A day at Stanford's FutureLaw, shaping the future of law

A day at Stanford's FutureLaw, shaping the future of law

Last week, Tom, Josef's CEO, went to FutureLaw, CodeX's flagship annual conference at Stanford Law School. Here, he reflects on the experience and some of the lessons he learned from the conference.

Taking a break between panels, another legal tech founder at FutureLaw said to me, "this is the best conference on the calendar. No vendor booths or hard sells, just people who care deeply about technology and law coming together to share their ideas."

She was so right. FutureLaw took me on a whirlwind tour of what the future of legal education, practice, data and the courts looks like. From talks about creating a data commons for law and the emerging Asia-Pacific legal technology market, to the closing keynote on the state of legal practice from a GitHub executive, CodeX played host for a day to the best and brightest academics, thinkers, and entrepreneurs in legal tech.

I was lucky to be a part of it.

The future of legal practice

The whole day, it felt like we were on the cusp of something. As Julio Avalos, Chief Strategy Officer at GitHub, and the closing keynote of FutureLaw said:

I do believe, and strongly, that somewhere at the Venn diagram intersection of the work that lawyers don’t like to do, that clients don’t like to pay for, and that a machine or script could do better or more efficiently, lie not just lower costs and greater efficiency, but, paradoxically, a key to let lawyers behave more like “lawyers” than they are currently able to...

Each panel that had preceded this grand vision was like a piece of the puzzle. Put them all together and you had a sense of the wondrous possibilities with which the next generation of law students, educators, practitioners and technologies were presented. Instead of open source code; think open source law. Forget about algorithmic computing; instead consider algorithmic justice. Or, as the inventor of docassemble, an open source automation platform would have it, dream of a future in which lawyers are on GitHub sharing their knowledge and opening pull requests on each other's work.

Education

The future of legal education was front and centre (unsurprisingly, given our location at Stanford Law School and CodeX's focus on interdisciplinary legal education). An early panel of educators and lawyers explored innovative ways to equip law students with the capacity to understand and engage with the technology-driven future of their industry.

Jay Mandal, CodeX fellow and a former legal tech founder, spoke about that future from the perspective of a corporate in-house counsel. Some panellists thought that law students should learn to code, while others were focussed on the commercial and technical skills that the next generation of lawyers would need.

But everyone agreed on one thing: the importance of experiential learning, and collaboration by law students with students from different schools. In particular, the educators were desperate for the resources to engage with the emerging technologies that are changing the practice of law. (Something we’re already doing at Josef!)

Data and access to justice

A panel on open and free law focused on the 86% of low income Americans who can't access legal help and the ways that, even when they can find a way in, the system puts obstacles in their way. They explored ideas that we care about deeply at Josef, from open source code and open legal data, to turning internal processes public and using plain language to convey complex legal concepts.

Another presentation made the importance of these issues more concrete, by exposing the alarming data-driven conclusions of a collaboration between the law and computer science schools: across America, the rates of police stop and search are higher among communities of colour.

Diversity and community

My experience was also shaped by one of the best things about FutureLaw; the diversity of its speakers, its audience and the subject matter. Perhaps it was that diversity that created a deep sense of community among delegates and speakers. All of them were open and generous, willing to share stories about their achievements and failures. It’s something that CodeX does better than anyone; bring together the community that is shaping the future of law.

The words of opening keynote Dharmishta Rood, a community builder from Singularity University and Code for America resonated throughout the day. She reminded us that social connectedness is a powerful preventive for all manner of ills, and that we should remember to sleep, be mindful, volunteer and connect with our community.

The remarkable innovations that members of that community are creating will be a source of inspiration to us long into the future.

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