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Law Curriculum to Address Technologically Driven Economy

Students will be exposed to issues that drive innovation in today’s economy

  • New courses will prepare graduates to navigate complex legal issues related to innovation
  • New lab will give students firsthand experience in the innovation process
  • Curriculum initiatives to help students think like an innovator as well as a lawyer

CHICAGO --- Northwestern Pritzker School of Law has added two significant curricular options -- a concentration of courses and a lab -- designed to help graduates succeed in the technologically driven global economy.

The Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship concentration will expose students to the issues that drive the innovation process and to the role of technology in the modern economy.

The Innovation Lab will focus on the legal, business, technical, teamwork, design and presentation skills involved in the innovation process and allow students to put those skills to work in designing a commercial product that will solve a legal problem. 

Together these curricular initiatives will prepare graduates to navigate complex legal issues related to innovation, gain exposure to evolving legal practice technologies and develop an entrepreneurial mindset. 

“Relentless innovation raises countless strategic, legal and regulatory considerations, and technology often gets in front of the law,” said Daniel Rodriguez, dean of the Law School. “These curriculum enhancements will address the critical need for lawyers and technologists to collaborate early and often. 

“To navigate the evolving needs and expectations of employers and clients, students need to be exposed to issues that drive the innovation process and the role of technology in today’s economy,” he said.

Northwestern Law has long been a leader in law and business. The school has been a pioneer in providing multi-disciplinary legal and business training through its JD-MBA program, the nation’s largest, the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center (DPELC) and, most recently, the Master of Science in Law (MSL) program.

The Entrepreneurship Law Center has served close to 1,000 clients since its creation in 1998. Under the supervision of faculty, students work together to represent a variety of business ventures on projects ranging from intellectual property protection to drafting founders’ agreements and customer contracts. 

“These new initiatives represent an important development in the DPELC as we continue to build a robust interdisciplinary learning environment,” said Esther Barron, clinical professor of law and director of the DPELC. “The DPELC strives to prepare our students not only to be successful lawyers but to also play valuable roles as members of entrepreneurial teams.”

The additions at the cross-section of law, business and technology complement and augment the highly successful MSL program, which launched in 2014.

“Connecting the study of law to the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math) is essential to the innovation process,” said Leslie Oster, clinical associate professor of law and director of the Master of Science in Law Program. “Technical skills without an understanding of law and business leads to an incomplete overall picture. The MSL program brings these disciplines together, and, in so doing, allows STEM professionals to have more of a 360-degree perspective on their work.”

Already, nearly 60 students are participating in this first-of-its-kind program.

Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Concentration

The concentration includes coursework in three main areas: innovation regulation and policy, legal practice technology and entrepreneurship.

“At the outset of the innovation process, entrepreneurs need to consider the pertinent regulatory, intellectual property and other legal considerations associated with bringing new ideas and products to the marketplace,” said James Speta, senior associate dean for academic affairs and member of the Law School’s law tech committee, comprised of faculty and administrators focused on exploring and developing opportunities and programs at the cross-section of law and tech. “Similarly, lawyers must be attuned to the technology ecosystem.”

Furthermore, Speta said, lawyers must become accustomed to the ways innovators think. “They need to develop an entrepreneurial mindset not only to help establish regulatory frameworks that fuel innovation but also to help modernize their employers’ client service models,” he said.

Innovation Lab

In this course, which is a joint initiative between the MSL program and DPELC, students from both programs will work together to develop a commercially viable solution to an existing legal problem. To do this effectively, students must develop legal subject matter expertise in their area of focus, as well as the skills required to innovate in that area. Possible subject areas to explore include global health, local government law and regulation, tax, women in law leadership, legal process improvements, dispute resolution and access to justice.

A focus of the course will be learning about how technology can be used effectively to solve problems. In addition, students will identify areas that are ripe for innovation, design solutions, form businesses, protect intellectual property and present their work in final pitches.

To aid the students in their exploration, the Innovation Lab will use a variety of mentors, advisors and guest speakers, including substantive legal experts, entrepreneurs, technologists, and lawyers and business professionals from a variety of settings.

This is the first class that has been designed to include students from all programs in the Law School -- JD, JD-MBA, MSL and LLM students. It will be taught by Barron and Oster.

“This is an important course to add to the curriculum,” Barron said. “While existing entrepreneurship courses tend to focus on hard skills and how to represent entrepreneurs, this class emphasizes creating an entrepreneurial mindset that will benefit students no matter what career path they choose.”

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