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The Institute for the Future of Law Practice: Preparing Students for Tomorrow's Practice

By Lauren Wiley, Vanderbilt Law School Class of 2020

In the 2019 series of student blog posts for Legal Problem Solving, students are digging into the American Bar Association's 2016 Report on the Future of Legal Services to explore how far we've come in 2019 and what remains to do in the innovation of legal services delivery.

The Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP) is a new program that focuses on providing law students with skills and knowledge about the changing landscape of legal practice. By filling the gaps with information that is not traditionally taught in law schools, IFLP seeks to ensure that the next generation of lawyers is well-prepared to incorporate new technology and process improvement mechanisms into the practice of law.

I had the pleasure of participating in this program last summer, and I strongly believe that IFLP has provided me with the address the inevitable changes facing the legal industry. This is IFLP’s Mission Statement: “IFLP creates and delivers curriculum that complements traditional law school offerings. We leverage industry best practices to create learning modules that allow current and future legal professionals to learn the latest techniques. We use industry experts to deliver these modules in condensed time periods, with an emphasis on real-world problem solving. We then extend this training through practical work experience in paid internships. This unique approach produces graduates who add unique value to their clients from day one.” As a participant in IFLP 3-week program, I learned how to implement process improvement skills in my work as a summer associate and future lawyer.

Prior to the start of the boot camp, participants were given access to a Google Drive that contained our daily schedules, readings, and syllabus. Each student was expected to complete Excel, Word, and PDF Procertas Training, and we learned about various aspects of legal technology and the business of law through five detailed modules. The modules were as follows: 1) Business of Law, 2) Process Improvement, 3) Office Technology, Data Management, and Computational Thinking, 4) Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, and 5) Succeeding as an Intern and Lawyer.

Each module was three days long and followed essentially the same timeline. At the beginning of each module, participants were sorted into groups of four or five students. Underlying each module was the notion that we were working for a fake company called “Datalytics” and we would use the tools we learned in each module to solve a legal problem and present our solution. The first two days were typically lecture-based; some days there would be breakout opportunities here and there, but more often than not, it would be an entire day of lecture. On the final day of each module, participants were expected to give half hour “shark-tank” presentation to a panel of lawyers, professors, and leaders in the legal industry. We worked with document automation systems such as “Documate” and learned about the importance of harvesting and using the data collected by law firms. We also learned about Lean/Six Sigma and how project management tools can make the practice of law more efficient and satisfactory for clients.

What I liked best about the IFLP program is the fact that I had an opportunity to use these skills and work with these tools while I worked as a summer associate at a law firm. I worked closely with our Process Improvement Coordinator to make annual reporting for the corporate practice group a more efficient and streamlined process. Towards the end of my summer, I helped update a template for a corporate Operating Agreement with the document automation software “HotDocs.” I went through the new Operating Agreement and highlighted new or different portions of text so that the firm’s HotDocs consultant could add proper coding to update the template. Once this template is updated, attorneys in the corporate practice group will be able to use HotDocs to churn out Operating Agreements in a much more efficient way than before.

I now feel better prepared to start practicing law in an ever-changing world, and I hope the information that I obtained through this program can one day be integrated into every law student’s curriculum. Completing the IFLP program opened by eyes to just how much should (and will) change by the time I start practicing law. After completing the boot camp and spending time at a law firm that is very future-focused, I am so grateful to have been exposed to this realm of innovative law practice. I had no idea how much law firms had changed in the past 30 years, nor did I realize how many non-law firm opportunities there are, such as working in a legal tech company or legal services firm. Contracts, Civil Procedure, and other doctrinal classes are certainly necessary, but I believe that it is a grave mistake to not provide law students with an understanding of the current business of law and the way it can be improved.

I am really thankful for the chance to take courses such as Law Practice in 2050 and Legal Problems Solving as a 3L, but I think the information provided in these courses should be extended to 1Ls as well. I feel prepared to face the rapidly changing world of legal practice in a way that I might not have been had I taken a more traditional path. No matter where my career takes me, I know that I will be ready to face the challenges of the future with courage and the skills to be a leader because of my experience with IFLP.