Monday, January 19, 2015

AALS Meeting Pays Some Attention to Technology

The first half of January is a busy time for law professors.  There are stacks of papers and exams to grade, new courses to finish preparing, a dive back into the postponed committee work – it all piles up.  And thrust into this busy time is the AALS meeting, the annual law professor jamboree.  This year’s conference was billed as “Legal Education at the Crossroads” and held in Washington, DC, January 2-5.  It was a bit more subdued than usual.  Travel budgets are tight, and many schools seem to be riding out the storm of change law and the academy are facing, rather than seeking to figure it out and put it to use. 

Those attuned to questions of legal technology and innovation more generally could find some interesting developments.  On the programmatic side, there was a President’s session on “Implementing Innovation in Law Schools.” There were sessions aimed at legal technology more directly, although sometimes almost apologetically. The Section on Law Libraries and Legal Information asked “Should We Be Teaching Law Practice Technology?”  My reaction, not surprisingly, was to wonder why it was a question instead of a directive.  The Sections on Defamation and Privacy and on Internet and Computer Law gave a joint program on “Automated Decision-Making,” and while much of the attention was aimed at elucidating its problems, rather than its potential, at least it was a lively and informed discussion. 

The exhibitor space was also a bit subdued – budgets are tight there as well.  Nonetheless, several of the major publishers demonstrated much improved e-delivery systems for their texts and support materials.  Look for more from this space in the coming year.

And me? I was a late substitute for Michigan State’s Dan Katz on a panel organized by Minnesota’s June Carbone on “Socio-Economics and the Future of the Legal Profession.”  I was teamed up on the panel with Bill Henderson and Jennifer Drobac from the two University of Indiana law schools – Maurer and McKinney, both of whom are innovative thinkers.  We had a lively discussion that included not only the challenge which technology poses for “professionalism” as a core concept for the delivery of legal services, but also the importance of “JD Advantage” jobs for middle tier law school placement and the possibilities of applying principles of mindfulness in the law.

My take home from AALS is that the frozen conservatism of the Legal Academy on matters of technology is beginning to thaw.  It is still behind the advances in the practicing Bar, however, and way behind what is happening in the legal technology marketplace.   The NYC LegalTech show is coming in early February, where there are a set of panels being organized by Stanford’s CodeX Center on what comes next in legal technology.  No conservatism there.

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