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New curriculum brings groundbreaking coursework to KU Law

Source: 
University Daily Kansan
Author: 
Tianna Witmer
Date: 
Monday, January 21, 2019

University of Kansas law professor Andrew Torrance launched a legal analytics course last semester, allowing law students to set themselves apart in the workforce and think critically in real world situations.

“The law deals with every aspect of society, and increasingly numbers, statistics, data, especially big, big data, artificial intelligence — these approaches are becoming the favored way to interpret the world, including in the context of the law,” Torrance said.

Torrance's legal analytics course focuses on basic statistics and data analysis in law.

“I tried to teach everything from the basics on upwards and also tried to teach it in ways where the students didn't need to master all of the fancy mathematical theory behind it, but instead they were able to master the general principles, and they were able to apply it in practice,” Torrance said.

During class, students were able to look at real life examples of how legal analytics can be of use outside the classroom.

In one of Torrance's examples, he talked about human smuggling rates within three regions of the United States.  

“We put all the data on the board in front of the class, and we tried as a class to make a guess as to whether it was higher in one region than another, and we all decided that by the way the data looked, that the middle of the country had the highest human smuggling for the whole country,” Torrance said.

However, with further analysis, the students were able to find this was not the case.

“We took that data, and we used a statistical test called and analysis of variants that can tell you whether the data is actually different or not,” said Torrance. "And what we found was that when you actually run the statistical test on the data, there is no meaningful difference between the eastern, middle and western states in human smuggling, despite the fact that if you look at the data your mind is tricked into thinking that there is a difference.”

While this scenario was able to trick a majority of the class, the example helps prepare students for situations they may face in a real life setting.

“To me, a class that teaches how to apply this body of knowledge to law provides law students and attorneys with basic approaches necessary to navigate the increasingly quantitative field of law.” Torrance siad. 

This class was also a popular option among law students at the University. According to Torrance, 20 people out of around 300 students signed up for the class. “I guess I had about 8 percent of the law school in my class," he said.

Blake Ronnebaum, a second year law student from Wichita, was able to take the class for the first time with Torrance this past fall.

“I think that the quantitative analysis techniques I learned will be incredibly important. Knowing how to scrutinize the way data is presented and knowing how to present data in a persuasive manner are very useful skills for everyone to know,” Ronnebaum said.

The class is held as a discussion-based course to allow students to perform experiments and practice using data analytics programs used by legal service providers.

“There are few professors I’ve had in law school and during undergrad who are as passionate about teaching and about student success as professor Torrance,” Ronnebaum said. “He’s incredibly upbeat during his lectures and is always challenging students to think critically about the material.”

However, according to Torrance, he would not have been able to do it without help from Dan Katz, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Legal analytics is not a course offered at most universities, and Katz was one of the founders of the course and a mentor to Torrance as he created the University's course curriculum.

“Very few law schools offer even one class in legal analytics,” Torrance said. “This will change rapidly. In fact, after teaching legal analytics at KU Law this past autumn, I was invited to begin teaching a version of this class to classes of federal judges several times a year. The first class will be in Santa Fe (New Mexico). It's catching on quickly.”

Torrance hopes by teaching this course, he'll be able to prepare students and judges to make informed decisions and arguments based on properly analyzed data and statistics.

“The [students] will naturally be the go-to people to answer data questions,” said Torrance.  “And as questions get more and more frequent, everyone will say, ‘Oh yeah! Susan knows how to do that because she took legal analytics. So Susan, tell us what we should do here.’ And that’s a really good position to be in in a competitive environment like the law."

Faculty name: 
Andrew Torrance