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Monday, March 26, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 32 (Hari Osofsky)

Reimagining Law and STEM

Many of the posts in this virtual symposium have mentioned the Law-STEM interface in some fashion. They have tended to focus on two main aspects of this interface: innovative legal-tech and interdisciplinary collaboration between law schools and STEM-oriented units. This post will build on that discussion to argue that (1) Law-STEM covers much more than we typically reference in that context; (2) it is not just for law students, lawyers, and professors with STEM backgrounds; (3) STEM students often aren’t adequately exposed to law as relevant to their career path; and (4) law struggles to regulate fast-moving science and technology effectively across Law-STEM areas.

The Scope of Law-STEM

In my leadership work at the Law-STEM interface, I have often encountered narrow conceptions of what that might mean.  Most people understand that intellectual property and cyber law significantly involve STEM, but then it varies from there.  My list also includes health, energy, and environment, as well as numerous ways that many other areas of the law interact with science and technology. For example, my draft article on energy reinvestment with Jackie Peel, Brett McDonnell, and Anita Foerster is examining the role of corporate and securities law in shaping flows of money and choices around existing and emerging energy technologies.  In that context, corporate and securities law form part of the Law-STEM interface.

Similar issues arise regarding legal-tech. A wide range of technologies fall under that umbrella potentially. The conversation in this virtual symposium has tended to focus largely on emerging (and increasingly established) technologies, such as e-discovery, artificial intelligence research tools, block chain, and apps that help people gain access to legal information. Andy Perlman, who has been a leader in legal-tech at both Suffolk and with the ABA, details in post #14 some of the ways that law schools are teaching new skills that intertwine law with technology. Frank Pasquale’s post #19 on artificial intelligence analyzes how it will transform practice and the implications for legal education. Several US law schools – including BYU, Penn State in University Park, USC, and Suffolk – participated in the first Global Legal Hackathon. We are learning from these experiments as we prepare to launch our Legal-Tech Virtual Lab we are developing at Penn State Law in University Park.

But how should we deal with the basics together with these emerging technologies? One of my faculty members suggested we should spend some time developing a list of all of the types of technological knowledge our students might need.  Should this include software literacy in programs like the Microsoft Office suite?  Accounting programs since that plays such an important role in small firm practice and particular practice areas like family law? And Westlaw and Lexis, which even my generation received training in, remain important legal research tools even as we talk about new ones.

Online and distance education both belong in the legal-tech conversation as well. As these tools mature, schools, legal practitioners, and corporations are increasingly using them. The subject of an online course or virtual lecture may not be Law-STEM, but technology is changing our methods of communicating about legal subjects. This opens up new possibilities for gathering – I’m really excited that the SALT Teaching Conference Penn State Law is hosting in University Park October 4-7 will include virtual participation options and a collaboration with the AALS Technology, Law, and Legal Education Section. These technologies also have critical implications for access to justice; our Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic serves more rural clients through distance learning technology, for example. They also facilitate transnational collaborations, such as the ones Dan Hunter suggests in post #26.

Law-STEM Impacts All Lawyers

This question of scope is important because many of our law students and lawyers do not have a STEM background or a fondness for math.  As a consequence, a number of people assume that this conversation about Law-STEM is not about them and their intended area of practice. 

But lawyers and the future lawyers will encounter technology in practice and increasingly state bars are recognizing the need for these competencies. Although most of us in the legal field will never understand exactly how artificial intelligence works, we will need to be able to use emerging research tools that operate using artificial intelligence. Similarly, discovery has evolved greatly from those boxes in warehouses that my classmates pulled all-nighters going through as part of “document production.”

This transition raises important curricular questions about what competencies all students need and what competencies specific students need. Not all law schools need to be STEM and legal-tech leaders, but more of these technologies may increasingly become part of core preparation.

Building Pipelines from STEM to Law

When I talk with undergraduate STEM students, they often have not considered getting a law degree, even when they have interests in policy.  Cultural presumptions that underlie this lack of exposure that are often deeply imbedded.  Advisors in these programs often don’t mention legal career paths, and even at times have expressed to me that their students are unlikely to be interested in law school. But as Frank Pasquale highlighted in post #18, the STEM community needs legal knowledge.

For areas of legal practice with significant science and technology aspects, students who pair substantive and legal training have a substantial leg up.  This can take the form of joint degrees, but also strategic use of the 12 credits the ABA allows outside of the legal curriculum and development of innovative courses in law schools that involve various forms of partnerships with other units, from co-teaching to mixing students.

My experience partnering with a number of the STEM-oriented colleges at Penn State this year has made me optimistic that this culture can change rapidly because real opportunities exist – so many rich career paths abound for these students once they consider law.  For example, as Penn State Law and the School of International Affairs has worked with the College of Engineering to establish a comprehensive partnership, that planning process has already led to cultural change.  We have been sending each other appointments candidates and considering affiliations and cohires.  As we have brainstormed topics where law and engineering come together, we have developed an ever-growing list that now has topped 20 areas that go far beyond patent law.  These include, for instance, election security, 3-D printed biomedical devices, sustainable buildings, and nuclear safety and security, just to name a few. I am excited by the potential value to society of these emerging educational programs and research collaborations.

Law Needs More Effective Approaches to STEM Problems

My interest in trans-substantive dialogue emerged from my experience directing the University of Minnesota Law School’s Joint Degree Program in Law, Science and Technology. It was striking how many of our Proseminar speakers, on diverse topics in health, environment, energy, IP, and cyber, made a nearly identical core point – regulation simply is not keeping up with rapidly evolving science and technologies.

I encounter this issue repeatedly as a dean at Penn State. For instance, the first pilot project of our new Center for Energy Law and Policy, which will be the first in the country to draw from the full breadth of a major research university, has focused on methane emissions regulation of unconventional oil and gas; the core question we are asking is whether we could come up with regulation that is better for both the environment and industry’s bottom line by incorporating emerging science and technology more effectively.  And we are developing our Legal-Tech Virtual Lab not simply to train our students in emerging technology and create innovative learning experiences, but because students across the university need to understand the legal issues around artificial intelligence and machine learning, immersive technology, 3-D printing, block chain, etc. – what the law is now, the complexities created by current gaps, and where the law might go.

We need regulators, lawyers, future lawyers, people in a range of STEM fields, business and non-profit leaders, and scholars across universities who can together envision innovative regulatory solutions grounded in substantive understanding of science and technology. Law schools have a critical role to play in getting us there through teaching, research, and projects in collaboration with a wide range of partners.

But the path there starts way before law school. I am grateful for my junior high math teacher Phyllis Hoyt and high school math teacher Sheila Collins who made math fun and interesting and, most importantly, believed in me, and for parents who supported their girl in math and science. In panels on diversity in STEM that I have observed and participated in, people often talk about the transformative impact of early teachers.  At the same time, Street Law and other programs in secondary schools play a critical role in creating much-needed greater exposure at younger ages to the role of law. How can and should law schools support bringing those efforts together?

Hari Osofsky (Penn St.--University Park)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 26, 2018 at 02:06 PM | Permalink


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