“Every business in the world needs to innovate in order to gain competitive advantage and survive in the marketplace—and lawyers are no longer an exception to this basic rule.” – Kathy Burns

Recently, Kevin O’Keefe, founder and CEO of Lexblog, published an article discussing Michigan State University College of Law’s growing recognition amongst the legal community for its Legal Research and Development Program “Legal RnD”. He highlights how using technology has played a role in the accomplishments of several recent graduates of the program, giving MSU Law national recognition usually reserved for those such as Harvard, Yale, or Michigan. As a result, Jay Evans and I wanted to write a blog post to explain what LegalRnD is and how it has benefited us so far.

What is it?

LegalRnD is a program that provides courses, lecture series, and networking opportunities to assist law students in their development as future lawyers. The program seeks to educate and train future lawyers on how to improve the delivery of legal services using technology. Technological innovation in the legal space is not meant to be “lawyer-replacing”; rather, innovation is meant to be a “lawyer-strengthening”. Learning the skills and technology available to enable processes improvement can help the legal profession automate monotonous tasks while reaching a broader client base, including those who may traditionally lack access to justice.

More recently, the center has published research on legal innovation. Dan Linna, Director of LegalRnD and Professor of Law in Residence at MSU, published Phase 1 of the Legal Services Innovation Index with the help of MSU law students. This detailed data collection was designed “to add to and improve legal-industry discussions about legal innovation and technology” and opens the doors to quantifiable analyses.

Jay Evans and I joined LegalRnD in September of 2016 as 1Ls.  To illustrate the importance and benefits of LegalRnD we would like to share our experiences.

Why we joined LegalRnD?

Danielle – I first learned of LegalRnD while attending the 2016 Lean Law Process Improvement Workshop. Following the workshop, I decided to join LegalRnD because of the great value that it provided its members, including opportunities to learn about the law outside of the classroom and opportunities to network with forward thinking legal professionals. I am currently interning with an innovation based organization and creating a brand for myself through social media.

Jay – I decided to join LegalRnd because I knew that it would help me learn the best way to bridge my technical background with my interest in the legal field. After attending several meetings and programs, I quickly realized that I wanted to improve my chances of being a T-shaped lawyer and I knew that LegalRnD was my best opportunity to accomplish this goal. Because of Professor Linna’s encouragement to blog about emerging legal topics in my areas of interests of interest and his encouragement to use social media to promote my brand, I had the opportunity to work as an intern for my dream company this past summer.

How did it influence our summer?

Danielle – The internship that I obtained through attending a Spartan Hack-a-thon, as a LegalRnD representative, solidified the value of the program. This summer I witnessed how learning and using technology could positively affect in-house legal processes. Because my mentor, senior corporate counsel, had taken coding classes and dedicated time to learning technology, she was able to more efficiently and effectively create contracts for the tech team; she could “talk tech”. Additionally, I was able to have in-depth discussions with the IT department about how blockchain could better improve the functions of the title industry because LegalRnD had introduced me to the technology.

Jay– As a member of LegalRnD, you are encouraged to brand yourself through social media and other networking events. During the spring semester, several of the LegalRnD students attended the ABA Legal Tech show to learn about rapidly evolving trends in the legal field. This summer, I had the opportunity to see how legal divisions within companies use many of the tools discussed at the tech show to streamline their legal processes. I had the opportunity to participate in on a number of meetings in which we discussed ways to use technology to streamline legal matters.

2L year

As second-year law students and members of the executive board of Legal Launch Pad—LegalRnD’s student group—we look forward to the upcoming events and opportunities to dive further into topics such as artificial intelligence and e-discovery. We invite you to come to our meetings to learn innovation in the legal field.


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