#FutureLaw 2015 Thoughts

“Future Law 2015,” a conference “focusing on how technology is changing the landscape of the legal profession, the law itself, and how these changes impact us all” starts later today at Stanford Law School, organized by Stanford’s Center for Legal Informatics.  “CodeX FutureLaw 2015 will bring together the academics, entrepreneurs, lawyers, investors, policy makers, and engineers spearheading the tech-driven transformation of our legal system.” The conference site is https://conferences.law.stanford.edu/futurelaw2015/

I’m not at the conference, but I know who is, for the most part, because the list of speakers is very much a “usual suspects” collection of the practitioners and tech gurus who are leading this particular revolution. I’ve been to other conferences of this sort. I’ve met lots of entrepreneurs, some practicing lawyers, and a few investors. These are really smart, really successful, and really ambitious people who are creating a particular future for law, lawyers, and legal systems, and who think that their vision will scale.

I know a number of these people (Katz, Chandler, Lippe), and as they likely know, I tend to think that they’re right, in broad terms, about legal tech and where the legal profession is headed, even while I’m not persuaded by the celebratory tone of some of the rhetoric (my paper on that is here). Legal tech is no panacea, and like many things that come out of Silicon Valley or are strongly associated with it, it can suffer from a human values deficit.

I’m puzzled, though, by what looks to me like a pretty glaring omission at the conference:  law schools themselves. There are certainly a few law professors on the speakers’ list (Goodenough, Granat, Katz, Koenig, Knake, and Shadab, and Triantis is a moderator), but there are strikingly few faculty speakers who are tenure-stream or tenured research faculty in areas other than computational fields themselves. Where are the legal ethicists – just to name one omitted field? The torts teachers? The administrative lawyers? Where are the people who, like me, are neither computational folks nor legal techies nor clinical faculty? People who are full-time classroom teachers and who want to make our teaching relevant to the worlds in which our graduates will participate? Where is one key, real audience for this stuff — meaning, the next generation of lawyers, and those who are already training them?

The reason for the concern, other words, has to do with our students. “Legal tech” looks like it may turn out to be a great way to make money if you’re a tech entrepreneur or investor. For some classes of clients and others in need of legal information, legal tech may turn out to be a boon. But who’s going to run these systems? Who is going to staff them? Who will design them? Manage them?  Guide their evolution? Figure out their normative implications and align them with relevant ethical expectations and guidelines?

Some number of these people, and perhaps a significant number of them, will come from the current generation of new law graduates and from the numbers of law graduates yet to come. But they and their interests are largely not in evidence. Not in the room. There’s no fault to assign; in what ways are law schools today incorporating the emergence of legal tech into their curricula? By which I mean, not law clinics or courses on legal tech, but legal tech as part and parcel of the world of the law across virtually every domain of practice? The answer is not “not at all,” but the answer is “very little.” Law schools are mostly as closed to this stuff as the legal tech world is closed to law schools.

Instead, the challenge is how to close an obvious mismatch between what legal tech sees as a solution (to information and services gaps) and value proposition, on the one hand, and what law schools are actually doing, on the other hand. Anyone who is even passingly familiar with academia knows that waiting for faculties to close this gap is, for the most part, pretty hopeless. If the practitioners of legal tech want to build a sustainable world and realize their hopes and dreams on behalf of the people they want to serve, then they need to consider broadening their own conversation.