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Law 2050 Student Projects on Trends in Law and Law Practice

Given how much time we spend in law school covering what the law was and is, one of the goals of my Law 2050 class is to get students to think about what the law will be and how they can help shape it’s future. I have students identify examples of two kinds of trends. The first is an “inside law” trend, such as new technology and new kinds of service providers, that will influence how law is practiced. The other is an “outside law” trend, such as developments in health care, technology, and the economy, that will influence how law evolves in response.

Last year I had students work in groups to present “pitches” in a shark-tank setting, with the pitch being an assessment of whether to invest in the trend (e.g., put money into a new legal practice technology or devote firm resources to developing a new practice area). This year I have used this phase of the class to develop some practical, practice-oriented writing skills: a blog post, a client alert letter, and a bar journal article. As was the case last year, once again I am thoroughly impressed with the topics the students selected, and their blog post assignments were top-notch. Watch for several of them in coming days as students serve as contributing bloggers!

Here’s a sample of the topics:

Inside Law Trends: lawyer coaching for pro se clients; IP prior art search outsourcing; third party litigation funding; Shake, the contract app; legal hackathons; legal fee analytics; Ravel Law; Mitratech’s software for in-house counsel; “low bono” law firms; legal project management firms; online dispute resolution; pricing consultants; Islamic finance practice; speech recognition programs for lawyers; Bryan Cave’s Rosetta project; legal knowledge engineering; telecommuting and the decline of the law office; Counsel on Call; Integron; business for lawyers training programs; legal solution engineers; Clerky; Axiom–is it becoming another BigLaw?; virtual courts; Legal Force; and compliance lawyering.

Outside Law Trends: digital signatures; commercial delivery drones; invisibility cloaking; Google Glass; neural implants; predictive policing; driverless cars; commercial space travel; e-money; The Internet of Things (embedded sensor networks); newsgathering drones; unmanned cargo ships; virtual patient consultations; 3D printing of guns and organs; apps to convert 3D iPhone photos to 3D printing; Apple’s fitness watch; automobile connectivity and privacy issues; texting detection technology for police; cloud storage issues; sea level rise; crowdfunding; negligent infliction of disease; ridesharing (Uber etc.); robotic surgery; renewable energy trends; extreme reality TV; fracking; human gene patenting; and police body cameras.

Needless to say, we are going to have some interesting class discussions!

Deep Structure — The Next Generation of Empirical Legal Studies

The use of statistical techniques to tease out empirical patterns in legal contexts has had a profound impact on legal practice and scholarship over the past few decades. From employment discrimination claims to academic studies of judicial voting patterns, we have learned a lot from regression analyses and other statistical applications. But getting at the deep structure of law has been more difficult with that tool kit. The convergence of big data, network theory, data visualization, and vastly enhanced computational capacities is changing that–now we can begin studying law and legal systems in ways that open up new frontiers for practitioners and academics.

As a practical example, sign on to Ravel Law. You will find a simple search field with no instructions. Plug in a term–I used “climate change.” Whereas in Westlaw and Lexis you receive a list of cases, in Ravel Law you receive something very different. Ravel Law gives you the list of cases, to be sure, but it also displays an interactive graphic representation of the citation network of all cases using the search term. The visual representation allows the user effortlessly and instantly to identify cases citing cases, the strength of each case as a citation source for others, and the timeline of cases in the network. So, if a practitioner wants to identify the “big case” in a topic, or to quickly trace the growth of the topic in case law, Ravel Law finds it for you in seconds, whereas piecing that together through traditional searches would take hours and a lot of mental gymnastics.

On a more theoretical level, tools like those used to power Ravel Law can help academics plumb the deeper structure of legal systems. For example, legal concepts and principles can be broken down into finely grained components, as in the way legal research services such as Westlaw and Lexis have developed their “keynote” and “headnote” cataloging systems. These cataloging systems produce hierarchical concept frameworks placing broad legal concepts such as constitutional law and environmental law at the top and then drill down from those broad concepts through successive levels of increasingly narrow subtopics. Michael Bommarito’s study of opinion headnotes in over 23,000 Supreme Court cases illustrates the branching form of what this hierarchy looks like when laid out graphically.  (See Michael J. Bommarito II, Exploring Relationships Between Legal Concepts in the United States Supreme Court). As any lawyer knows, however, (more…)

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