BLDC 2020

Today I had the opportunity to participate in the 2020 Boston Legal Design Challenge (#BLDC2020). It was the first year this competition was held online, and they were therefore able to include teams from outside of Boston proper.

Throughout the day we were invited to participate in exercises with our team members. Our team, the TRU Legal Architects was the only team from Canada. We were accompanied by a facilitator from Liberty Mutual Insurance in a zoom breakout room. Our facilitator led us through a collection of exercises where we collaborated through in order to strategize and discuss what we were going to pitch to the judges.

At the end of the day, we competed against the 9 other teams and presented our idea to a panel of 3 judges. Ultimately we pitched the idea of an automated legal consultant who would provide assistance to small firms and sole practitioners looking to digitize their practice at little to no cost. We wanted to provide a resource that would help facilitate a seamless transition online for those who do not have the same resources available to them as would be found in a larger firm. We were thrilled to come in 3rd overall.

A lot of the presentations focused on access to justice and products that would help move the legal profession into the future. It was a very valuable experience and I think the people who participated will undoubtedly do great things for the profession in the future.

Changing the Foundation for Innovation, Collaboration and Creativity in Law

Innovation, collaboration, and creativity are characteristics that are becoming a focal point of the current demands of those hiring legal counsel. Gone are the times of hiring a lawyer for one specific task with one specific requirement, and ushered in are the times of multi-faceted approaches to solving problems. It seems that because the legal world is starting to recognize that the lawyers being pumped out of law schools with a cookie cutter education perhaps isn’t the best way to stimulate innovation in the field, programs are being designed to help lawyers with their “soft skills”. While these programs are well-intentioned and certainly useful to those who have left law school behind decades before current, it simply doesn’t address the problem at a foundational level. The level I’m referring to is the ground level of fresh candidates being accepted into law school as we speak. Canada’s  top-tier law schools are not known for their holistic hiring process, and in fact usually require simply two documents upon application: (1) undergraduate transcripts, and (2) LSAT score. To me, requiring only these two items is inviting your new class of soon-to-be lawyers to set innovative thinking and real-world acquired soft skills aside for a spotlight focus on the robotic functioning of a fundamentally flawed grading system. If we want to fix what will soon be a profession-wide problem of lawyers who are being asked to perform in ways they’ve never been asked to before, the way to do so isn’t to address the problem years into a lawyers professional career, but rather at ground zero before they’ve learned the outdated and entrenched ways to approach the practice of law.

Upon discovering that perhaps law school was something I would like to pursue, I began the arduous process of looking into the requirements each individual school listed for their applicants. Not only did I leave the process disheartened as a student (I am the first to admit that working during my undergraduate degree did not fare ostentatiously well for my grades), I left it disheartened as a human being (dramatic yes, but also true). So many of the institutions I looked into did not have any kind of holistic framework in place to make sure that the applicants they were admitting were well-rounded in both academic pursuits and real-world experience. To me this screamed: “We want you! BUT with the caveat of it being the “you” only in relation to your grades and LSAT score.” Creating an environment comprised of academic superstars that were only admitted on the premise that their grades were high, and their LSAT score higher has created this strange utopian environment of legalese using human-like robots who read textbooks for sustenance and oil their joints with their regurgitated and unhelpful word-for-word caselaw.

That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are certainly those who have been able to work, live lives, and achieve outstanding grades. In consequence, these people will have some of those soft skills that innovation, creativity and collaboration in a professional setting require. However, I do not think it wrong to say that most of those being accepted to the top tier law schools whom only weigh grades and LSAT scores are those students privileged enough to have been able to focus on school and only school in their undergraduate degrees. For some reason, this seems to be a fundamental flaw in our legal education system that is rarely discussed.

To tie this together, it is my extremely humble and overly simple second-year opinion that if we indeed want to encourage innovation, collaboration, and creativity in our legal profession, then why not try to fix the foundation that it was built on.  True innovation, collaboration and creativity blossoms from experience and practice in the real world with a variety of personal interactions. Why not include holistic evaluations country-wide in our law school applications to ensure that students coming in have a solid understanding of what personable communication is like and how to do it? Why are we encouraging, as institutions, students to only value grades and numbers that do not accurately translate to the legal skills required in the actual practice of law?

I am not trying to discount the importance of reading the material and being able to apply the knowledge. Reading comprehension and application is important and shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially in a profession where reading is a heavy component of the work. Showing your future law school that you are able to retain information at the undergraduate level is also an important indicator of being able to retain information at the law school level. However, this can be shown just as sufficiently through grades that live in the 80 percent range in tandem with outside-of-school work and experience, as it would be shown through grades in the upper 90 percentages with only an academic life focus. At the end of the day, the law profession is a service industry, and it’s no wonder clients are asking for more innovative and creative lawyers than the professionals they’re currently receiving. Many of the lawyers we’ve seen in this practice before us lack major service industry skills because of their purely academic focus, and I too as a client would want more soft skills present in my counsel.

In summation, I believe the key to truly endorsing innovation, creativity, and collaboration is changing the things that we as students are taught to value (i.e., grades). Institutions need to foster and appreciate adaptable thinking, people skills and real world experience. Adopting this mindset early would eliminate the need for lawyers to later on take courses to essentially learn how to talk to human beings on a human being level. This is arguably a skill we should all value as residents of this planet, instead of treating it like an abnormal characteristic that isn’t found abundantly in the regular functioning of society. I would argue even, that offering these courses as learning tools is simply affirming to lawyers and students that all the skills they need to know come from a classroom. These skills are easily achievable through interactions in the world by simply stepping outside of your front door and into an assortment of diverse social situations. I agree that the three aforementioned characteristics of collaboration, creativity, and innovation are necessities for those working in this current legal world, and are not consistently present at this time. My agreement on this issue also concludes that I acknowledge there is a problem that has not been properly addressed, managed, or cared about. Hopefully as I continue my journey through law school and then (hopefully, COVID-19 willing) into the practice of law itself I will see the institutional focus on grades and LSAT scores diminish in lieu of a focus on holistic application requirements. It is a hopeful outlook, but one I think is certainly achievable. The law itself is known to be an incredibly complex grey area for interpretation, so why are we making our recruiting requirements and expectations so black and white?