Teaching Tomorrow’s Lawyers

TRU Law’s cool law and innovation scene

Teaching Tomorrow’s Lawyers

The legal profession is at the beginning of profound change – from artificial intelligence to online dispute resolution to alternative business structures. That’s a challenge for legal educators. Richard Susskind, one of the best thinkers about the future of the profession, threw down the challenge in the recent second edition of his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers: law graduates are “staggeringly ill-prepared for the legal world of the next decade or two.” Law schools need to step up and help students build the skills they will need as tomorrow’s lawyers.

Thompson Rivers University (“TRU”) law school is looking to meet that challenge by training students in new fields like legal knowledge engineering and legal expert system design.

One of the coolest and most exciting intersections of law and technology is the world of legal apps, or expert systems. TRU law students actually learn how to create real-world, working apps in a course called Designing Legal Expert Systems. It is a collaboration with legal tech firm Neota Logic, which develops expert systems for law firms and corporate clients.

Students work in teams with nonprofit organizations to create apps that help cut down the time, cost and complexity of getting legal help to people who need it. Neota’s no-code platform means students with no coding knowledge or software development experience can learn the system quickly, and put their legal skills to work turning legal expertise into user-friendly, well designed systems.

Other globally recognized law schools, including Georgetown University Law Centre and Melbourne Law School, offer similar courses in collaboration with Neota. So far, TRU is the only law school in Canada doing this.

Student groups created: an app to make it easier to report animal cruelty (with Animal Justice Canada); a document automation tool to create wills, representation agreements and powers of attorney at the touch of a button (with TRU’s Community Legal Clinic); a self-help tool for self-represented litigants (with the National Self-Represented Litigants Centre); and the prize-winning app, a tool to help mobile phone customers with their consumer rights and remedies under the CRTC’s Wireless Code (with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre).

TRU students are also learning the nuts and bolts of online dispute resolution, working with British Columbia’s brand new, world-leading Civil Resolution Tribunal. Several students have completed an externship in which they built content for the Civil Resolution Tribunal’s Solution Explorer, a public legal information resource that helps users get the information and tools they need to resolve disputes at an early stage, with less expense and stress. In this unique learning experience, the students worked closely with expert lawyers with detailed knowledge of the law in a particular area, and with lawyers at the Ministry of the Attorney General who helped to create the Civil Resolution Tribunal. Their work was featured on the Civil Resolution Tribunal blog.

As one of the students in the apps course wrote on TRU’s Law and Innovation blog: “Lawyers, embrace the new and different, reconsider the things you do simply because you have always done it that way before and ask yourself: is there a better way?” The creative, innovative students who have done such groundbreaking work in these courses are ready to lead the legal profession in a future that will be interesting, certainly challenging, and all about continually asking ourselves if there is a better way.