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Sunday, April 08, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 58 (Gordon Smith)


I am grateful to Dan Rodriguez for convening and Mike Madison for inspiring this symposium. Reading the contributions has been thought provoking. Like Bill Henderson, I wanted to participate earlier, but I was busy doing the hard work that follows good ideas. Nevertheless, I have been reading and learning and hatching new ideas.

Some readers of this symposium will be familiar with LawX, BYU Law School’s legal design lab, which was launched last semester. Our first experience with LawX produced a product called SoloSuit, which in just over two months has been used by over 500 people to generate answers to debt collection lawsuits in Utah. This summer, legal aid organizations in at least four other states will implement SoloSuit.

This outcome seems like a success story for design thinking in law schools, but the bigger story of LawX (at least for me as a law school dean) is about surprise. In creating LawX, I was motivated by a very simple idea, namely, that legal education should be better at encouraging students to change the world. Law schools are very good at teaching students to work within the status quo, but the core function of entrepreneurs is to challenge the status quo, and I want our students to embrace that entrepreneurial mindset. Thus, the goal of challenging the status quo of debt collection lawsuits was built into the structure of the course, but our students experienced all sorts of surprises as they researched and built SoloSuit – surprises about Utah law, surprises about the small size of debt collection lawsuits, and surprises about how people might interact with the website the students were designing. Surprise is part of the design thinking process, as participants are encouraged to avoid prejudging the solution, precisely to encourage unanticipated results.

On the other hand, I was also surprised by LawX. Watching the students in LawX work together as a team (not always seamlessly, to be sure) caused me to remember my own experiences as a law student, which were mostly isolating. As you would expect, I received some mentorship from professors and some encouragement from classmates, family members, and friends, but the work of law school was largely solitary. Near the end of last semester, I was reflecting on those experiences with my co-teacher in a leadership course and thinking about the contrast provided by our experience with LawX. We decided to make teamwork a focus of our new course. In our syllabus, we wrote: “We believe that we should become excellent at working together, and when we work together we achieve excellence. Our objective is to help each other excel in learning and in performance.”

In the wake of LawX, I have been wondering how we should feature teamwork in other parts of our program of legal education, and there is much more to say about that topic, but the point of this story is to illustrate the importance of surprise. Traditionally, law students have been trained to anticipate the future, but we live in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. Our students need to experience and embrace surprise. And those of us who aspire to innovate in legal education should expect many surprises along the way. Design thinking is not the only approach to teaching the value of surprise, but I am embracing the notion that as we strive to improve legal education, we should avoid prejudging solutions.

Gordon Smith (BYU)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 8, 2018 at 10:59 AM | Permalink


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