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July 20, 2015

New center aims to improve practice of law through science

With fewer students enrolling in law schools and the high expense of legal services, the legal profession needs radical change, says a Michigan State University College of Law professor who hopes to make a difference with a new legal research center.

MSU Law’s Center for Legal Services Innovation – LegalRnD for short – launched this month, introducing students to leaner, more effective business models and the use of data and technology to improve legal services.

Studies show about three out of four people with low to moderate incomes don’t receive the legal services they need, said Daniel Linna Jr., assistant dean for career development and director of LegalRnD. At the same time, businesses often go without legal services because of the expense.

But it’s important to bring law to everyone who needs it – and that means shaking things up.

“We work hard for our clients, but we haven’t stepped back and seriously asked ourselves, ‘How can we improve legal service delivery for our clients?’” Linna said. “Nor have we invested in legal research and development. As a solution, we intend to engage in the research and development the legal industry hasn’t done to develop 21st-century legal practice.”

T-shaped lawyers will excel in the 21st century, he said. In addition to having substantive legal knowledge, T-shaped lawyers possess knowledge and expertise in multiple disciplines. For example, they’re trained in business, process improvement, project management, data analysis, technology and other disciplines that will help them improve legal service delivery.

Linna is a good example. Named a 2015 Fastcase 50 innovator, he holds bachelor’s degrees in communications and political science and a master’s in public policy and administration. And as a former IT manager, he knows how to write code and design databases.

With classes about delivering legal services, quantitative analysis, legal analytics, entrepreneurial lawyering, designing legal services and litigation, LegalRnD students will learn how to improve the efficiency, quality and value of the solutions they deliver, Linna said.

LegalRnD classes are interdisciplinary, taught by faculty from other MSU colleges. And in the fall, Ken Grady, a leading expert in the legal industry, will join LegalRnD, teaching legal service delivery.

Innovation is a big focus of LegalRnD, Linna said. In June, LegalRnD was the coordinating sponsor of LexHacks, a legal “hackathon” in Chicago. Lawyers, law students, technologists and other professionals competed for $5,250 in prizes to create solutions to improve legal services.

Linna recruited nine sponsors and helped two legal aid organizations raise $2,001 via Twitter to fund their prizes. LegalRnD will continue to host legal hackathons and other events to spur innovation.

“Just as MSU’s mission includes serving the public through finding practical applications for scientific research and technological innovations, LegalRnD aims to lead the legal industry through the use of scientific research and development, organizational excellence and technology,” Linna said.

By: Kristen Parker

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