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Skills Gap Part 2: How Some Law Schools and Others are Filling the Void

05.29.19 | Susan Duncan

Our last blog post, Skills Gap Part 1: What Skills Will Lawyers Need to Stay Relevant? described the expanded set of competencies necessary for lawyers in law firms and legal departments today.  The types of skills needed and the level of competency in each will vary according to a firm’s practice mix, its strategic positioning and its commitment to keeping pace with client needs and the trends in innovation.

Many law schools still follow a traditional doctrinal curriculum, often focusing only or primarily on legal subjects despite new and growing demand for additional skills and courses that keep pace with the rapidly changing competitive landscape.  Historically,  law schools designed their curricula around faculty preferences which in many cases are not reflective of the needs of the marketplace.  As an example, this description from Harvard’s course catalogue home page demonstrates the challenge:

“Harvard Law School offers students a curriculum of unparalleled breadth: more than 400 courses, seminars, and reading groups that together reflect the remarkable range of faculty’s expertise and interests.”

A brief look at their 400 courses in their law school curriculum reveals five courses related to legal practice innovation, though there are others related to innovation.  Harvard does offer leadership training and education through its highly acclaimed Harvard Law School Executive Education program led by Scott Westfahl, however these programs have been designed for current and emerging law firm leaders, which means most “students” have already been practicing for fifteen to twenty years and only a small portion from any given firm attends.

Four Areas of Core Competency for Today’s Lawyers

Beyond the traditional legal curriculum, today’s lawyers must be educated and trained in a number of other skills that incorporate business and technology.  Law practice in the future will require knowledge and competency in a much broader and inter-disciplinary skills set that combines legal knowledge with technology and data, problem-solving, collaboration and personal effectiveness. As we outlined in our prior post, we believe there are four buckets of competency that will be required for success in law going forward:

1. Practice of Law:  

Subject matter expertise, legal analysis, legal research, legal writing

2. Business of Law/Clients:

Business acumen, commerciality, client industry knowledge, trusted advisor and client relationship management, client conflicts and intake, competitive intelligence and trend tracking/entrepreneurial mindset

3. Technology & Practice Operations:

Project and process management, design thinking, knowledge management, data analytics, eDiscovery and technology tools/platforms, automation, pricing and matter budget management, KPIs and profit modeling

4. Personal Effectiveness:

Emotional intelligence, communication, negotiation, leadership and managing teams, collaboration, learning mindset, cognitive flexibility, creativity/innovation

Law schools alone have not been able to produce “practice ready” lawyers for decades, forcing law firms to try to supplement legal practice education for new lawyers with writing, research, negotiating as well as subject matter courses on specific practice fundamentals.  While few of the most elite law schools are taking up this challenge to incorporate legal innovation components into their curricula, other law schools are beginning to, law firms are expanding their own training offerings and other innovators are developing supplemental education and training.

Clients are looking more carefully at the skills required by teams they are putting together within their own departments and among their external service providers. While law firms can always provide additional training once new lawyers are hired, law firms that hire students who already have been exposed to internships, experiential learning and technical learning on aspects of technology and innovation, project management and process improvement, AI and data analytics, will be better positioned to more immediately deliver the value clients need and to compete in a crowded field.

Note: In a later post, we will address a major impediment that must be addressed which is, according to Larry Richard, PhD, founder of LawyerBrain and expert on lawyer competencies and personality assessments, law schools will have to begin adding innovation personality characteristics into their application process, as will firms when doing recruiting.  Lawyers routinely score below or above average in specific attributes that facilitate or impede innovation, collaboration and personal effectiveness such as low resilience, low empathy, high skepticism, high risk-aversion and high autonomy.

The Law School/Legal Education Response

Dan Linna, Visiting Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and affiliated faculty member at CodeX, the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, has been tracking the growth of innovation in both law schools and law firms for a number of years (see his Legal Services Innovation Index.)  In the index, there are at least eleven schools that have made substantial commitments to innovation in either their curriculum or by designating a separate center, lab or institute:

  1. Chicago-Kent College of Law – Center for Access to Justice and Technology; The Law Lab
  2. Cornell Law School – Technology, Innovation and the Law Clinic
  3. Michigan State University Law School – Legal RnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation
  4. Northeastern University – NuLaw Lab; Center for Law Innovation and Creativity
  5. Northwestern Law School – Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation – see below
  6. Stanford Law School – Center on the Legal Profession; Legal Design Lab; CodeX – The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics
  7. Suffolk Law School – Institute on Legal Innovation & Technology
  8. University of Miami – LawWithoutWalls (LWOW) – see below
  9. University of Pittsburgh – Innovation Practicum Institute
  10. Vanderbilt Law School – PoLI Institute (Program on Law and Innovation)
  11. Vermont Law School – Center for Legal Innovation

These schools offer courses in legal operations, data analytics, computational law, technology, applied technology, AI, project management, design thinking, process improvement, communications, leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship in law and supplement class offerings with experiential opportunities.


Northwestern’s program is notable, as it has programs and a curriculum that brings together faculty and graduate students from the law school, the business school, and the engineering school.  The law school students include STEM students in the Master of Science in Law program.  Courses include:

  • AI and Legal Reasoning
  • AI and Computational Technologies (2 classes)
  • EntrepTeam Project – An entrepreneurial, “experiential learning class that is designed to expose students to the business and legal ecosystems of a region of the US; this year’s focus will be on the Silicon Valley area” and includes a week long field trip to visit companies in the Bay Area.
  • Innovation Lab – “The Innovation Lab us an interdisciplinary course designed to immerse students in the innovation process. This course focuses on the legal, business, technical, teamwork, design, presentation and other skills involved in that process.” Lawyers from law firms and public interest organizations work with law, master of science in law, and computer science students on projects, under the supervision of law and computer science faculty.

Northwestern recently hired Visiting Law Professor Dan Linna full-time, with a joint appointment to the Pritzker School of Law and McCormick School of Engineering. Linna will continue to teach courses at the law school, including Artificial Intelligence and Legal Reasoning, Law of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, and the Innovation Lab, which he will co-teach with Kris Hammond, a computer science professor. Linna will also teach an Artificial Intelligence and Law course for computer science students in the Master of Artificial Intelligence program. In connection with his joint appointment to the law and engineering schools, Linna will also be Northwestern’s Director of Law and Technology Initiatives.

The Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP)

Co-founder Bill Henderson, one of the best known innovators in legal education and legal services delivery, together with collaborators Bill Mooz and Dan Linna (see above), designed this ambitious collaboration between law schools, law departments, law companies and law firms to offer select law students from schools in the U.S., Canada and Europe, the opportunity to attend foundational and advanced, two-week boot camps. These interdisciplinary programs cover topics on business fundamentals, communication, project management, process improvement, technology, knowledge management, data analytics and AI and industry sector foundations.

Once the Boot Camps are completed, students are eligible for internships for ten weeks or seven months with law firms, in-house legal departments or law companies.  In these internships, students are exposed to a range of projects in legal, business and/or operational and they are supervised by an IFLP partner.  The apprenticeship model provides employers with a pool of new lawyers that are more immediately “practice ready” and valuable to clients.

Other Innovative Offerings

LawWithoutWalls (LWOW)

Founded ten years ago by Michele DeStefano, its Executive Director who also is a Professor of Law at the University of Miami and guest faculty at Harvard Law School Executive Education, LWOW strives to develop practicing lawyers and law students into cross-competent business leaders.  It is a hands-on, team-based, part virtual executive education program that uses an experiential learning approach over a four-month period.

Each team is comprised of 7-10 people, usually a cross-section from around the world, and each is sponsored by a law firm, a law company and legal department or other service provider.  The sponsor identifies a problem it wants the team to solve including a prototype, business case and commercial. Solutions, called Projects of Worth, are presented to the LWOW community at an annual ConPosium.  This carefully designed and unique innovation process is specifically designed for the temperament and training styles of lawyers and teaches collaboration, design thinking, problem-solving, communication, project management, leadership and business planning.

Ms. DeStefano has recently published a book called Legal Upheaval: A Guide to Creativity, Collaboration and Innovation in Law which using research and case studies delineates what is required for legal innovation, the skills gap and how to bridge it.


Legal Lean Sigma® Institute (LLSI)

Co-founded in 2007 by legal management visionary, Catherine Alman MacDonagh, this organization was launched to teach project management and process improvement techniques to lawyers and professionals in law firms and legal departments.  LLSI offers White, Yellow, Green and Black Belt certifications as well as consulting and its programs routinely qualify for CLE.  Legal WorkOut® is a customized program that brings together law firms and their clients to collaborate on innovation, process improvement, efficiency and enhanced value.

Consulting around strategy, process improvement and project management covers a range of common operational challenges including billing, timekeeping, collections, document management, employee onboarding, event planning and execution, facilities management, new client intake, lateral onboarding and integration, RFPs and staffing. Ms. MacDonagh teaches a Yellow Belt in Lean Sigma at George Washington’s Master’s in Law Firm Management Program and is an Adjunct Professor at Suffolk Law School’s Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology.  In addition to her course on Process Improvement and Legal Project Management,  Suffolk’s Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology also offers a Certification Program that includes courses on Legal Operations, 21st Century Legal Services, Design Thinking for the Legal Professional, The Business of Delivering Legal Services and Legal Technology Toolkit.


RainMaking Oasis provides consulting, training and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of business development and growth strategy, innovation, client retention and expansion, succession planning and leadership and personal effectiveness skills. Please contact Susan Duncan at