Home » Law 2050 Initiative » Law 2050 (the Class) has Launched!

Law 2050 (the Class) has Launched!

I am pleased to report that my Law 2050 class here at Vanderbilt Law School is now up and running. Our first two sessions last week consisted of a broad overview of the class and a brief history of the modern American law firm. The class has 45 very bright and enthusiastic students enrolled, and based on their personal statements they are keenly aware that it is to their advantage to learn more about today’s dynamic legal industry environment. Today and Tuesday we will hear from panels of managing partners and in-house counsel on their perspectives and practices. For those interested in the scope of the class, I have set out the syllabus after the jump.

  Law Practice 2050

Professor J.B. Ruhl

Fall 2013

 M/T 2:00-3:15 Ray Room


Overview: Law Practice 2050 is designed to immerse students in the dynamic environments forcing change in the law and in legal practice, the goal being to develop the skills necessary for actively participating in and taking advantage of those changes. There are four distinct but related themes embedded in the course scope:

  • Understanding the structural changes taking place in the private sector legal services industry (e.g., changing firm models; new fee structures; online services; outsourcing)
  • Gaining familiarity with established and emerging legal technologies (e.g., e-discovery;  routinized compliance software; data aggregation and analysis)
  • Exploring new kinds of legal services and employment (e.g., legal risk management; legal knowledge management; legal process management)
  • Anticipating scenarios of the future of law and building skills useful for identifying and developing future practice opportunities (e.g., climate change; 3D printing; robotics)

Through a series of readings, individual and group projects, and guest speakers and panels, we will explore the forces acting to transform the legal services industry and survey established and emerging developments. We will also explore scenarios of future social, economic, technological, and environmental change and brainstorm their possible impacts on the law. Students will engage in active small group discussions, prepare reaction papers, make group presentations, and develop practice development proposals and legal industry case studies.

Course Text and Materials: The required text is Richard Susskind, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future (Oxford Press 2013), available from Amazon (~ $16.00 new; less if used). Additional readings will be posted to the course OAK site as the semester progresses.

Course Work Product: The course work product consists of a variety of individual and group projects. The timing and expectations for all assignments are explained in detail below, and further explanation of each assignment will be provided throughout the semester. The liberal use of group projects reflects the reality that you will be working on teams in many legal practice settings. There is no research paper or final exam.

Course Guest Speakers: A major component of the course is guest speakers. There is usually a reading assignment which I will expect you to be prepared to discuss in Q&A. Attendance at and participation in these events is important. To give you a flavor of the scope of these speakers, we will be hearing from representatives of the following: Alston & Bird, Axiom, Baker Donelson, Bass Berry & Sims, Bradley Arant, Cicayda, Cisco, Counsel on Call, King & Spalding, ERM Legal Solutions, Hospital Corporation of America, Legal On Ramp, Nelson Mullins, Neota Logic, Nielson, Squire Sanders, Thompson Burton, Waller Lansden, and Vanderbilt’s Departments of Environmental Sciences, History, Sociology, and  Graduate School of Management.

Course Blog: The course has a blog, Law 2050 (www.law2050.com). I will blog about the course as we go along and you are welcome to comment and also to guest blog if you wish. Participation in the blog is not required and whether you do or not will have no effect on your grade, but please follow the blog at the very least and you can use the blogroll and my posts and archives as leads into your assignments.

Course Outline

Week 1

  • Day 1 (Aug. 19): Introduction to the class with examples of the themes in play
    • Reading and other assignments:
      • Susskind, Introduction
      • Watch the Bloomberg/ABA interview of Susskind at:


  • Watch the Bloomberg/ABA interview of Bruce MacEwan (the blogger of the blog Adam Smith, Esq.) at:


  • Day 2 (Aug. 20): The evolution of the modern American law firm
    • Reading:
      • Susskind, Chs. 1-3
      • Prof. Larry Ribstein, The Death of Big Law pp. 749-77 (posted on OAK course content page)
  • Assignment: submit a written personal statement of your background and your interest in the class (see explanation below)

Week 2

  • Day 1 (Aug. 26): Guest Speaker Panel – Law firm managing partners discuss the state of the practice
    • Ben Adams – Baker Donelson
    • Richard Hays – Alston & Bird
    • Stephen Mahon – Squire Sanders
  • Reading:
  • Other: You will prepare a reaction paper responding to this and the next day’s panel (see explanation below)
  • Day 2 (Aug. 27): Guest Speaker Panel – Corporate in-house counsel discuss the drivers of change
    • Reuben Buck – Cisco
    • Jim Cuminale – Nielson
    • Cheryl Mason – Hospital Corporation of America
  • Reading: Cisco General Counsel Mark Chandler, State of Technology in the Law (posted on OAK course content page)
  • Other: You will prepare a reaction paper responding to this and the previous day’s panel (see explanation below)


 Week 3

  • Day 1 (Sept. 2): Unbundling legal services – litigation, transactions, and compliance counseling
    • Reading:
      • Susskind, Ch. 4
      • Regan & Palmer, Supply Chains and Porous Boundaries: The Disaggregation of Legal Services (posted on OAK course content page)
  • Other: I will explain the law firm case study assignment (see explanation below)
  • Day 2 (Sept. 3): Survey of disruptive technologies
    • Reading: Susskind, Ch. 5
    • Assignment: Submit guest speaker panel reaction papers in hard copy

 Week 4

  • Day 1 (Sept. 9): Scenario-building workshop
    • Reading: Scenario Workshop Readings (posted on OAK course content page)
    • Assignment: Submit law firm case study in hard copy.
    • Other: I will explain the group projects and students will submit group preferences
  • Day 2 (Sept 10): The future of law firms and legal jobs
    • Reading: Susskind Chs. 6-8 & 11
    • Assignment: Prior to this class, conduct some research on the web about new kinds of legal services delivery models and new kinds of legal jobs. Prepare a very short discussion (two pages max) and submit it in hard copy.
    • Other: Guided discussion of students’ law firm case studies and web research. I will also announce groups. Groups will be assigned their practice development scenario themes and their tech/industry case study themes. There are 6 themes in each category, and each group will be assigned a different set of themes. During the ensuing week each student will develop a proposal for his or her group’s two themes to pitch to the group in Week 5 (see explanation below).  The theme pairings are as follows:


Tech/Industry Theme

Practice Scenario Theme



Environment and energy


Legal process management

Social and demographic


Legal risk management

Economic and financial


Routinized and expert systems

Health and medicine


Legal prediction

Data and privacy


New legal markets Other technologies

Beginning in Week 5 the schedule includes numerous guest speakers—nine events in all. In any given week the order of events shown might adjust to accommodate changes in speaker schedules. Each student will prepare three guest speaker reaction papers during the remainder of the semester. You may choose which three to cover. Reaction papers must be submitted in hard copy. There is no scheduled due date for reaction papers other than that all reaction papers are due no later than the last class period.


Week 5

  • Day 1 (Sept. 16): Guest Speakers: Prof. David Hess, Vanderbilt Sociology Department, and Prof. Jonathan Gilligan, Vanderbilt Environmental Scioences Department – On Climate Change Scenarios
  • Day 2 (Sept. 17): Group meetings – individuals will pitch their practice development scenario and tech/industry proposals and groups will report their selections for group study. Each group should select between 3 and 5 case studies for each of the two projects.
    • Assignment: Submit individual written practice development scenario proposals and tech/industry proposals in hard copy (see explanations below)

Week 6

  • Day 1 (Sept. 23): Guest Speaker Panel – Legal Project and Process Management
    • Larry Bridgesmith – ERM Legal Solutions
    • Marc Jenkins – Cicayda
    • Dan Willoughby – King & Spalding
  • Day 2 (Sept. 24): Guest Speaker Panel – Law firm associates discuss life in the modern law firm
    • Ashley Bassel – Bass Berry
    • Daniel Flournoy – Waller Lansden
    • Sarah Laird – Bradley Arant
    • Chris Lalonde – Nelson Mullins


Week 7

  • Day 1 (Sept. 29): Group meetings: Groups will work on developing their presentations. I will serve as a resource for all groups. Groups will provide brief status reports to the class.
  • Day 2 (Oct. 1): Guest speaker – Paul Lippe of Legal OnRamp

 Group tech/industry topic presentations begin in Week 8. The classes in Weeks 8-11 will consist of group tech/industry presentations, guest speakers/panels, and limited time for group work on presentations. For each presenting group, another group will be assigned to lead questions about the presenting group’s proposals. Each member of that lead discussion group will prepare a reaction paper about the presenting group’s work, to be submitted in hard copy by the last class period.


Week 8

  • Day 1 (Oct. 7): Guest Speaker Panel – Alternatives to the Big Law model
    • Walt Burton – Thompson Burton
    • Lindsay Grossman – Axiom
    • Eric Schultenover – Counsel on Call
  • Day 2 (Oct. 8): Group Presentations: Groups 1 and 2 present; Groups 5 and 6 are the “shark tanks”


Week 9  

  • Day 1 (Oct. 14): Group presentations: Groups 3 and 4 present; Groups 1 and 2 are the “shark tanks”
  • Day 2 (Oct. 15): Guest Speaker: Michael Mills of Neota Logic


Week 10 (Oct. 21-22): The order of these events will depend on speaker schedules

  • Day 1 (Oct 21): Group presentations: Groups 5 and 6 present; Groups 3 and 4 are the “shark tanks”
  • Day 2 (Oct. 22): Guest Speaker: Prof. Michael Bess of the Vanderbilt History Department – The Bioengineered Superhuman


Group practice development scenario presentations begin in Week 11. The classes in Weeks 11-14 will consist of group presentations, guest speakers/panels, and limited time for group work on presentations. For each presenting group, another group will be assigned to lead questions about the presenting group’s proposals. Each member of that lead discussion group (a/k/a/ the “shark tank”) will prepare a reaction paper about the presenting group’s work, to be submitted in hard copy by the last class period.


Week 11

  • Day 1 (Oct. 28): Group meetings: Groups will work on their law practice development scenario presentations. I will serve as a resource for all groups. Groups will provide brief status reports to the class.


  • Day 2 (Oct. 29): Guest Speakers: John Murdoch of Bradley Arant and Nancy Lea Hyer of the Owen Graduate School of Management – Implementing LEAN Law

Week 12

  • Day 1 (Nov. 4): Group presentations: Groups 3 and 4 present; Groups 5 and 6 are the “shark tanks”
  • Day 2 (Nov. 5): Special event TBA


Week 13

  • Day 1 (Nov. 11): Group presentations: Groups 5 and 6 present; Groups 3 and 4 are the “shark tanks”
  • Day 2 (Nov. 12): Guest Speaker – Prof. Bill Henderson of Indiana University-Bloomington Law School


Week 14

  • Day 1 (Nov. 18): Group presentations: Groups 1 and 2 present; Groups 3 and 4 are the “shark tanks”


  • Day 2 (Nov. 19): Final class period
    • Reading: Susskind, Chs. 13-16
    • Assignment: All unsubmitted reaction papers due
    • Other: I will outline the final reaction paper assignment (essentially, a longer reaction paper covering the scope of the course as a whole using several directed questions), due at the conclusion of the exam period.


Explanation of Work Product Expectations  

Detailed assignment explanations will be distributed throughout the semester. This summarizes expectations for the various written and other work products mentioned above. Grading will be based on a holistic assessment of the work product package. Primary emphasis will be on the practice development scenario and tech/industry case study proposals and the group presentations. Reaction papers are also an important component of your work product. Class attendance and participation will be taken into account.

  • Personal background and interest statement (due Aug. 20): This assignment is designed to provide me some insight about your background before and during law school, your interests in the law, and your perspectives on the scope of this class. Please also describe any prior legal positions, paid or unpaid.
  • Reaction papers. These are short (2 or 3 pages) assessments responding to a guest speaker or other event. There are four kinds:
    • First two speaker panels – one combined paper (due Sept. 3)
    • Other guest speakers/panels – three papers (due on or before final class period)
    • Group presentation reaction papers (due on or before final class period)
    • Final course reaction paper (explained on the final class day, due the last day of the exam period)

You have the option of handing in your 3 guest speaker and 2 group presentation reaction papers at any time during the semester—they are due on or before the last class period in hard copy. This will allow you to pick the guest speakers that most interest you and to use themes from different speakers and groups to develop your material. You may even consolidate your work product into one integrated reaction paper (8-12 pages) covering your 3 speaker events and 2 groups (this would be separate from your final course reaction paper).

  • Law firm case studies (due Sept. 9): You will select a major law firm and research how it projects it is responding to the forces of change we have studied thus far. For example, does it recognize the need to “adapt” and is it projecting awareness of the demand for flexibility and efficiency? How has it restructured its legal services delivery? You will prepare a short (2 pages max) paper about your findings and assessment.
  • Examples of new law jobs and employers (due Sept. 10): Browse the internet for examples and provide either a short write-up (1 or 2 pages) or copies of the relevant web pages or articles you found.
  • Practice development scenario proposals (due Sept. 16): This will require a short (2 pages max) report on your research on a future scenario (e.g., 3D printing) that could lead to legal practice developments. You will have been be assigned one of the scenario themes described above. You must identify and describe the scenario, provide your basis for its plausibility, identify how it could put pressure on law to respond, and outline how your group could develop a practice opportunity around this theme. You will “pitch” this proposal to your group. Each group will select a set of proposals to research further and present at later in the semester to the class (see below).
  • Tech/Industry case study proposals (due Sept. 16): The format for this assignment is the same as for the practice development proposals, except that the focus here is on preparing a case study of a new legal technology or legal services industry model.
  • Group presentations: Each group will make a presentation to the class. You may use PowerPoint, handouts, videos, or any other presentation format you choose.

1 Comment

  1. […] Serendipity: Resonating with one of my Law 2050 class themes, the panelists all agreed that, now more than ever, young lawyers need to jump on […]

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