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(Tech) Actions Speak Louder:  Developing Tomorrow’s Legal Thinkers, Problem-Solvers, & Builders

Professors Gabe Teninbaum & Dyane O’Leary introduce readers to Suffolk’s Legal Innovation & Technology Institute and innovative law school curriculum, along with the school’s LIT Certificate for non-JD professionals. Suffolk Law has been ranked #1 in the United States for legal technology by the National Jurist and PreLaw Magazine. Amid the excitement shared by a growing number of law schools to introduce students to technology’s impact on modern delivery of legal services, Suffolk is going one step further: having students use technology and build actual legal services products for real clients, real people, and real purposes. Beyond just today’s students, Suffolk has recognized that lawyers and other professionals who never had the opportunity to learn these skills earlier in their careers now crave them. Suffolk’s LIT online certificate fills this critical gap.

Have you ever played a sport, learned to bicycle, or honed a talent like knitting or cooking? If so, you know that talking about how to do the activity and actually doing it are two very different things. The same, in our view, goes for training students to be successful legal professionals in a modern age.

A bias toward doing things, not just talking about things, has become a guiding philosophy in the Legal Innovation and Technology program at Suffolk University Law School. It’s vital that students understand the theory of how processes and tools work, but that’s not enough. We want them to get their hands dirty. This translates to the challenge of creating courses and experiences both inside and outside of the traditional classroom that offer students the opportunity to apply 21st century lawyering skills. While there are plenty of areas for growth, we’re proud of the steps Suffolk has taken so far, including being ranked the #1 law school in the United States for legal technology [1] and, more importantly, having trained many students who are using their skills to make an impact in the profession. Suffolk University Law School formalized its commitment to legal tech in 2013, with the founding of the Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation. The LIT Institute’s founding director (and now law school’s dean), Andrew Perlman, developed his vision as an expert on the legal profession who served in leadership roles with the American Bar Association, including as the Ethics 20/20 Commission’s Chief Reporter, which re-envisioned ethical rules for attorneys. [2] Dean Perlman subsequently became the inaugural Chair of the Governing Council of the ABA Center for Innovation. The LIT Institute is the umbrella organization for all of Suffolk’s various legal tech initiatives and, guided by the advice of a Board of Advisors with diverse backgrounds, strives to continue Dean Perlman’s forward-thinking progress at the national level by preparing Suffolk Law students to succeed in different roles in organizations and law firms that focus on using new tools and methods to deliver legal services.

How do we do that? From Day 1 we incorporate this mindset as students begin their academic experience. For example, during one memorable block of orientation, we taught the entire 1L class to solve a legal problem using (a beginner-friendly programming language developed by our Suffolk colleague, David Colarusso). [3] By the end of the 90-minute block, several hundred new law students had created a decision tree, automated it in the form of a chatbot, and deployed their prototype on the web. As a colleague put it after hearing about this activity: “At what other law school do students build their own AI-powered legal apps before the first day of class even begins?”

Suffolk’s first LIT initiative was an academic JD concentration - akin to an undergraduate major - in Legal Innovation & Technology. After the 1L year, Concentration students take core courses that teach topics such as document automation, expert systems, process improvement/legal project management, and new business models for legal work. Students can take electives like Coding the Law and Design Thinking for Lawyers. They also complete an internship that requires them to harness these skills and complete a research project to dive deeper into a topic of their choosing. At each step, the focus is hands-on work: for example, mastering Clio legal software as part of the Legal Tech for Small Firms course or experimenting with Casetext’s AI legal research tool in an Advanced Legal Writing course.

The “hands on” work continues outside of the classroom. Suffolk’s LIT student association is over 200 members strong, and students have done things like host a Design Challenge sponsored by Liberty Mutual Insurance and create an informal club to learn Python (these topics are detailed in other articles in this issue!).

We regularly engage Suffolk Law’s alumni, and welcome visitors interested in this work. During the 2018-19 academic year alone, we played host to both the ARK Chief Innovation Officer Summit, and the College of Law Practice Management’s Futures Conference. We also hosted the second annual LIT Conference in April 2019, which brought 100+ legal academics, practitioners, technologists, and law students together. [4] Suffolk’s LIT initiatives have sparked academic collaborations. For example, Suffolk co-sponsored a course called Future Law with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2018 that brought together Suffolk, MIT, Harvard, and other students.

So what are Suffolk’s Future Lawyers doing now? They’re lawyering, of course, but with a modern twist. Alumni of the LIT program have titles like Legal Solutions Architect, Legal Solutions Developer, and Innovation Advisor. Vedika Mehera JD ‘15, for example, is working as an innovation advisor at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe [5] and her classmate Gerald Glover JD ‘15 is a legal solutions architect at the large business and litigation law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. [6] What’s more, a number of program graduates have taken on traditional legal jobs as associates, but leveraged their LIT training to be more efficient and effective in their work. Law firms are paying closer attention than ever to lawyers’ technological skills and abilities to innovate, and Suffolk’s graduates are well-positioned to shine.

The work of the LIT Institute is just beginning. Last year, Suffolk expanded efforts into the research and development field by co-founding the LIT Lab with the law school’s clinical program. As detailed in a different article in this magazine, the goal of this unique program is to build legal tech and data science solutions for courts, government organizations, non-profits, firms, and corporate law departments. We are excited at the Lab’s output so far, such as an automated tool to help Minnesota tenants report bedbugs and a data science project that helped a personal injury law firm more quickly identify the hallmarks of an intake call likely to lead to a case that reached a successful conclusion. Another exciting development is the LIT Lab’s participation in grants, including a project underway in conjunction with the Pew Foundation and Stanford University dubbed Learned Hands focused on allowing for more robust tools for legal aid organizations to connect the community with resources. [7]

Interested? Intrigued? Eager to collaborate or learn more? What about legal professionals or lawyers who never received these types of opportunities in law school? Suffolk’s online LIT Certificate Program provides an online certificate for legal professions (with and without JDs) who seek to modernize their legal skill set and maintain a leg up in today’s changing legal marketplace. [8]

The bottom line is that what a successful future lawyer needs is a complicated puzzle. If the LIT Institute can foster Suffolk Law students’ innovative thinking, hands-on skills, and creative imagination then we are proud to contribute to improving the legal field.


[1] See Sherry Karabin, Best Schools for Legal Technology, National Jurist, (last visited July 25, 2019).

[3] QnAMarkup, (last visited July 25, 2019).

[4] See LIT Con 2019 Conference, Suffolk U., (last visited July 25, 2019).

[5] Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, (last visited July 20, 2019).

[6] Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, (last visited July 18).

[7] Learned Hands, (last visited July 25, 2019).

[8] See Legal Tech Certificate, Suffolk U., (last visited July 19, 2019).


About the Authors Dyane O’Leary, Associate Professor of Legal Writing

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