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.

Nearly all law schools include a commitment to access to justice as part of their mission statements or among their stated values.  UC Berkeley Law School has gone one step further in the area of consumer law. The law school has launched a new Center for Consumer Law and Economic Justice.  Funded by a spring 2018, $3.5 million gift from a Berkeley Law alumna, the center seeks to “ensure safe, equal, and fair access to the marketplace . . . [and to] create a society where economic security and opportunity are available to all.”

The Center already has jumped into action. On April 16, the first day of the Center’s official existence, the Center filed an amicus brief in Manriquez v. DeVos, a case seeking to compel the U.S. Department of Education to honor its promise to forgive the debt of tens of thousands of students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges.

In late June, the Center convened two groups of practitioners whose work focuses on protecting the rights of low-income consumers, including government enforcement attorneys, consumer advocates, and direct legal service providers. The partnerships will help keep enforcement agencies informed about the most pressing forms of fraud and abuse facing consumers and will provide a forum to share ideas and materials.

Finally, the Center has created four new consumer law courses, Consumer Litigation: The Course of a Case, The Law of Student Loans, “Carsumer” Protection Law, and Consumer Bankruptcy Law.  For more information about these very interesting courses, see the Center’s first 90-Day Report.

University of Cincinnati College of Law, The Help Center                                         

Roger Williams University School of Law, The Pro Bono Collaborative

This week’s post focuses on two different law schools’ efforts to address the access to justice issues in their communities.  As an article in the ABA Journal written in September 2017, explained, “In the U.S, the majority of our citizens cannot get legal help, whether that is for criminal charges, civil matters, or their small-business issues.” Increasingly, law schools are stepping up, and I could justify featuring probably two dozen law schools this week. The two projects I have chosen to focus on are the Pro Bono Collaborative at Roger Williams University School of Law and The Help Center at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

The Pro Bono Collaborative is a partnership among the law school, local law firms, and community organizations, and it has been operating for more than five years. The students deliver legal assistance to local nonprofit organizations serving low-income people on a variety of legal issues, including expungements, special education claims, guardianships, housing, employment, and health. It has been cited as a model program by Stanford professor Deborah L. Rhode, the legal Services Corporation, and the National Center for Access to Justice.

The Help Center is of more recent vintage. The Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force on Access to Justice originally suggested the idea of the Help Center. The product of a collaboration among the local bar association, the local legal aid society, Cincinnati-based law firms, the Clerk of the Courts, and Northern Kentucky University’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law, The Help Center, launched last September, provides legal advice to individuals dealing with small claims matters, collections, landlord-tenant issues.

The Report of the National Center for Access to Justice notes about a dozen other law student pro bono initiatives worth emulating.

It is very easy to dismiss one impressive bar pass rate as a fluke.  Even two in a row might possibly be dismissed. However, Florida International School of Law, ranked fifth among the 11 ABA-approved law schools in Florida, has enjoyed a bar pass rate, over the past six bar exams, that is first, first, first, second, first, and first in the state. In other words, we cannot even see the fluke line from where we are standing; instead, it’s time we recognize that FIU has found the bar pass secret sauce.

What is that secret sauce? It could not be simply having an academic support and/or bar pass program. Many U.S. law schools have implemented academic support and bar pass programs aimed at ensuring their students graduate and pass the bar exam on the first try. These programs have enjoyed varying degrees of success, but no law school has experienced anything close to the long-term, sustained success FIU has enjoyed.

The architect of FIU’s Bar Pass success, Professor Louis Schulze, has authored a law review article that provides some insight. The crux of Professor Schulze’s approach involves empowering law students by teaching them modern brain science principles and study strategies, convincing the students to implement those principles, and supporting their efforts to do so.

The full article is worth a read. Below, to whet your appetite for the full article, I detail three principles that animate Professor Schulze’s approach.  For example, as Schulze explains, most students study incorrectly for their exams and for the bar exam. Instead of finishing one subject and moving onto the next, students could greatly improve their recall if they were to study and re-study (four times in all) their course material or bar subjects. The term of art is “spaced repetition.”

In fact, there is evidence that changing subjects and study methods every 45 minutes or so has a positive effect on recall (known as “interleaving learning”). (This insight is not from Professor Schulze’s article but is based on recent articles that I have concluded are credible enough to share with my students.)

Second, according to cognitive learning theory and studies confirming the validity of the theory, students store knowledge in organized structures in their brains. This insight explains why course outlining helps learning; however, this point also explains why flowcharting works as well as outlining, why course outlines that are simply lists of rules without hierarchy are not very useful, and why students really should be trained to avoid commercial or hand-me-down course outlines.

Third, students who self-regulate their learning, who take control over their learning process by planning how they will study each concept, who implement those plans while constantly monitoring their learning, and who frequently reflect on the success of their plans and adapt where necessary learn better.

In short, by teaching students to be expert students, FIU has helped its students successfully navigate the bar exam.