This past Saturday, Miami Law kicked-off LawWithoutWalls in London, England – the first global venture designed to tackle the problems facing legal education and practice by bridging law schools, students, legal and business professionals, and entrepreneurs. LawWithoutWalls brings together 23 students from six law schools located in the United States, England and China and utilizes video conference and cloud technology to connect a team of over eighty individuals.
"LawWithoutWalls is anything but a typical law school class," said Associate Professor Michele DeStefano, LawWithoutWalls founder. "It's a new way of learning, collaborating, interacting and affecting change."
With the support and help of Miami Law School Dean Patricia D. White, and many other collaborators, DeStefano sought to create a global program that is part virtual, part independent study, part mentorship, part legal and part business. "Legal education has to change for the world of tomorrow," said Dean White. "The reason law schools haven't done it before is because they never had to, but with the technological advances, globalization and deregulation, the law schools of today have to change."
LawWithoutWalls is designed to kindle an entrepreneurial spirit – to challenge students to identify problems within the legal field and create innovative solutions to those problems.
Students from Miami Law, Harvard Law School, Fordham Law, New York Law School, University College London (UCL) Faculty of Laws and Peking University School of Transnational Law will be paired up and assigned a controversial or unsettled topic in legal education or practice. Each pair will begin by researching and analyzing the topic to build a knowledge base. Their goal is to identify one narrow problem within their assigned topic. They then spend the rest of the semester reading relevant scholarship, connecting with mentors and subject experts and interviewing professionals immersed in the relevant field(s). Next, the pair brainstorms a solution to the identified problem. The pair will then create a vehicle through which they will articulate their solution. The vehicle is the students' Project of Worth that they will present at the LawWithoutWalls' ConPosium in April 2011 at Miami Law.
The Project of Worth could take many forms. It could be a business plan, a computer program or application, a three dimensional architectural model, an open source website, or an organizational or subject matter manual. The possibilities are endless. DeStefano admits it's an ambitious project – but claims it's necessary.
"Lawyers of today have to be able to think out of the box to move forward into a world that is technological, global and transdisciplinary," said DeStefano. "And, of course, I'm not the only one that believes this is true. LawWithoutWalls wouldn't exist if it weren't for all the other change agents, deans, faculty and business professionals, that have joined forces with us at Miami Law to create this new venture."
In line with that collaborative spirit, students are provided mentorship, guidance and touch points at many levels. The first component of this part-virtual enterprise is an in-person kick-off at UCL Faculty of Laws designed to forge connections between all LawWithoutWalls participants and provide skills training in team building, idea generation, and interview and investigation methods. "It is anything but a traditional conference," says Michael Bossone, a founding member of LawWithoutWalls and also an expert in student development at Miami Law. "Instead of just passively listening to this incredibly talented team of industry leaders, students will actively engage and interact with them and develop and deliver their own presentations analyzing some of the critical issues facing the legal profession today."
After the kick-off, LawWithoutWalls goes virtual. Students attend virtual workshops and thought leader presentations weekly using Adobe Connect, a web-based, virtual meeting application. Thought leaders include Richard Susskind, author of The End of Lawyers? The Future of Legal Services in a Digital Age; Jon Callaghan, Founder of True Ventures; Carolyn Lamm, Former President of the American Bar Association; Jeffrey Lehman, Dean at Peking University STL; and Amy Schulman, General Counsel for Pfizer. Some presentations will explore current and contested issues within the legal world (e.g., technology's transformation of legal services, needed changes and recent innovations in legal education and ethical landmines of globalization) while others will coach students to develop much needed skill sets (e.g., how to analyze a company's financials, how to pitch a new business idea, and how to put together a business plan).
LawWithoutWalls breaks down antiquated hierarchies by providing equal standing and voice to each participant, from second-year law students to corporate CEOs, law firm managing partners and law school deans. "This is not the typical classroom experience where a professor lectures to a sea of a hundred students. Everyone is expected to engage; everyone's perspective is needed," said DeStefano. "This is not your grandfather's law school, this is our vision of tomorrow's law school. This is LawWithoutWalls."
In keeping with that, students have access to more than just one professor. Each student pair will be assigned two mentors (an academic and a practitioner or judge). Student pairs will video conference weekly with one of their mentors who will challenge and guide the students to dig deeper and provide real-world perspective and networks.
When asked what impact LawWithoutWalls will have on future lawyers, DeStefano responded: "LawWithoutWalls is poised to change the way lawyers are trained, the way lawyers think, and importantly the way lawyers add value in a globalized, digital marketplace where the distinction between law and business is anything but clear."