Alyson Carrel, Assistant Dean of Law & Technology, Clinical Professor, Mediator at Northwestern Law. Find her on Twitter @alysoncarrel.
How did you become involved in legal tech?
My involvement in legal tech began in the classroom. When I began teaching full-time at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, I wanted to enhance my students’ engagement with the material. I noticed that in other educational contexts, instructors were learning how to incorporate technology into their teaching in a way that reflected how students communicated, but also brought to life substantive material in ways previously impossible. So, I began asking students to complete online self-reflection documents following in-class simulations that provided me with the ability to analyze their experience more quickly and immediately tailor my classroom discussion to their needs. Then I asked students to use wearable cameras to record their negotiation simulations and review the recorded footage from this unique first-person perspective to assess their negotiation. I found the more I explored instructional technology in the legal education context, the more I learned how technology was impacting our profession.
So, I expanded the use of technology in my courses to include legal tech. As a final project, I asked students to identify challenges to the delivery of mediation services and design tech-based solutions. A major challenge in mediation is simply the lack of awareness that it exists. As a result, some students redesigned typical promotional materials and information guides using various free emerging technology tools. One group created an emotionally moving video about domestic relations mediation using simple drawings with a voiceover to explain ideas. It was extremely powerful. Another group created an app that mapped all the mediation providers in Chicago, IL. Another group conducted a Twitter campaign, tweeting at anyone who wrote “mediation” when they had meant “meditation” and describing the benefits of mediation and how it was, in fact, similar to meditation.
All of these approaches were effective ways of using technology to address the ongoing challenge in the delivery of mediation services. From there, I introduced the students to more specific legal technology tools such as A2J Author to increase the students’ awareness of specific technology designed for the specific legal needs. As an A2J Author Course Fellow, I had access to training and resources to ensure my students could succeed in using this tool to create new mediation intake tools and mediation preparation guides. The success of these classroom experiments sold me on the advantages of using technology in the classroom, and more importantly, of introducing technology as a way to address ongoing service delivery challenges.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
In 2015, the Association of American Law Schools started a new section called Technology Law and Legal Education. I was one of the founding members and am now on the Executive Committee. One of our major projects is to create a hub for all faculty and law schools to share how they incorporate legal tech in their curriculum—including course syllabi, conferences/events, programs, specific legal tech tools, and more. There are currently a few other less extensive resource hubs out there or hubs with a slightly different focus. We hope to collaborate with them to create a more expansive hub that best meets the needs of legal educators. We have a similar resource for legal educators in dispute resolution and have found it incredibly helpful, especially for faculty teaching new courses.
In my role as Assistant Dean of Law and Technology, I must ensure we are providing students and the larger community access to information, research, and tools at the intersection of law and technology that best prepare them for the future of law. When I look across the various departments of the law school, I am amazed at the extensive and diverse programming we offer. As examples, in the first few weeks of April, our Innovation Lab students presented final pitches for their new legal technology solutions; our Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property hosted a legal technology symposium; we hosted a panel of professionals working in new and innovative legal technology careers; our student representative from CaseText worked with our librarians to provide training on new AI-based research tools for faculty and students; as part of our DPELC-MSL speaker series (joint initiative of our MSL program for STEM professionals and the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center) students learned about the growing use cases for bitcoin and blockchain in the law, and, lastly, our annual Newt and Jo Minow Debate Series focused on net neutrality this year and was moderated by ABC News correspondent John Donvan. This sampling from just a few weeks of various events at the intersection of law and technology demonstrates, to me, the strength of opportunities Northwestern provides its students.
While it makes me proud to share the variety of opportunities Northwestern provides its students, we share a challenge with all other law schools of increasing faculty comfort with technology and thus increasing student exposure to emerging technology. To address this challenge, I have been working on a new initiative we call TEaCH LAW that focuses on how faculty incorporates technology in their teaching. TEaCH LAW showcases how Northwestern faculty are incorporating instructional technology tools into their teaching as a way to inspire and encourage others to give it a try. This initiative started as a day-long conference/fair for our faculty and has grown to include a website resource and ongoing demonstrations. It’s basically my internal Northwestern approach to what AALS is doing, and I’ll be doing a number of speaking engagements in the next few months—at Northwestern’s TEACHx, Chicago-Kent’s CALIcon, and Vanderbilt’s Summit on Law and Innovation—about incorporating tech in our teaching and curriculum.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that you find yourself returning to or that was particularly formative for you?
A2J Author was the first tool I discovered that demonstrated how technology really can help solve legal problems. A2J Author is like TurboTax but for court processes; it’s basically a guided interview for legal forms. Just like TurboTax asks you a series of questions to complete your taxes, A2J Author uses a similarly logic-based branching platform, which takes you the appropriate next question based on the previous answer. I introduced A2J Author to my clinic students as an example of how a technology platform can increase access to justice. It also demonstrated to me how I can use technology platforms and design to teach students the law. I don’t regularly use A2J Author now, but it provided a base from which I have come to understand the growing role of technology in legal services and legal education.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
I think that lawyers could benefit from looking at all technology in a new way. But it isn’t really the technology per se that they should look at, but the way technology is helping to innovate the legal profession. Lawyers aren’t just litigators. We are creative problem solvers that must work with our clients to truly understand their needs and help identify solutions, tech-based or not, that address those needs. Technology is helping us communicate more effectively, perform legal tasks more efficiently, and where appropriate, design new systems and processes to address ongoing challenges and systemic issues. The idea of the lawyer as creative problem-solver isn’t new, but the innovation stemming from new legal technology certainly puts it in the spotlight.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
I would simply advise women who want to get involved in legal technology to follow their passion. This is a developing field and the confines of traditional rules for career development don’t necessarily apply. You can’t just step on a treadmill and expect to follow the career path of others before you. It requires that you apply the same innovative and entrepreneurial thinking from legal technology to your career choices. Organizational charts for law firms, corporations, and non-profits, are changing and presenting new and exciting opportunities. A colleague and friend of mine, Hanna Kaufman, is Counsel for Innovation & Technology at Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois. This position did not exist before 2016 and required a unique individual who not only understood the Illinois court system and access to justice issues but had a familiarity with legal technology and a penchant for creative problem-solving. Just a little over one year out of law school, with experience using A2J Author as a law student and working in the Illinois Court system as a programs analyst and dispute systems designer, Hanna was uniquely qualified and got the job.
The other piece of advice I would give is to reach out to other women in the field, on this list and the lists from the previous three years. Or check out the women mentioned in this law sites article “2017: The Year of Women in Legal Tech.” Recently, I worked with Cat Moon (a member of the inaugural 2015 list of Women in Legal Tech) to create an online space for women exploring the importance of innovation and legal technology in legal education to announce events, share ideas, and provide support. We are here, and we want to work with other women and support their interest in legal tech.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
Well, it’s hard to pick just one. We have so many important leaders in our field who happen to be women. But I would love to give a shout-out to Cat Moon. Cat teaches at Vanderbilt School of Law through their Program on Law & Innovation and I first met her last year when she reached out to the Twitterverse to ask how other legal educators are using Slack to increase communication and engagement among their students. I reached out to talk with her about a few experiments I have tried and was immediately struck by her genuine curiosity and interest in learning from others. This stems from her collaborative approach recognizing we all benefit when we work together and the need for support during this time of great disruption in our field. And yet, if I am truly honest, I am most intrigued by her ability to meld together the importance of blockchain and process improvement with the beautiful poetry and power of self-awareness. She is one of a kind.
Feature image by #WOCinTechChat