Bringing Legal Tech Into the Law School Classroom with DISCO

By: Professor Joe Regalia (UNLV)

For modern lawyers, technology and innovation are vital parts of the job. Indeed, it’s impossible to practice law today without basic technology skills. And to flourish requires much more: tech-savvy that empowers lawyers to respond to our rapidly changing legal world.

A recent Wolters Kluwer survey found that most lawyers lack key technology skills. That also goes for digital-native Millennials whom many of us assume can navigate technology with ease. Nearly three out of every four Millennials said they have don’t have a “very good understanding of the technologies” that impact their practice. Only one-third of the lawyers surveyed believe their organization is prepared to keep pace with technology changes.

Why are lawyers so bad with leveraging technology? The survey found that it’s because lawyers don’t have the skills to use it. So what can we do?

Incorporating Technology and Innovation in Law School

My law professor colleagues and I think that at least part of the solution will come from law schools. Much of the resistance to technology comes from a lack of basic skills and a dose of cultural resistance in the legal field. Law schools are the perfect place to address both.

If technology is baked into the curriculum that law students study from day one, then they will not only have the skills they need when they graduate, but they will also have the mindset of an innovator — a mindset that encourages them to seek out new, effective ways to use technology and a better sense of how to navigate the evolving legal landscape.

With this goal in mind, I developed a pilot project with other like-minded law professors. Our goal:  to meaningfully incorporate technology skills training into the first-year law school curriculum. We hoped that by introducing law students to technology and innovation early and often, we would help graduates finally start to close the technology gap.

Ediscovery was our starting point because it is arguably the most developed and integral legal technology out there. Nearly every lawyer must learn how to review and handle digital documents, and technology tools have transformed this process. So this seemed like the best first step.

But then came the hard part. How do you even go about teaching this stuff? The first hurdle was figuring out how to pay for ediscovery software for our students and professors to use. The second was training the professors—some of whom have never even seen ediscovery software in person, much less used it themselves. The third challenge was figuring out how to introduce new law students to this complicated technology, a technology that even lawyers struggle with, and many partners don’t even know how to use.

The pilot group was sensitive to our students’ busy schedules and the huge volume of information they already have to wrangle with in their first year. But we knew these skills were too important to ignore.

Teachable Opportunities with DISCO

Eventually, we found the answer: DISCO, an intuitive but powerful suite of ediscovery tools that is easy to learn and easy to teach. Everything about it is simple and straightforward. As a result, it’s perfect for law students and law professors. No hours of training or special support staff are required. After about thirty minutes of training, even fresh-eyed first-year law students can dive in.

Not only is DISCO so easy to use that our pilot group of professors believed we could teach it to new students, but the company that created it also turned out to be an incredible partner, committed to educating our next generation of lawyers. It agreed to help teach the basics of ediscovery and donated the use of its software and support to our pilot group.

With DISCO’s help, we built out two ediscovery curriculums for first-year coursework. First, we designed a short, two-hour program that is a completely self-contained ediscovery primer for law professors who want to bring technology into their classrooms but lack the time or ability to teach a more robust series of activities. This ediscovery primer introduces law students to the basics of document review: collecting documents, processing them, and reviewing them—the most common skills practicing lawyers need. It also includes simple demonstrations of ediscovery in action, with the professor working with the class to conduct document searches, tag documents, and walk through simple activities that emulate how an attorney might use ediscovery software in practice.

Our second curriculum enables professors to incorporate ediscovery on a larger scale. After the primer on documents and ediscovery, the professors upload documents relevant to an in-class writing exercise onto the DISCO platform, which is as easy as dragging and dropping. Several irrelevant documents are also uploaded as well as privileged samples. This creates a set of documents that simulate what a document collection might look like in a real case.

The students are then given access to the platform and the chance to conduct their own document review. They tag and collect supporting documents to use in their legal writing exercise. In other words, the students get to experience ediscovery firsthand. They learn about all the ways that DISCO and similar tools can help them sift through documents, identify privileged material, and analyze facts to support litigation.

Students and Professors Enthusiastically Embrace Technology

Both of our pilot programs were a huge success. We’ve had over 200 law students participate in at least one DISCO class! The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Participating law professors—even those who have never used ediscovery tools—reported having an easy time demonstrating the platform to students. Almost all of our participating law students uniformly loved the introduction to ediscovery technology. Many noted that their peers did not get this exposure and thought it was a big advantage for them heading into the second year and their first legal jobs.

At the end of the semester, students reported feeling better equipped for practice and more excited to explore the ways technology can help them succeed. Over 85% even asked for more technology training to be incorporated into their classes generally. Overall, students love DISCO, and they enjoy learning about legal technology.

With the success of the first phase of the pilot, the project is expanding and the hope is to encourage even more law professors to incorporate DISCO and other technologies into the classroom. Rather than just introduce technology into a single activity during the semester, we plan to incorporate technology into multiple exercises throughout the year.

How do you teach with or about technology in the law school classroom? Share your good ideas at [email protected], and we might just post them. 

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A Helpful Approach to the Bar Exam

By: Prof. Quentin Huff, Assistant Director of Bar Success at Wake Forest University School of Law

A student anxiously cramming for the bar exam

Everybody knows the bar exam is difficult. Indeed, it’s the very magnitude of the difficulty that causes us to lose sight of what’s important on the exam.  In my view, when examinees misinterpret the rule of thumb that the bar exam is testing “minimum competency”, they risk losing sight of the many skills they acquired and developed through law school.

The bar exam tests what you can do in addition to what you know. So, before we get to that, let’s first breakdown the basics. I divide bar exams into two types: (1) the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) and (2) state-specific examinations.

The Uniform Bar Exam

The National Conference of Bar Examiners creates the UBE, which consists of three primary components: (1) the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE) (200 multiple choice questions); (2) the Multistate Essay Exam (MEE) (six essay questions); and (3) the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) (two closed-universe problems).  Completion of all three components results in a test score out of 400 possible points.

The jurisdiction where you sit for the bar will determine the required passing score, sometimes referred to as the “cut score”. Passing scores range from 260 to 280. Alabama’s passing score of 260 is an example of the lowest. Alaska’s passing score of 280 is the highest. North Carolina falls in between, requiring a minimum passing score of 270 points.

MBE: Over a total of six hours, the MBE’s 200 multiple choice questions cover various areas of law, including Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Contracts (including Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code), Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Real Property, and Torts. The subjects are tested based on “majority” rules, such as the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, comparative fault instead of contributory negligence, and common law principles of criminal law instead of the Model Penal Code. The MBE is graded by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

MEE: The essays for the MEE’s six questions may cover any of the subject areas tested on the MBE as well as other topics like Business Associations (including Agency, Partnership,  and Corporations, LLCs), Conflict of Laws, Family Law, Secured Transactions, Wills, and Trusts. The jurisdiction administering the exam will grade these essays.

MPT: For the MPT, the test makers provide the statutes, rules, and precedent necessary for examinees to complete a specific task. The examinee may need to use the materials to respond to a client letter or a directive from a senior partner, resulting in the synthesis of the given statutory material and case law into a particular type of written work product, such as a memo, contractual agreement, proposal, or other document. For many examinees, the MPT will resemble an assignment from a law school legal writing course. Once again, the MPT is graded by the individual jurisdiction where the examinee sits for the exam.

State-specific exams, on the other hand, tend to incorporate one or more of the above components, either created by the state bar or by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Some states administer short answer questions. Others administer 12 or more essays. State-specific exams usually require knowledge of state law, so examinees in these jurisdictions must be able to pivot between the “majority rules” of the MBE to the state-specific distinctions raised by the essay questions.

With this foundation, let’s now discuss “minimum competency”. Continue reading “A Helpful Approach to the Bar Exam”

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The Forgetting Curve

By: Professor Steve Friedland, Elon Law School

Clear Light Bulb

My first teaching opportunity arose less than a year after graduating from law school when I was asked to teach Evidence to approximately 70 upper level law students at a law school in South Florida. Without training or guidance, I did what many people probably would have done under similar circumstances — essentially replicate what I had seen as a student. I covered assignments day-by-day and waded through the traditional doctrinal topics contained in the traditional casebook I had chosen. For me, it was all about segmented coverage of material.  From a student’s perspective, though, I am sure the class felt very different, more like a grueling teen tour through Europe — 13 countries in three days.

By framing my class as an educational assembly line, I thought I had done my job – cover doctrinal material and foster critical analysis. Now it was the students’ job to learn and apply the substantive doctrines on their own for the exam. Yet if I knew then what I know now, my teaching approach would have been dramatically different.

In the past two decades, scientists using advanced technology have learned so much about the brain, including more about how learning takes place. Scientists have studied what happens to information that is communicated to learners in a class.  Do students immediately store that information in brain files like computers do for ready and easy access whenever the information is needed? Does the process of note-taking mean students can access what they have learned at any time?  Does multi-tasking affect the learning process? If yes, then how?

The scientific answers to these questions are both nuanced and complex.  They tell us that teaching does not equate to learning, especially long-term retention and recall.  If the goal is to become a self-directed and effective learner, what first counts is paying attention, focusing on information, and then engaging in useful retrieval practices to make that information stick. Continue reading “The Forgetting Curve”

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Of Books and Pen: Steinbeck’s Advice and Mine on Writing Your First Book

By: Professor Abigail L. Perdue

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

John Steinbeck

I first dreamed of writing a book when I was nine years old. A precocious fourth grader with a vivid imagination, I had always been an avid reader, going off on grand adventures from the comfort of my father’s study. The walls of that tiny room – not much larger than a closet – were covered from floor to ceiling with books on every topic imaginable. I would crawl on his chair and reach for the classics on the highest shelves. That’s where I first met Alcott, Austen, Hardy, and a host of other beloved childhood companions. I lost myself in his library, but perhaps I found myself too.

Like many insatiable readers, I soon discovered that I enjoyed creating stories almost as much as reading them. In the fourth grade, my teacher entered my short story – The Eagle’s Eye[1] – into a writing competition. Much to my surprise, I won, and my first story was published. That unique experience reinforced two burgeoning desires – my passion for writing and my dream to one day publish a book.[2]

Fast forward several decades later, and I’ve published two books and am currently waist-deep in a third. All the while, Steinbeck’s ghost has been whispering in my ear while I revisit his Depression-era classic – The Grapes of Wrath. So here are a few things I wish I’d known before naively embarking on my first book-writing journey: Continue reading “Of Books and Pen: Steinbeck’s Advice and Mine on Writing Your First Book”

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