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Teaching Technology Today: One Law School’s Innovative Offerings (via Above the Law)

Technology is transforming the practice and profession of law — and legal education must evolve accordingly. Across the country, law schools are launching and expanding research centers, clinics, and course offerings focused on legal technology.

A longtime leader in this space: the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, now under the leadership of Judge Gail Prudenti, former Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts of New York State. Last year, when I interviewed Judge Prudenti shortly after she was named Hofstra Law’s tenth dean, she identified strengthening the school’s legal-tech offerings as one of the priorities of her deanship.

Earlier this month, I spoke with Judge Prudenti again, to check in on her efforts. I asked her: Why is legal-tech proficiency so important today?

“I’m a true believer,” Judge Prudenti told me. “I have seen, up close and personal, how technology has changed the legal marketplace and the practice of law — in the private sector, in the public sector, and in the courtroom.”

In private law firms, large or small, lawyers are engaged in e-discovery, e-filing, and e-billing — as a necessity. In the public sector, technology is being used to bridge the justice gap, helping to deliver legal services to the unrepresented. And in the courtroom, Judge Prudenti’s former domain, technology has been revolutionary, with touch-screen monitors, iPads, and video screens being used to present and review evidence.

“Lawyers of the future, regardless of practice area, need to be proficient in legal technology,” Judge Prudenti said — which is why Hofstra Law has been focusing so intensely on its technology offerings.

Training in legal tech is not new to Hofstra Law, an early leader in the field. In 2009, almost a decade ago, the school launched its Law, Logic and Technology (LLT) Lab, founded by Professor Vern Walker. As Judge Prudenti explained, the LLT Lab combines logic investigations with state-of-the-art technology to create tools to improve the efficiency of decision-making processes. In 2014, based on the Lab’s work, the American Bar Association named Hofstra a top 10 law school for teaching the technology of practice.

But Hofstra Law and the LLT Lab aren’t resting on their laurels. The school continues to expand the lab, partnering with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon on a project to develop apps that use artificial intelligence to help handle veterans’ benefits claims. Hofstra is also exploring a partnership with the University of Montreal to create additional apps in different areas of law that would assist in identifying cases to be brought and the appropriate courts for bringing them in.

In terms of courses focused on legal technology, Judge Prudenti told me, “The growth in this area has been monumental over the last year and a half.” New curricular offerings include Trial Advocacy Through Courtroom Technology, which teaches students advanced trial techniques and the fundamentals of trial advocacy using courtroom technology; Computer Technology in Legal Practice, which teaches students how to use some of latest software to provide legal services in the context of a simulated law firm; and a Capstone Course, in which students work with Hofstra’s law clinics and Nassau/Suffolk Legal Services to improve legal processes through tech, including developing apps and digitizing and automating legal forms.

These are just some of the most notable new classes. Other tech-centered courses include Introduction to Cybersecurity and Law, Evidence With Trial Technology, Introduction to E-Discovery, Artificial Intelligence and Law, and Introduction to Blockchain and Law.

An invaluable, unique resource for teaching technology at Hofstra Law is the school’s newly redesigned “Courtroom of the Future.” As Judge Prudenti explained, the school’s technology department designed it after going on the road and seeing some of the most advanced courtrooms in New York State, which it used as the basis for revamping the courtroom last year.

The Courtroom of the Future gives students the opportunity to experience contemporary trial practice through the use of trial practice software, digital presentation and preservation of evidence, and video conferencing for off-site witnesses and experts. The Courtroom has also been used for actual court sittings, including proceedings of the Appellate Division (Second Judicial Department) and the Nassau County Supreme Court (Commercial Division), which marked the first time judges of that court presided over complex commercial legal matters outside the Supreme Court courthouse.

Even students who don’t get the chance to take courses in the area of legal technology can gain exposure to this world through Hofstra’s Legal Tech Boot Camp, which took place for the first time earlier this month. This single-day educational and networking experience focused on the role of technology in the practice of law and the professional opportunities available to those with the skills and interest to engage with legal tech.

At the Boot Camp, current Hofstra Law students attended panels and workshops, led by experts from around the country, looking at such topics as analytics and e-discovery, cognitive computing, blockchain, cybersecurity, and more. The event was a resounding success, Judge Prudenti told me, and it will be returning in future years — and likely growing, to involve members of the bench and bar as well.

Expanding the Legal Tech Boot Camp is just one of many future plans of Judge Prudenti and Hofstra Law in the technology space. Others include hiring additional faculty with legal-tech expertise, working with Hofstra’s Breslin Center for Real Estate Studies to apply technology to land-use issues, and building partnerships with other schools at Hofstra, such as the Zucker School of Medicine, to explore how technology can advance innovation in interdisciplinary ways.

“Technology has been, and will continue to be, an area of intense focus for Hofstra Law,” Judge Prudenti said. “Many students have told me that they came here because of our legal-tech offerings — and they’re only going to get better in the years ahead.”

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