3/14/13

Why ReInvent Law Was Not Just a 'Preaching to the Choir" Conference

[Ed. Note: I had a great email conversation with my friend, Michael Robak, Associate Director of the Law Library and Director of Technologies at UMKC School of Law and all-around geek like me, about the Reinvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 conference. Long story short, I bluntly mentioned to Michael that the twitter feed was so full of the usual buzz words, and the usual suspects preaching to the usual choir that's been going on for the last four to five years. Michael's response was very thoughtful when he, and I'm paraphrasing here, said "Greg, you are stupid." Well, if I had tried to rewrite his response, that's all I would have remembered, so I asked him to guest post and elaborate on what he found valuable. So, thank you Michael for taking me up on the offer. -GL]



I attended the March 8, 2013 Reinvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 conference held at the Computer History Museum.  Once the conference started, I realized that my good friend, and premier Geek, Greg Lambert, was absent.  After the event, I could not resist sending Greg a note asking why he missed, what I thought, was one of the best events I’ve attended about the changes in the legal profession and  needed changes in both the profession and legal education.
Greg immediately responded, because I swear he is the model for some of William Gibson’s cyber protagonists, that he had followed the conference twitter feed and thought it seemed one of those events where it was kind of just preaching to the choir, and then the choir folks get all excited, and then….nothing would come of it…  And, to this, I responded that Greg…was wrong.... this was not one of those events.  What follows is a cleaned up version of that response: (in which I leave out references to certain past and future events which may, or may not, involve… good scotch, gin, wine, or other such things)…
Greg,
Sorry you missed ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013.  You raise good points about this appearing to be an event where the faithful speak to each other, shout hallelujah, and then…nothing happens.
But I really must disagree.  Dan Katz  and Renee Newman Knake, along with Dean Joan Howarth of Michigan State University College of Law are, in my humble opinion, leading some game changing stuff. Have you had a chance to talk to Dan and Renee?   Dan and I share an Illinois connection, the late Larry Ribstein, whose work in the area has been incredibly influential to Dan and others.  I have been an ardent follower of Dan’s blog, Computational Legal Studies, and admire his works generally.   When I came to the University of Missouri – Kansas City from Illinois, I wanted, on some level, to create a niche like Dan had, but with a slightly different emphasis, from a 21st century librarian’s perspective. At last year's ABA Tech show I connected with Dan and we had a great talk about how only a handful of law schools get this stuff.  And, as I told Dan, I am fortunate because my Dean, Ellen Suni, is one of that handful (and Bill Henderson will affirm!).  Plus, she understands my pitch about librarians as COO’s of Information for the Law School Enterprise.  And this is good stuff actually, very much “blue ocean" material.
I think what made this event different is that it brought clarity for a way forward for both legal education and for law. In my view, there is still confusion about how we discuss the "technology of law" and what it means exactly.. especially when you throw in legal research and associated tools.  And, it becomes even more confusing, when you throw in the whole discussion of Rule 5.4 as an inhibitor to the delivery of access to justice. 
This event had wholly new kinds of conversations about educating and practicing.  You are right on some level, there were people there who were reinforcing each other’s views,  but Aric Press was there and not someone I think of as necessarily part of that group. He tweeted about the vibe in the room and only 5 people wearing ties…...I was one of the five and so had to seek him out and ask if that made me to cool, or counter cool, or …  I will say he was kind in his response...
Having said that, and speaking as a Law Librarian who sees a much bigger and important role for Law Librarians in both legal education and law practice,  this conference was huge.  Richard Susskind was our AALL keynote last year and that was awesome.  He outlined things we librarians can and should be doing to be not just relevant to the places we work but to actually take the lead in the changes happening in the legal ecosystem.  This conference completely underscored that and, to me, made it even clearer that we law librarians have a mega opportunity, to be at the center.

I think Marc Lauritsen and Oliver Goodenough's book (
Educating the Digital Lawyer, and free from LexisNexis) is a start, as is Susskind, but I have a different view on how law schools can move forward. Ken Hirsh is close with his course on teaching technology, but what I will have in place at UMKC in Spring 2014 is much more in line with Jerome Frank's expression of experiential learning in “Why not a clinical lawyer school?” in his seminal article by that name.  But mine is “Why not have legal information professionals teach how to use technology in practice?”  (not quite as pithy, but I’m working on it…)

All I'm saying here dude is, I think there is a real opportunity for us (law librarians) to be at the forefront on shaping real change to both legal education and law practice. The twitter feed was ok but there was a palpable energy in the room relative to the potential opportunities, and not just folks coming together to sing amazing grace.  But my real take away here is that the “technology of law” is law librarian space.  It follows completely Thomson “re-branding” Westlaw to be Legal Solutions.  As Joe Hodnicki has declared (and, yes Joe, you owe me a drink in Seattle), it is all about Legal Research Plus.. and the plus is the “technology of law”.
Thanks for your update and congrats on the new job! We do need to meet at ABA Tech and talk, there are changes a coming and I think AALL and SLA folks really don't understand. Actually it was Kingsley Martin's talk that made it most clear why things haven't happened with technology yet because of the need for machines to catch up. He had a great talk.

Look forward to seeing you in Chicago!!
Michael
Post script to the original email:
Have you heard about LegalForce (formerly Trademarkia) and their store front operation in Palo Alto? I had a chance to visit on Saturday, March 9, 2013 and  man, oh man, it is amazing.  A bookstore, a DIY law place, a place you can compare tablets (since, according to Calvin, the “legal concierge” who gave me a tour, LegalForce believes legal content will be delivered on these platforms, so why not try and compare).  All they need is a coffee bar.
Aric Press has written a terrific review of the event.
Bill Henderson, whose talk at Reinvent Law was amazing, has a terrific post.

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1 comments:

KenHirsh said...

Michael's description of his plans sounds like a further step along the road I hope we are traveling here. In this semester's Technology in the Law Practice class, we've added a simulation of a VLP. I would ultimately like to host a true VLP clinic, but as I am no longer admitted anywhere, I am not yet able to act as a supervising attorney. So the simulation was a few weeks of "pretend clinic."

 

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