Legal Hackers. That’s two words I never expected to see together. And no, it’s not about people who have figured out legal ways to get their hands on your password.
It’s people who are bringing law into the modern digital world. Here’s how they describe themselves:
Legal Hackers is a global movement of lawyers, policymakers, technologists, and academics who explore and develop creative solutions to some of the most pressing issues at the intersection of law and technology. …
We are explorers. We are doers. We are Legal Hackers.
And they’re not the only people working to change both legal education and the practice of law.
Michigan State University has a clinical program called the ReInvent Law Laboratory. Here’s what motivates them:
can change the world
but to change the world
we must first change ourselves
it is time to ReInvent
They’re far from the only law school doing something like this. Brooklyn Law School has the Brooklyn Law Innovator and Policy Clinic (BLIP for short). LawWithoutWalls does programs with law and business students.
The Computational Legal Studies Blog, which was started “to disseminate legal or law related studies that employ a computational or complex systems component,” includes some fine videos and essays on the subject of high tech law – which isn’t just law dealing with high tech companies.
Somewhere on every one of these websites you will find the word “entrepreneurial.” I’m growing tired of that word, which seems to get attached to every new thing that comes along and implies that what every profession and even nonprofit entities need is a dose of business school thinking.
But while I think it would be nice if we’d come up with a word that hasn’t been as overworked as entrepreneur, the truth is that the best way to survive in the constantly changing modern world is to make your own job. It’s also going to be necessary to reinvent that job from time to time.
The legal profession is not immune from that need. There aren’t enough jobs at established law firms for all the people graduating from law school right now. Despite that, there are a lot of people who aren’t getting the legal advice they need. We could really use more lawyers creating good ways to get legal advice to the large percentage of the population who can’t afford to pay for services as they’re currently set up.
I hope the law students going into these programs aren’t just thinking about creating the ultimate legal app that will make them rich for life. I hope some of them are thinking about ways to combine good legal advice – from a real person trained in law – with some apps and forms that make such things as wills, divorces, landlord/tenant issues, real estate transactions, and other routine matters that everyone runs into from time to time cheap and easy.
Right now we’ve got a lot of fill-in-the-blank forms that are intended to make law accessible to non-lawyers. These forms are fine as far as they go, but if there’s one thing I’ve discovered in years of practicing law and writing about it, it’s that one size does not fit all in legal matters.
It would be great if you could get the app or the form, do as much as you can on your own, and also get a half-hour consultation with a lawyer at a reasonable price – just as an example of one way to make legal advice affordable without lawyers giving away their work.
By the way, while some lawyers and law schools are out to reinvent the profession (and maybe law itself), others are reintroducing the old-fashioned approach to legal education: reading for the law.
The Sustainable Economies Law Center offers apprenticeships to those who want to become lawyers without law school. But while its approach to teaching people to be lawyers may be old-fashioned, the Center itself is cutting edge in a different way. According to its mission statement:
We provide essential legal tools so communities everywhere can develop their own sustainable sources of food, housing, energy, jobs, and other vital aspects of a thriving community.
So how do you tie this to fiction? Well, you might start by replacing that fuddy-duddy lawyer in your story with someone who’s on the cutting edge. Lawyers are changing along with everything else.