Building a Better Lawyer: Workshops at LegalRnD

Topics: Data Analytics, Efficiency, Leadership, Legal Innovation, Legal Operations, Process Management, Stanford Law School, Thomson Reuters, Videos

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — This spring LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law held two workshops focusing on the intersection of legal education and the skills and competencies required in today’s increasingly tech-centric and innovation-driven legal industry.

The first workshop was Building a Better Lawyer: Design Thinking Training and Study. The event was led by LegalRnD Director Dan Linna and Margaret Hagan, director of the Stanford Legal Design Lab. Hagan is a leading figure in a growing movement to incorporate design principles into the way organizations (law firms, public service agencies and courts) deliver legal services, and this time she extended the methodology to re-think the way we design legal education.

A broad group of stakeholders were represented, including law firm lawyers, in-house lawyers, operations and development professionals, law students, law professors, bar associations, judges and court administrators, and access-to-justice-oriented legal service organizations.


What became clear was that most of the solutions involved a better integration of law school curricula and programs with real-world needs in legal practice. That step requires a great deal of thought put into how legal services and legal education itself are designed.


After some preliminary exercises designed to put the participants into the right frame of mind for prototyping and design-thinking, Hagan led about 50 participants through an exercise that attempted to find solutions to concrete problems centered on what lawyers should look like in the future and what needs they must to be equipped to address. The result was a series of proposed solutions that ranged from certifications, apprenticeships, client-immersion programs, and curriculum changes.  For more detail on the process and the solutions, see Stephen Embry’s summary at his TechLaw Crossroads blog.

LegalRnD’s second workshop, Legal-Services Quality, Innovation, & Technology: Setting an Empirical Research Agenda, focused on identifying a research agenda for legal talent and innovation. What skill gaps exist? How can we measure whether legal education is filling those skill gaps? Legal Executive Institute’s Natalie Runyon took part in a sub-group that focused on defining a new competency model for legal talent.

The second workshop also opened with a session on Law Schools as Labs for Innovation and R&D, featuring presentations by students in Linna’s LegalRnD capstone course, Litigation: {Data, Theory, Practice, & Process}. Twenty-three students organized into eight teams worked on real-world problems submitted by Perkins Coie, Akerman, Davis Wright Tremaine, and Michigan Legal Help. Students applied the Improvement Kata, lean thinking, and Agile project management as they explored the current state, iterated through improvements, and tested proposed solutions in ThinkSmart and Neota Logic.

Two big themes emerged from the workshops: Design and Measurement.

The design workshop format focused the first workshop on the process of getting from market needs to specific solutions for a wide variety of challenges. What became clear was that most of the solutions involved a better integration of law school curricula and programs with real-world needs in legal practice. That step requires a great deal of thought put into how legal services and legal education itself are designed. The design techniques represented by Hagan and her Legal Design Lab are catching on in the industry, and this workshop demonstrated that law schools can be a great convener and a forum for future development.

On the measurement side, the second workshop turned its attention to what we need to measure in order to fill the gaps in today’s preparation of lawyers for roles in innovation. The competency model that comes out of that workshop can be a great platform for thinking about how we measure the success of law school itself and the skills of the new lawyers who represent the future of the industry.

This short video captures some of the energy and the purpose that was represented at the LegalRnD events. Future posts will share in-depth interviews with some of the participants and highlight their insights into the process and the potential outcomes of the workshops.

A full set of videos from the events is available at LegalRnD’s YouTube channel.