Course Topics and Modules

9 Technological Skills and Knowledge

Learning Objectives

The 21stcentury lawyer will be faced with a variety of technological tools. An understanding of the underlying processes of these tools as well as the implications of using them will be necessary.

Sub-Topic: Legal

Stephanie Kimbro, Practicing Law Online: Creating a Web-Based Virtual Law Office, (2010).

Stephanie Kimbro examines the ethical implications of the “virtual law practice.” Maintenance of client confidentiality in the web-based world carries a number of new problems to face, and the attorneys facing them must have at least a basic understanding of software security if they are to operate ethically. This book offers in-depth discussions of web-based “software as a service” technologies, their roles in the practice of law, and the ethical implications of their use.

Brian Donnelly, What Does Digital Lawyer” Mean?, a chapter in Educating the Digital Lawyer, Oliver Goodenough and Marc Lauritsen, editors, Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession, 2012.

Brian Donnelly, one of the teachers of the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia Law School, highlights important scholarship that addresses the topic of what it means to be a “digital lawyer.” Additionally, Donnelly outlines the major issues that deserve consideration when developing a curriculum to educate lawyers on practicing law in a digital world.

Conrad Johnson & Brian Donnelly, If Only We Knew What We Know, 88 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 729 (2013).

The Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic has taught law students how to use practice and technology tools in a professional setting for the better part of a decade. Conrad Johnson and Brian Donnelly, who teach the course at Columbia Law School with Mary Zulack, explain their clinical education process as knowledge management where their students learn how to use expert systems to make tacit knowledge of experts explicit for users.

Maura Grossman and Gordan Cormack, Technology-Assisted Review in E-Discovery Can Be More Effective and Efficient Than Exhaustive Manual Review, 17 Rich. J.L. & Tech. 11 (2011).

Maura Grossman and Gordan Cormack oppose the traditional view that manual, personal review of data by experts is more effective than automated e-discovery. While the efficiency benefits of automated e-discovery are immediately obvious, Grossman and Cormack draw upon recent research to show that automated e-discovery can bring about more easily-recalled and precise results. The authors discuss the research that brought about this conclusion, the nature of automated e-discovery’s superiority, and how e-discovery automation is improving over time.

Jonathan Jenkins, What Can Information Technology Do For the Law?, 21 Harv. J. of L. & Tech. 589 (2008).

Jonathan Jenkins notes that “much of current legal work is embarrassingly, absurdly, wasteful.” While information technology has taken firm root in the workplace routines of most every industry, practitioners of law are lagging in their embrace of all that IT has to offer. Automation of basic tasks and the use of analytical artificial intelligence can greatly benefit law practices, and this piece examines the various ways in which practitioners of law can implement IT and AI tools to make their offices more efficient, effective, and profitable.

Lawrence Cunningham, Language, Deals and Standards: The Future of XML Contracts, 84 Wash. U. L. Rev. 313 (2006).

eXtensible Markup Language (XML) structures information in documentary systems ranging from financial reports to medical records and business contracts. XML standards for specific applications are developed spontaneously by self-appointed technologists or entrepreneurs. XML’s social and economic stakes are considerable, especially when developed for the private law of contracts. XML can reduce transaction costs but also limit the range of contractual expression and redefine the nature of law practice. So reliance on spontaneous development may be sub-optimal and identification of a more formal public standard setting model necessary. To exploit XML’s advantages while minimizing risks, this Article envisions creating a publicly oriented foundation to set XML-based standards for the private law of corporate contracts. The Article’s specific inquiry concerning corporate contracts illuminates XML’s broader implications, making the standard-setting model it contributes adaptable to other contexts.

Sub-Topic: Data

Daniel Martin Katz, Quantitative Legal Prediction – or – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Preparing for the Data Driven Future of the Legal Services Industry, 62 Emory L. J. 909 (2013).

Daniel Martin Katz notes that lawyers are constantly asked to make predictions concerning exposure, costs, potential benefits, and much more. While experiential knowledge is certainly useful for making more accurate predictions, Katz argues that software-based quantitative legal prediction tools are an emerging and viable improvement upon lawyers’ more traditional methods of prediction. Katz believes that law firms and schools should closely examine quantitative legal prediction tools if they are to thrive in the data-driven future of the legal services industry.

Sub-Topic: Usability

Plain Language Online Course: A Self-Guided Learning Experience, by Jeff Hogue

Jeff Hogue offers various techniques to ensure effective presentation of information. Hogue’s stepwise lessons cover topics such as aesthetic tools, plainness of language, awareness of one’s audience, and much more. Students are encouraged to peruse the contents listed on the left of each lesson when confronted by an information presentation problem.

Plain Language School – Lesson 1: Analyze a Document

Plain Language School – Lesson 2: Readability Concepts

Plain Language School – Lesson 3: Case Study

A Plain Language Handbook: Write For Your Reader, by NWT Literacy Council.

This handbook gives you the tools to write or edit your documents in plain language and aesthetic simplicity. The handbook provides comprehensive and nuanced instruction while also serving as a complete example of simple, effective information presentation. Specifics tips are strewn through a general guide on honing one’s ability to clearly convey information.

Plain Language Tools from WriteClearly.org

WriteClearly.org is a website by Legal Assistance of Western New York (LawNY) that includes collections of legal aid-focused plain language documents, online tools and other plain language resources.

WriteClearly’s library

Plain Language Glossary

Plain Language Collection

OpenAdvocate’s WriteClearly Plain Language Authoring Tool

William H. DuBay, The Principles of Readability, (2004).

This article offers a short history of literacy studies in the U.S. and a short history of research in readability and the readability formulas. These histories help the reader to understand why some readability techniques are more popular or effective than others. Further, the article calls for its audience to more deeply contemplate the simple question: “How and why do I prefer to receive information the way I do?”

Additional Resources

plainlanguage.gov: This site explores the plain language movement and offers examples, tips and tools including guidelines, a word suggestion list, before and after comparisons, and more.

The Center for Plain Language: This site provides information, guidelines and tips on communicating in plain language.

Plain Language Resources by Transcend: Transcend is a translation agency that also provides online plain language training resources.

Phil Malone et al., Best Practices in the Use of Technology to Facilitate Access to Justice Initiatives, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University (2010).

Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society draws upon recent research to evaluate the ways that technology can facilitate access to justice, and offers a set of best practices, strategic plans and recommendations for deploying such technology. This article explicitly details how data was collected and the rationale behind the researchers’ conclusions.

The Research-Based Web Design & Usability Guidelines, Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2006.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers this guide on effective visual presentation of web-based content.

Additional Resources from Usability.gov

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers this guide on effective visual presentation of web-based content.

Usability basics

Usability methods

Customizable Templates

Additional Suggested Readings

Stephen Few, Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data (2006).

Edward Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint (2006).

Sub-Topic: Expert Systems

Darryl Mountain, Disrupting Conventional Law Firm Business Models Using Document Assembly, Int. J. of L. and Info. Tech., Vol. 15, No. 2 (2006).

Darryl Mountain discusses an ongoing shift in the practice of law, as information technology and document assembly services take hold in the law practice business model. Mountain discusses the benefits of embracing such technology, as well as the barriers that must be overcome before clients will see the full benefits of its use. Finally, Mountain predicts that the shift towards the use of document assembly and other IT-based automation services is inevitable, and so this piece prepares practitioners of law to make the best of the disruption of “billable hour” business model.

Marc Lauritsen, Fall In Line with Document Assembly, Law Office Computing (Feb/March 2006).

Marc Lauritsen provides a brief overview of document assembly services available in 2006 and their quick development since the 1970s. Lauritsen lists the basic tenets of such services, current offerings in the field, and their benefits to clients and firms alike in the 21st century. Finally, Lauritsen advises law firms about what to ask themselves when determining which types of document assembly services deserve closer review and how to implement such services appropriately.

Sub-Topic: Artificial Intelligence

Edwina Rissland, Artificial Intelligence and Law: Stepping Stones to a Model of Legal Reasoning, 99 Yale L. J. 1957 (1990).

Edwina Rissland discusses developments in the interdisciplinary field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the law. AI technology, combined with the structured models of legal argument, can enable lawyers to view patterns in legal reasoning from new and innovative perspectives. Rissland proposes that, by looking to the developments in AI technology in the legal context, as well as barriers to its deeper integration, lawyers can make substantial progress towards the creation of models of legal reasoning and prediction.

Cass Sunstein, Of Artificial Intelligence and Legal Reasoning, University of Chicago Law School Roundtable, Vol. 8 (2001).

Cass Sunstein discusses some limits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology in 2001. Sunstein contends that AI in 2001 could not reason by analogy, as such technology could not identify the normative principles that link separate cases. AI technology of the time was capable of recognizing similar simple elements of multiple cases, rather than recognizing the logical elements that can underlie otherwise dissimilar cases. However, Sunstein readily recognizes that the limitations of 2001 could be overcome in the near future, so the reader should ask themself whether modern AI technologies have surpassed some of the barriers discussed in this article.

Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris, Automated Decision Making Comes of Age, MIT Sloan: Mgmt. R. Mag., (Summer 2005).

The authors note that the long-awaited promise of automated decision-making systems has finally become a reality in a variety of industries. Innovations primarily in the ease of integration of automated decision-making systems have finally made implementation of such systems feasible. As anticipated, automated decision-making systems are helping to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and improve quality and consistency.


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