Designing a Legal Tech Course

by Neota Logic
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Neota Logic

We talk to a lot of law professors, deans and heads of law schools that are trying to create and deliver courses involving legal tech or the skills required to work successfully with these systems. Enthusiasm abounds, but many are stumped as to where they should start.

In this post, we want to shed some light on how to go about designing your own legal tech course. Like anything, it’s much less scary when you break it down into manageable chunks and stop trying to include blockchain.

Design thinking.

Have you drafted your tweet linking this article yet?

Despite the incredible noise being made about design thinking in the legal world in recent times, it is still a useful methodology.

Design thinking is a good methodology for the problem of creating a legal tech course for a law school, because this particular problem is a wicked one. Wicked problems are those that have no right or wrong answer, just a spectrum of solutions that are better or worse. There is no immediate or ultimate test for the solution you do eventually implement, so everything is a one-shot operation.

Because the needs of employers and students are evolving all the time with the society we live in, a course that proposes to prepare students for working alongside machines also needs to adapt. The emphasis on prototyping and iteration in design thinking encourages a cycle of feedback and improvement in how courses are delivered that would achieve this kind of adaptive curriculum.

In order to break out of the mould of course planning that has brought us enduring hits like “chalk and talk” and the five-thousand-word wonder of a final assignment, we need to get creative. The kind of ideation encouraged by design thinking facilitates divergent trains of thought within a group, which is crucial for finding new and interesting ways to solve the original problem.

Specific problem to be solved/gap to be filled by this course

Every course on the curriculum of a law school solves a problem. For most of these courses, the problem is not difficult to define: in order to have the knowledge set necessary to be a competent legal problem-solver, a student must have a basic knowledge of contract law, tort law, property law, etc. etc.

A legal tech course, or some other course not built solely around the acquisition of substantive legal knowledge, has a somewhat broader range of problems that it might seek to solve. To name but a few:

  • technology skills gap amongst law graduates starting their training contracts in traditional firms;
  • lack of resources to build A2J automation tools that plug the gaps left by budget cuts, etc.;
  • law firms that cannot meet the “more for less” demands of clients;
  • the law as a system and set of processes that is no longer suitable for our increasingly digital society.

So, what problem is your course going to solve? It can certainly seek to solve all of those listed above, but the important thing is that you frame the problem.

  1. Give a concise statement of each problem that you might seek to solve (however small the contribution) by building and offering this course to law students;
  2. Clearly define the stakeholders in each of those problems.

Desired outcomes of the course

Get specific. What exactly do you want your students to know and be able to do after the 12 or so weeks of your new course? List the skills that you want them to have acquired or improved upon. List the topics around which you would like them to develop their knowledge. Here are some to get you going:

  • Process mapping;
  • Process analysis;
  • Process optimisation;
  • Design thinking (or other solution finding and building framework);
  • Contract drafting in plain English;
  • User-centric design;
  • Critical analysis of tech tools;
  • Project management;
  • Agile development;
  • User acceptance / functional testing;

I could go on for several more pages. If you have a particular set of employers that you often host events with, it might be a good idea to get them in the room and see if there are any specific skills they are currently lacking. Get those stakeholders involved.

Course Logistics

Unfortunately for us, there are limitations on our creativity here. Boring limitations like venue availability, teaching hours, workloads, etc. But limitations can be helpful when you need something to help you narrow down a potentially endless list of possible solutions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help shape the format and delivery of your course:

  • What are the rules in your school around contact time?
  • How many hours can you put in your students’ timetables?
  • What is the suggested workload per course for your student audience, i.e. if your course is aimed at final year students, what is their recommended workload and how much of it can you co-opt?
  • What rooms are available to you for your contact hours? Can you get access to a computer lab, or a room that facilitates group work and collaboration? Does the room have a few whiteboards?
  • If you are using continuous assessment, what is the protocol?

These logistical details, once considered at the beginning, will allow you to brainstorm your content whilst avoiding disappointment down the line.

Join the dots

Well done! If you’ve taken the time to map out the problems you are hoping to solve, and the desired learning outcomes, as well as your logistical limitations, you are well on your way to designing your legal tech course.

Now that you’ve figured out your desired approximate destination and you’ve sussed out what kind of rails you’re on, you just need to build that train that will take your students successfully through the semester.

In our next blog post, we will be looking at one university’s approach to their legal tech curriculum and how they are achieving their course outcomes.

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