Michigan State University College of Law – ReInvent Law Laboratory (2013)

The ReInvent Law Laboratory at MSU Law was created by Professors Renee Newman Knake and Dan Katz in spring 2012 to promote innovation in the space of law + tech + design + delivery. Through scholarship, curriculum development, fast-paced conferences, and entrepreneurship training and competitions, ReInvent Law both analyzes and helps build the future of legal services.

1. What goal were you trying to achieve?
ReInvent Law’s mission is to cultivate a community of innovation and entrepreneurship through partnerships with other university departments, industry, nonprofit organizations, government, educational institutions, and our students. A primary purpose of ReInvent Law is to provide a new element of education through research and experimentation on endeavors designed (1) to solve problems faced by the legal profession including access to justice concerns and (2) to create new vehicles for the delivery of legal services. Through ReInvent Law, collaborators from the fields of law, technology, engineering, design, retailing, computer science and beyond come together in this creative community to engage in conversation and to actively construct innovative solutions. ReInvent Law provides an environment where ideas can be generated, tested and brought to market. Most important, ReInvent Law inspires and equips our students to embrace new approaches in the practice of law.
 2.  Why was it important?
For co-founder Professor Renee Newman Knake, it was important to create ReInvent Law so that she could “stand up in front of my students and really believe that having a legal degree and a career as a lawyer can be among the most fulfilling career choices a person can make.” In the wake of the challenges facing the market, Professor Knake felt that she needed to do something to make sure that future generations of lawyers could have a rewarding and meaningful career.

In terms of legal education, ReInvent Law’s additions to the law school curriculum are important to educate young lawyers for the legal market of the next two decades—something many law schools seem to be failing to do. Overall legal spend is increasing, but traditional lawyers are getting a smaller piece of the pie. We want to help prepare our students to invent and work in growing areas of the legal market. Furthermore, we hope that if Michigan State University College of Law (MSU Law) grads can set themselves apart with quantitative and entrepreneurial skills, it will equip them to compete with law grads from first-tier law schools for the new law jobs of the twenty-first century. Many companies and law firms looking for law students with more business and tech skills than the average law grad have begun contacting us for grads they can hire, and that is a great connection for our students.

Also, until recently there has been little investment in legal startups and innovations. By building a community and providing opportunities for members of the legal, tech, capital, and other industries to see what each other are doing, we can help spur innovations that improve legal services to both businesses and consumers. We know we have connected at least one startup to an investor, as a venture capitalist recently tweeted that he “found a company to invest in” at our Silicon Valley conference.

3. How did you gather the internal support, resources and personnel to make it happen? Was there resistance?
We have been very fortunate to have the support of our dean, Joan Howarth. Dean Howarth recognizes that there are major forces bringing change to the legal industry today, and our charge as legal educators is to help prepare students for their future legal career. The ReInvent Law conferences have helped make a name for MSU Law in the US and abroad, which has helped build support for the program.
However, we have still faced internal resistance from other faculty members who disagree with the way we are adding to the law school curriculum. Luckily, however, by showing successes from our program and with the continuing support of our dean and other faculty members, we have been able to get enough support to move forward with new courses.

We are also very grateful to have external support from the Kauffman Foundation, which has made our domestic conferences possible, and LexisNexis, which helps sponsor our London conferences.

 4. What was the most satisfying aspect of making your project a reality?
Seeing students, lawyers, business people, and others get excited about the possibilities in the current legal market and about improving the quality of legal services and access to justice is very satisfying. Seeing students and companies actually take action is the most satisfying. It is great to help businesses make connections that can lead to innovations in the legal space and to see students move forward with business ideas or find their place in innovative companies.

We have been told by a few students in the most recent 1L class that they came to MSU Law specifically because of the ReInvent Law program. This shows us that an education in technology, quantitative methods, e-discovery, and the current legal services market is in demand by bright legal students. When we started, we felt we were filling a hole in legal education, but it wasn’t clear yet that students knew the hole existed—it’s gratifying to see that students value the classes and experiences we work to provide them.

 5. How have you measured the success of your innovation over time?
One measure of success has been participation in our classes and attendance at our conferences. Quantitative and tech skills-based classes by Dan Katz have filled up semester after semester. We sold over 500 (free) tickets to our Silicon Valley conference, and hope to beat that record in New York City this February.

Another measure of success are the number of students who graduate from MSU Law having taken our courses and then go on to find jobs in e-discovery companies, innovative law firms, and other forward-thinking legal service companies.

 6. How have your lawyers, staff and clients responded to this innovative accomplishment?
As mentioned, our Dean and many other colleagues are very supportive of our goals and are thrilled to see us have success; they will help us continue our mission. Within our organization, it remains a responsibility of ours to communicate our goals and achievements to our colleagues, who are not all familiar with our work.

As with most new things that challenge the status quo, there was some resistance from a few colleagues. However, with the support of our Dean and by showing colleagues our successes in helping students find job opportunities in growing areas of legal services, we have been able to garner enough support to make strong additions to the law school curriculum.

 7. What has been the reaction from your competitors, or from the local legal community and media?
We have become recognized as one of the first academic programs dedicated to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in law. Similar programs began to pop up at other schools in 2013. We have been honored to receive the 2013 InnovAction Award, the ABA Journal 2013 Legal Rebel title, and 2013 Fastcase 50 Awards. Media coverage of our work has been very positive. We frequently get emails and calls from individuals around the country who are interested in learning about what we are doing and ways they can get involved.

Our most recent conferences have been either largely or fully funded by sponsorships from the legal community, demonstrating that our message and work is something that large players are interested in being a part of. Our New York City conference in February 2014 is co-sponsored by a member of the legal media, the ABA Journal.

 8. What advice do you have for others who might wish to make something new happen in their law practice or firm?
9. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about your experience with this project?