Interdisciplinary collaboration is necessary for the future of legal education

People hangout together at coffee shop

Law is often viewed as a conservative practice that is not defined by innovation or agility, but legal tech and the new sharing economy are changing such assumptions. To deal with the influx of technology, creativity and innovation are increasingly fused into an otherwise traditional law school curriculum, helping to equip future lawyers with the tools needed to operate effectively. This trend does not just benefit legal educatiolan, though; it also imparts essential knowledge to other fields that increasingly require legal foundations and frameworks.

When the primary purpose of a law course is to learn how the law applies to technology, business, or other disciplines outside of traditional legal theory and applications, the course is generally drawing on interdisciplinary concepts. The following are some examples of concepts that law school coursework has been incorporating, inevitably merging traditional legal education with other academic fields.

  • Blockchain: Introducing digital ledgers (blockchains) and how cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) applies to law often includes concepts inherent to the academic disciplines of Computer Science and Economics.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Computers that can collect and collate case law, legal research, and analyze literature. IBM’s Watson is assisting lawyers all over the world, and legal courses on A.I. are helping law students understand how to use these tools, drawing from Computer Science concepts to varying degrees.
  • Cybersecurity: Topics that focus on ideas surrounding data breaches and privacy are increasingly sought. Courses in this area of law can include computer crime, counterterrorism, homeland security, intelligence law, and cybersecurity, which merge Criminology and practical applications of Security and Technology studies. They may even encourage deeper dives into database management concepts.
  • eDiscovery: Courses that explore law and how it applies to the storage and security of electronically filed information require some foundations in technology. These concepts can be as simple as legal-service delivery classes, or dive as deep as machine learning algorithms, imparting Computer Science fundamentals.
  • Entrepreneurship: Startups are popping up everywhere and there is a real need for meshing legal advice and the business of law with technology. These courses explore the law and how it is applied to entrepreneurship, fusing business concepts with legal studies.

The above areas of interest have major implications for the practice and business of law. Universities around the world are therefore constantly adding to their curricula and currently offer a range of interdisciplinary courses to mould modern lawyers. The onus is now on students to do their research and measure the depth of instruction in each legal-service innovation and technology discipline to determine which school and program will suit them best.

Joint Courses in Law and Other Disciplines

It has become clear that a sharing economy and collaboration necessitates interdisciplinary curricula for legal education; both inside and outside of the study of law. As law firms struggle to incorporate more technology and modern tools into practice, law schools must offer coursework to meet the demand. The following are some general types of courses currently offered:

Project Management: Teaching law students about the application of project management principles, focusing on an agile approach.

Computational Law: Courses on this topic can surround concepts like coding for lawyers, algorithms, an introduction to expert systems, and dealing with data-driven artificial intelligence.

Innovative Lawyering: These types of courses teach students how to be creative and innovative with respect to legal-services delivery. This is also where you’ll see topics like entrepreneurship, agile management, and lean thinking.

Law and Tech Courses:

Other Disciplines and Law:

The idea of meshing law and technology is a greater than just the study of law. Other disciplines are now benefitting from offering joint courses in law that explore overlapping concepts essential for both sectors. The following are some examples of courses happening now:

  • Stanford: The JD/MS joint degree and cooperative programs offer courses on Law and Computer Science. Students must have basic training in computer science to join the program. Credits in courses can be approved toward both a Computer Science and a law degree.
  • U.C. Davis: Sociology students can study law in the Law and Society Emphasis (A.B.) course that covers topics like social deviance, Criminology, and the Sociology of Law.
  • Berkeley Law: Offering the Business Law curriculum that teaches both business strategies and legal practice. Courses intersect studies of Business, Finance, Law, and Economics.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is building the capacity of law students to operate more efficiently with the challenges of our changing economy. The implementation of legal tech early on in their careers gives students a significant advantage and solidifies their role in a decentralized world. Moreover, as other disciplines increasingly require legal foundations, it is likely that interdisciplinary education will become an even larger part of curricula for a variety of academic programs.