Gate University launched a new effort to assist its students in securing jobs in the technology sector by acquiring the prestigious McCarthy Institute. The Institute is jointly sponsored by the university’s law and business schools.

Golden Gate University’s location within a few block radius of the offices of many of the major tech companies—Facebook, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, etc., — and the job growth in the sector made the choice an obvious one.

Golden Gate hired Professor David Franklyn, the director of the McCarthy Institute and an expert on IP and technology law, giving him a joint appointment in the schools of law and business.

The university’s professors and students work closely with technology companies and become experts on issues related to tech, law, and business. To give you a concrete example, a first research project for the McCarthy Institute at GGU is to determine how to value a trademark in technology companies.  The institute faculty will work with students in the law and business schools and a marketing professor from the University of Chicago (a member of the McCarthy Institute’s Board), with a goal of producing cutting-edge research.

Sponsors of the Institute range from law firms such as like Morrison and Foerster, legal publishers, such as Thomson West, tech companies, such as Google, and trademark associations such as the International Trademark Association.

The Institute is a significant augmentation of Golden Gate’s Center for IP and Privacy Law.  As many of you may know, the Center produces the IP Law Book Review, a frequently updated review of recently published books in the IP field.  Reviews are written by a panel of IP scholars and practitioners.

What did your law school do last week to celebrate Constitution Day? At McGeorge, students and faculty ate popcorn while viewing and discussing RBG, the documentary showcasing the challenges and achievements of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Meanwhile, BYU Law commemorated the signing of the Constitution by announcing the launch of its Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform, including three new and historically significant corpora. This platform is designed to advance the field of law and corpus linguistics, a methodology that uses naturally occurring language in large collections of texts called “corpora” to help determine the meaning of words and phrases.

Because corpus linguistics is new to me, I rely below on the experts to explain it. (I do have a McGeorge colleague, Brian Slocum, who has published quite a bit in this area.)

Associate Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court Thomas Lee, who is teaching a class on law and language with an emphasis on principles of corpus linguistics at Harvard Law School explains, “Corpus Linguistics is new to the legal community, and it holds significant and largely unexplored value in the courtroom when evaluating ordinary meaning.” “When a case presents a problem of lexical ambiguity, corpus methods offer judges an approach that is empirical and transparent, rather than intuitive and opaque. Early judicial decisions employing this methodology have highlighted these benefits. It is exciting to hear of new developments that will make corpus linguistics more available and accessible to practicing attorneys, judges, students and scholars around the world.”

The new corpora will be especially useful to those who study the meaning of the Constitution. “The method of corpus linguistics, which employs large-scale data sets (corpora) that provide evidence of linguistic practice, provides an important tool for the recovery of the original public meaning of the constitutional text,” said Lawrence Solum, Professor of Law at Georgetown Law and an internationally recognized author and expert in constitutional theory.

Designed specifically for lawyers and scholars, the new Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform for linguistic analysis includes:

  • The Corpus of Founding Era American English, which contains over 140 million words, allowing the user to examine context to see how words from the Constitution were used at the time of the founding (1750 – 1799). This resource provides judges with evidence for the original meaning of the Constitution, even though we are more than 200 years removed from its ratification.
  • The Corpus of Early Modern English, which contains more than 40,000 texts from 1485 to 1800.
  • The Corpus of Supreme Court of the United States contains more than 130 million words from 32,000 Supreme Court documents.

These resources are free and available to legal professionals, judges, scholars and the public.

The Law and Corpus Linguistics Technology Platform features a user-friendly interface offering the ability to search these corpora by terms and phrases with filters for year, primary author, genre (legal or non-legal document, court proceeding, speech, diary entry, novel, etc.) and source. The corpora also support collocation searches, which enable the user to gain insights into word meanings and relationships between words.

BYU has taken a leading role in advancing the field of law and corpus linguistics. In 2013, BYU Law offered the first course on law and corpus linguistics in the United States, taught by Stephen Mouritsen. In 2016, BYU Law organized the first academic conference on law and corpus linguistics in partnership with Georgetown Law, and BYU Law has continued to host an annual conference on the topic. Last year, BYU Law created two research fellowships dedicated to law and corpus linguistics. This fall, adjunct BYU Law professor and.

The 2019 AALS Annual Meeting will include a session focusing on corpus linguistics, Corpus Linguistics: The Search for Objective Interpretation on Saturday, January 5, 2019 from 1:30 pm – 3:15 pm. The Section sponsored on Law and Interpretation is sponsoring the session.

This fall, New York Law School (NYLS) launched a new initiative entitled the Business of Law Institute. The Institute seeks to create a pipeline of new lawyers to join the growing legal tech sector and assist the efforts to bridge the access-to-justice gap.

The initiative grew out of a research project NYLS commissioned. Ari Kaplan Advisors conducted a four-month study that captured both qualitative and quantitative data, from leaders at major law firms, corporations, and legal technology companies. The study also included focus groups with law students and broad research on the legal tech marketplace.

The goals of the Institute include:

  • Developing, in consultation with industry experts, a series of curricular and extracurricular experiential course offerings to train NYLS students to be effective practitioners in the business of law.
  • Building a pipeline of jobs for students who are interested in the intersection of law and technology, especially as corporate legal counsel.
  • Providing Evening Division students with specialized training as part of their J.D. studies to expand their skill sets.

Subject areas that the Institute will explore include risk and compliance, privacy, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, blockchain, e-discovery, and technology-assisted review. “While traditional legal education remains paramount,” according to NYLS Dean Anthony Crowell, “today’s law school graduates will gain a competitive advantage if they enter the job market ready to meet the technological and operational needs of their employers.”

NYLS’s Business of Law Institute will offer a mix of courses and programs, beginning this fall:

  • The first course in development is The Business of Law Workshop and Seminar,which combines classroom instruction on timely regulations and technologies with hands-on work experience in a corporate legal department.
  • The Institute will establish a technology-centric Learning Lab, where students can gain exposure to industry-leading legal tech tools, including the e-discovery software Relativity.
  • The Institute will also offer upper-level seminars such as Compliance and Bank Regulatory Matters, Smart Contracting and Artificial Intelligence, and Cybersecurity and Risk Management taught by outside experts in these fields.
  • The Institute will launch a master class series featuring guest lecturers on topics related to regulatory structures, business concepts, and industry-standard technologies.
  • Finally, to assist practicing attorneys in staying ahead of the legal tech curve, the Institute will offer continuing legal education programs focusing on legal tech.

In previous posts, I wrote about the intensive access to justice efforts at the University of Cincinnati School of Law and Roger Williams School of Law and Georgia State University’s Center for Access to Justice.  This week’s posts also addresses access to justice initiatives, but this time framed by a law review article that describes an effort that is distinctive in five meaningful ways.

First, the article was co-authored by five law professors (in the order they are listed on SSRN), Professor Lisa Pruitt of UC Davis School of Law, Professor Amanda Kool of Harvard Law School, Professor Lauren Sudeall Lucas, who directs the Georgia State Access to Justice Center, Dean Danielle Conway of the University of Maine School of Law, and Professor Hannah Haksgaard of the University of South Dakota School of Law, and a Medical School Professor, Michele Statz of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, School of Medicine.

Second, the article describes law school-based rural access to justice initiatives in three states, California, Maine, and South Dakota. In California, the One Justice’s Justice Bus takes students, as well as attorneys, into rural communities to provide one-time legal services. In Georgia, Georgia State’s Alternative Spring Break Pro Bono Initiative is planning a 2019 rural-focused access to justice clinic.  In Maine, the University of Maine School of Law (Maine Law) partnered with the Maine State Bar Association, the Maine Board of Overseers of the Bar, and the Maine Justice Foundation to plan and launch the Maine Law Rural Lawyer Project. With seed funding from the Maine Justice Foundation and in-kind contributions from the remaining three partners, Maine Law launched The Rural Lawyer Project, which places law students with practitioners in communities that would otherwise have limited access to legal services. Maine Law students work in the summers under the guidance of practitioners and are exposed to all facets of rural practice, including, but not limited to, legal research and drafting, dispute resolution, general practice case management, real estate transactions, trial practice, and ethics.  In South Dakota, the Project Rural Practice launched a program in the summer of 2017 to place first- and second-year law students in summer jobs at rural law firms. Using a $25,000 grant to partially fund summer internships in rural counties, the career office at USD Law works to connect law students and small-town practitioners with the goal of exposing students to rural practice and connecting them with the rural legal community.

These initiatives are similar to two projects at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law.  The first, which the law school calls its Delta Clinic, is a more or less traditional legal clinic in every way except its location—in the area of Arkansas, the Delta, with the most severe access to justice deficit in the state (given the area’s 4,000:1 population to lawyer ratio). The Delta Clinic students prepare divorce complaints and motions for fee waivers for low-income client, obtain service on defendants, represent the clients in divorce hearings, and write final divorce decrees. The second, the law school’s new Rural Practice Incubator, is designed to support Bowen alumni in launching viable small or solo practices in rural, under served Arkansas communities. The 18-month program supports incubator attorneys with training, resources, mentoring, and guidance to assist them in building their professional careers as rural attorneys. Incubator attorneys are encouraged to implement innovative legal service delivery models to increase access to justice for low- and moderate-income rural Arkansans. Each participant will provide a minimum of 100 hours of pro bono or low bono legal services during the program.

Third, the article provides hard data on the severe access to justice issues faced by American rural communities. The article points out that rural communities feel budget cuts to legal aid much more severely than their urban peers, that racial and ethnic minorities are over-represented among those in rural communities who lack meaningful access to justice, and that the access to justice problem is much more than a deficiency in legal aid lawyers given the severe shortage of rural lawyers of any stripe, and that the rural lawyer population is shrinking.

Finally, the authors suggest four new approaches to rural access to justice: (1) continuing to gather and analyze data regarding the rural lawyer shortage and efforts to address the shortage; (2) continuing to develop local, patchwork solutions that include but are not limited to technological solutions; (3) establishing state and federal financial incentives to encourage law school graduates to enter rural practice and developing collaborations with retiring rural practitioners; and (4) continuing and expanding law school efforts to recruit, train, place, and support law school graduates interested in rural practice.

Given the rural lawyer shortages about which the authors write, such efforts seem necessary if we are ever to realize meaningful access to justice.

Recently, Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf, Co-Deans at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, contacted me to highlight the uniqueness of their first-year students’ required participation in a pro bono legal experience. Students assist in the provision of free legal services by, for example, conducting client intake interviews for the law school’s Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinic.  Jessica and Michael’s communication made me wonder if Case Western is alone in implementing a mandatory first-year pro bono requirement and how many schools require any pro bono work as a graduation requirement.

I hope this data will be helpful to any law school considering the possibility of implementing a pro bono requirement.

The ABA’s Directory of Law School Public Interest and Pro Bono Programs lists only five law schools with a first-year pro bono requirement. In addition to the pro bono requirement by Case Western,  The University of District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law requires 60 hours, Appalachian School of Law requires 25 hours, and the University of Arkansas, Little Rock Bowen School of Law requires 5 hours of pro bono service for 1Ls. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Boyd School of Law requires its 1Ls to enroll in a community service program as part of a zero-unit course.

Another 30 law schools require 20 to 60 hours of pro bono service some time during law school in order to earn a J.D., meaning that over 17 percent of ABA-approved schools mandate pro bono service. That figure does not include the many schools, some with highly structured programs dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, which encourage, but don’t mandate, pro bono hours.  Some of those law schools report extraordinary student participation rates—as high as 90%+.

A note about my methodology: I did my best to search law school websites if the ABA Directory listing was missing or unclear, but I will be happy to make a correction if I missed a law school. Finally, I did not count schools with clinic or externship requirements, a topic which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

If we were to add all our students’ pro bono service and all the public service work our students do in our clinics and in their externships, the law school community is devoting an extraordinary amount of time and resources to making the world a better place and teaching students the life lesson of the importance of giving back.

Not too long ago, an engineering dean I know expressed admiration for the pro bono work done by law students and lawyers and asked me to explain why we are so successful in getting our alumni and students to contribute free legal services. I guess it is all a matter of perspective. At the very least, my research for this post (and for my upcoming post on clinic or externship requirements) will give me comfort the next time someone tells me a lawyer joke.