Vanderbilt launches law and innovation program

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Vanderbilt University Law School launched its new Program on Law & Innovation, which offers a growing list of courses, externships and research fellowships to prepare students for the technologically changing legal industry.

The program stems from its anchor course, Law Practice 2050. J.B. Ruhl, the David Daniel Allen Distinguished Chair of Law and director of the new program, first taught the course two years ago as a seminar focused on future law trends.

“I started having them think about future trends in law and then I realized, it is not just about trends in law but trends in the legal industry,” Ruhl said. “We melded those together for a class that surveys everything that is dynamic and changing right now in the legal industry.”

Ruhl had to cap the class at 45 students, but more were interested. The law school faculty added more technology-focused courses to satisfy the growing interest, only to realize they had something bigger on their hands.

“We kept adding more and more and realized there is a cohesive curriculum here,” he said. “So we said what more can we do? We brought in speakers, started a symposium and put together an outline for the program.”

All Vanderbilt law students have access to the program offerings, which include five core courses and 15 related courses such as Electronic Discovery and Information Governance, Legal Project Management and Technology in Legal Practice. Four new courses will be offered in 2015-2016 including Start-Up Law and Decision Making. A formal specialization or certificate is not offered at this time.

The curriculum is centered on four major themes: the legal industry, legal technologies, legal innovation and entrepreneurship and access to legal services. Students can explore these themes through the classes, externships, planned activities and symposiums, or by serving as a research fellow.

The inaugural fellows, third-year Mark Foley and second-year Laura Komarek, are working with faculty to launch research initiatives. They are also helping plan a “legal hackathon,” which will bring together law students, IP professionals and attorneys to work in groups to develop technologically supported solutions for legal hacks.

“The march of technical infiltration into legal practice is not going to stop,” Ruhl said. “These things are going to change the way lawyers do business. Once you realize there is a new reality, law schools have to respond. We are not out to reinvent law school. We are out to evolve law school.”

Vanderbilt Law Dean Chris Guthrie is a major proponent of the program and a driving force behind finding internal funding for the new endeavor.

“Now more than ever, lawyers must be innovators,” Guthrie said. “Legal clients increasingly demand more efficiency, lower costs and better results, and law itself is changing rapidly. Our aim is to better prepare students for 21st century legal practice.”

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