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KU Law brings AI to the classroom

Legal Tech News
Ed Silverstein
Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The University of Kansas School of Law, like a growing number of law schools across the nation, is starting to teach its students cutting-edge quantitative subjects such as data analysis and artificial intelligence.

This semester, Kansas law students had the first chance to take the “Legal Analytics” course taught by professor Andrew W. Torrance.

Before his academic career, Torrance practiced biotechnology patent law at Fish & Richardson. With both a law degree and a doctorate in biology from Harvard, Torrance now teaches and conducts research in patent law, intellectual property, and empirical, experimental and big data approaches to law, among other topics.

Torrance said his hope with the new course was “to introduce students to progressively more sophisticated methods for tackling legal issues.”

Such methods include computational approaches involving Big Data and AI analysis. The semester ended with the students experimenting with legal analytics and AI tools, which were donated by legal tech companies.

These tools let students find answers to legal questions “in minutes” that formerly took “weeks to complete,” Torrance said.

For instance, the law school reported that students used Robot Lawyer LISA, which can draft nondisclosure agreements in about 20 minutes, and Donotpay.com, a website that helps dispute traffic tickets.

“We were able to use an … AI [tool] to analyze an existing contract to find errors and suggest improvements across all major legal jurisdictions around the world,” Torrance said. “Perhaps most fun was a free AI [tool] that drafts appeals to parking tickets in the United States or United Kingdom, even citing case law where appropriate.”

Learning how to use and appreciate these tools, Torrance believes, will give students a competitive edge in their future careers. “Those who integrate these approaches and tools into their legal practices will have substantial advantages over those who do not,” he said. “The earlier they learn them, the larger their lead will be.”

Interestingly, it’s not attorneys who demand these new approaches, Torrance said. Instead, “its clients, who want better, faster, and less expensive legal advice, and will ruthlessly seek out attorneys who are most adept at providing it.”

Stephen Mazza, dean of the University of Kansas School of Law, agreed that the course plays an important role in students’ legal education given current and future trends.

“The heart of a KU legal education has always been the teaching of reasoning and analysis,” Mazza told Legaltech News. “As advancing technology and massive data sets enable lawyers to answer complex legal questions with greater speed and efficiency, courses like Legal Analytics will help KU Law students be better advocates for tomorrow’s clients and more competitive for tomorrow’s jobs.”

Looking back, Torrance said he partly decided to teach the Legal Analytics class at Kansas because law “traditionally relies heavily on telling persuasive stories.”

“The standards by which such narratives are evaluated has remained fairly stable since before the scientific revolution,” he explained. “I’m fascinated by how we might apply the methods of Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, and their hundreds of years of successors, to a rigorous examination of how we make decisions in the law.”

“Legal Analytics is an attempt to introduce law students to this approach,” he added.  “I thought it would be fun, but it was far more fun than I expected.”

To be sure, Torrance said there is always the risk of math-related topics causing a phobia among law school students. He knew from the start he had to find a remedy for this potential fear. “I created the class deliberately to make students from all levels of mathematical and scientific backgrounds feel comfortable learning these methods,” he said. “I think this succeeded because everyone in the class was able to participate and meaningfully apply what they learned.”

Moreover, Torrance noted he “avoided tests and exams” in the course, and instead had students undertake “projects” where they “could feel in control.”

“[We] allowed considerable choice in which methods students could apply,” he said. “For instance, the final project involved critiquing an actual legal complaint filed in federal district court that purported to be based on compelling data, graphs, and mathematical and statistical reasoning to make its arguments. … The students had a field day ripping it apart.”

Torrance added that while the recent semester’s Legal Analytics class did not include coding, he is “toying” with a “complementary class that might tackle this [topic]” in the future.

KU joins a host of other law schools supporting legal technology education. At Columbia Law School, students now use software to create apps that help various legal organizations’ clients automate the drafting of legal documents, Legaltech News recently reported.

The project came after the Columbia Law School Legal Technology Association, a student-led organization, and HelpSelf Legal teamed up to offer HelpSelf’s document automation builder software for worthy causes.

Moreover, at Cornell University, law students developed apps to solve legal issues facing legal aid societies. J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University and the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law also recently partnered to offer parallel courses where students use legal technology to help reduce evictions in their local areas.

Faculty name: 
Andrew Torrance