Vanderbilt Law School’s Cat Moon explains how and why the legal industry needs to change

“Our legal system is breaking under the weight of its own inadequacy. It, and the mindsets that it has entrenched, needs replacing.”

Cat Moon, lawyer, Vanderbilt Law School academic and co-founder of Institute for the Future of Law Practice, is making waves both in and outside of the classroom. 

Having practised law for many years, Cat decided to switch gears and follow her interests in innovation, legal design and technology.

For Cat, each presents a wealth of opportunities for the legal industry to innovate and altogether serve the wider population better. 

We spoke with Cat to learn about her work and what she believes can change in order to bridge the access to justice gap.

Cat Moon, Director of Innovation Design, Vanderbilt Law School.

Cat Moon, Director of Innovation Design, Vanderbilt Law School.

Hi Cat, thank you for joining us! Could you share how you got to where you are today?

Hi, sure! At a high level, I studied and graduated from Vanderbilt Law School in ‘98, and after that, I then practised law in Nashville, TN for around 17 years.

I worked at several firms and, around 2009-2010, I was representing folks in software design. I became more and more familiar with the tools they were using and human-centred design more generally. 

I realised that a lot of their work practices could be applied to the delivery of legal services, and so became more interested in figuring those things out than actually practising law itself. 

Fast forward to connecting with Chris Guthrie, the Dean of Vanderbilt Law School, and my interest became my job! I was brought to Vanderbilt to create courses that develop this thinking from a curricular standpoint, and that’s what I teach today.

Tell us about your work at Vanderbilt and the Program on Law and Innovation.

The Program on Law and Innovation (PoLI) was founded in 2015 by some folks, including Dean Chris Guthrie, who wanted to look at how and where we can innovate legal services delivery.  

Rather than looking at laws governing technologies, the program focuses on how we can leverage technology and innovation.

We want to prepare our students to skate where the puck is going because if we do that, they’ll leave us not only ready to thrive in the practice but be equipped to really lead. 

“Embracing the mindsets of innovation and human-centred design can fundamentally shift how, who and the number of people we’re able to serve.”
– Cat Moon, Director of Innovation Design, Vanderbilt Law School.

How has POLI been received by students?

It’s been overwhelmingly positive which is so affirming. All of the courses are always full and the waiting lists are packed.

It goes to show how hungry students are to get practical experience. To engage with tools and figure out how to solve problems in ways that law schools historically haven’t really prepared us for.

I received an email from a past student recently who wrote about their experience after taking the program and they were reflecting on how it prepared them for later work. “You have no idea how well this has helped me navigate and thrive,” they said.

That’s so great to hear! How would you say the content of the program’s courses, i.e. legal design, innovation and technology, help foster better access to justice?

The practice of law is a spectrum. On one end there’s legal aid, serving the underserved, the unserved, and at the other end there are folks serving corporations. Then there’s everything in between.

Embracing the mindsets of innovation and human-centred design can fundamentally shift how, who and the number of people we’re able to serve across that entire spectrum.

80% of the money earned by legal practitioners in the US is earned by those serving corporations. Meanwhile, only 8% of low-income American’s legal problems are addressed meaningfully by licensed attorneys.

By using scalable technologies, and embracing new mindsets, practitioners across the industry can collaborate to help those who need it most.

“Generative AI is an opportunity for the legal profession to embrace an experimentation mindset. To look at the problems we face and ask, 'How can we creatively solve these? How can generative AI help us?'.”
– Cat Moon, Director of Innovation Design, Vanderbilt Law School.

What’s holding the industry back from doing such work? 

Fear, our outdated systems of justice and the mindsets they’ve entrenched within us.

Our systems of justice and method of legal education are experiments designed to deal with problems based on the perspectives of a select few people over 100 years ago.

We’ve sustained them for so long that there’s a real fear about what will happen if we change things up, if we experiment again.

Looking forward, how do you see generative AI contributing to such transformation? 

I don’t know how things will pan out but I know what I’d like to happen! 

Again, I think it’s another opportunity for the legal profession to embrace an experimentation mindset. To look at the problems we face and ask, “How can we creatively solve these? How can generative AI help us?”.

There are those who say, “Oh, it’s too risky to experiment with AI”, but it is completely possible and desirable to experiment in ways that do not pose risks to anyone, so… I reject that response!

Okay, final question! How do you tend to spend your days? 

Teaching at Vanderbilt, my days revolve around my students and it’s probably my favourite thing that I do.

Over the summer I travel a lot and go to conferences and speak. I get to engage in workshops and meet far-flung collaborators, such as in Dublin at the recent International Future of Law Association (IFLA) conference.

Thank you for your time and insights, Cat!

Thank you too!

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