In July 2017, LegalRnD Director Dan Linna wrote a blog post detailing the various ways the LegalRnD program has furthered one of its core tenants: law schools serving as labs for legal-services delivery innovation. In that post, he promised that we would do even more in the 2017-2018 academic year to advance that goal. One of the really exciting ways in which we have delivered on this promise is through innovation projects we are conducting in the LegalRnD Capstone course, Litigation:{Data, Theory, Practice, and Process}.

Litigation:{Data, Theory, Practice, and Process}

To further the idea of law schools serving as labs for innovation, since LegalRnD’s launch we have paired student teams with outside partners on a wide variety of projects. This semester, we’ve assembled 23 students in the LegalRnD capstone course (Litigation:{Data, Theory, Practice, and Process}) into teams to work on innovation projects with Perkins Coie, Davis Wright Tremaine, Akerman, and Michigan Legal Help. Each student team is working closely with the project partners to better understand a specific problem and the current condition and build an expert system or automate a process to help improve the legal-services delivery related to

 the problem. Neota Logic and ThinkSmart have provided the technology for these projects as well as student training.

Each student team began by working closely with a project manager and subject matter expert at the project partner organization and undertaking a discovery process that would allow them to deeply understand the articulated challenge. We were careful to not solicit projects where the project partners already had a solution in mind and were simply looking for a student development team. Rather, we wanted the students to work with the partners on a problem where there was no clear “answer,” so they had the freedom to be creative with their possible improvements and innovations.

Submitted Projects

In addition to our desires for the class and the students, we also wanted to solicit projects that would create something of value for the project partners. To help us achieve these goals, Professor Linna and I conducted several meetings with the project partners and also created detailed guidelines in a project submission form. Our project partners went above and beyond to propose projects for our students that would meet our shared goals. Our students are working on a wide variety of highly relevant topics, as shown below:

  1. Automation of the process of reviewing and amending existing vendor contracts to conform to the requirements of Article 28 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  2. Automation of data breach analysis and advice for financial institutions
  3. Development of a technology tool that assists couples in dividing their assets in divorce
  4. Centralization of resources and process automation to assist attorneys working on pro bono asylum applications
  5. Automation of legal research for state consumer protection laws that govern gift cards
  6. Improving the process of verifying compliance of SEC disclosure documents using checklists and automation where appropriate
  7. Automation of Intellectual Property cease-and-desist letter creation
  8. Automation of third party subpoena response workflow

Laying the Foundation for Innovation

Before training the students in any technology, we began the semester by introducing the students to non-technical foundational skills such as process improvement, project management, and leadership. The idea was to foster innovation through early exposure to methodologies that promote a deep understanding of the problem and current state, going to “gemba” where the work is done, suspension of jumping to conclusions and making assumptions, rapid prototyping to test ideas, interaction with stakeholders, and striving for continuous improvement and continuous learning.

The importance of focus on the customer and the people and processes that deliver products and services cannot be overstated. When properly leveraged with this understanding, technology is an incredibly useful thing, and we have seen it  do amazing things to improve the delivery of legal services. The students are building their innovation projects using either Neota Logic (a tool often used to build expert systems) or ThinkSmart (a workflow automation platform). Additionally, we have two teams supplementing their Neota Logic applications with documents instructing the project partners on how to train models using Kira (a supervised machine learning tool).

My Role: Technologist, Innovation Coach, and Relationship Manager

I am very fortunate that Professor Linna entrusted me with so much responsibility for his capstone course. At the outset of the course, we defined specific roles for me, as described below:

  • Chief Technologist—I am here for the students as they are working with Neota Logic, ThinkSmart, and Kira to answer questions, put together learning materials that I think would be most beneficial, help coordinate their training, and provide insight as they work through the development process.
  • Projects and Relationship Manager—The student teams are using Agile project management and the Improvement Kata to work towards meeting a specific challenge set by their project partners. I am there to communicate with the project partners, the student project teams, and to facilitate communication between the project partners and student teams. I ensure that the expectations of the project partners are being met, no issues go unchecked, and that the student teams have what they need to succeed.
  • Innovation Coach—As an innovation coach, I lead student teams using the Improvement Kata, which is based on the Toyota Way and lean thinking. My job is not to solve the student’s problems, but to coach them through a disciplined process of discovery and learning. My job is to empower the students so that they continue to develop and become as successful as they can be. First, within the Improvement Kata framework, I ensure that students follow project management and process improvement best practices. Second, I help them establish target conditions–intermediate steps on their way to meeting the challenge. To achieve each of these target conditions, students identify all obstacles and then work on one obstacle at a time to overcome it. Students generate ideas and then determine the most efficient way to test their ideas (for those familiar with lean thinking, this consists of Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles). Third, I help them identify root causes of obstacles they are facing, and help them see how they, themselves, can remove barriers to their success. Finally, I encourage them to take the overall challenge articulated by their project partners as a baseline, and look for ways to deliver greater value to project partners. Being client-centric is a key component of lean and design thinking. Listening closely to clients and employing empathy as practiced in lean and design thinking allows professionals to better understand their customers’ problems and innovate by finding new ways to deliver value.

This capstone course highlights the competencies we emphasize at LegalRnD, and has been a great opportunity to engage students and create value for outside clients at the same time. I am looking forward to seeing the students’ final products in a few weeks.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to help lead Computational Law workshops at the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law, working with Jeffrey Sharer, co-chair of Akerman’s Data Law Practice and Dan Linna, Director of LegalRnD and Professor of Law in Residence at Michigan State and Adjunct Professor of Law at Michigan. Professor Linna encourages students in his classes at Michigan and Michigan State working on innovation projects to tackle problems using a “people, process, data, and technology” approach. In our Michigan State capstone class, Professor Linna and I trained students in lean thinking, the Toyota Way, and the Improvement Kata during a workshop in early January. Students learned about design thinking during a February workshop with Margaret Hagan, the Michigan State version of which was attended by leading practitioners from around the country and Canada. The Computational Law workshop provided the opportunity to demonstrate how lawyers can innovate by breaking down legal tasks and reasoning into rules.

Rules- versus Data- Driven Artificial Intelligence

Professor Linna began the workshop with a discussion of rules- versus data-driven artificial intelligence. Rules-based artificial intelligence automates advice by applying a set of predefined rules or logic to user input. In a data-driven system, on the other hand, some subject matter expert (e.g., a lawyer) “trains” the system to recognize patterns by feeding it data with “labeled” outcomes. A rules-based artificial intelligence system, such as Neota Logic, works well to centralize knowledge and automate legal advice in an area that is heavily codified (e.g., bankruptcy or most other areas of civil law). Data-driven artificial intelligence systems, such as Kira, have the ability to automatically organize, flag, and prioritize certain document clauses, for example, greatly assisting in cumbersome tasks such as contract review and due diligence.

Akerman Data Law Center

Following Professor Linna’s discussion, Mr. Sharer introduced the students to the Akerman Data Law Center–an expert system he built using Neota Logic. The students in our LegalRnD capstone course at Michigan State are learning Neota Logic, and some teams are using it for their innovation projects with Akerman, Perkins Coie, Davis Wright Tremaine, and Michigan Legal Help. It was inspiring for them to see a finished product and how it is being used by one of the country’s most forward-thinking law firms. For me, the most important takeaway was Mr. Sharer’s point that it is easy to get swept up in the possibilities of legal technology; but for a product to truly improve the way legal services are delivered, its “legal inventory” must be “complete, current, actionable, and affordable.” To learn more about the Akerman Data Law Center, I encourage you to visit the Akerman Data Law Center website, and to read Professor Linna’s blog post detailing his interaction with the platform.

Comparing Legal Tech Use-Cases

As the final component to the lecture portion of the workshop, I discussed the differences between Neota Logic, ThinkSmart, and QnA Markup. Created by David Colarusso, Director of Suffolk LIT Lab, QnA Markup is an open-source platform that can be used for simple document construction and building rules-based question-and-answer systems. Mr. Sharer gave a great example of how Neota Logic can be used, so I focused most of my time on demonstrating use cases for QnA Markup and ThinkSmart, a workflow automation platform. To help prepare the students for the second half of the workshop, when they would build their own applications in QnA Markup, I demonstrated an application that I built that helps a user determine when a contract has been formed under UCC Article 2-206 or 2-207.

During my presentation, I emphasized how easy it had been to create this application because I first took the time to create a flowchart of the law. Once you map all of the possible outcomes and pathways a legal issue or process can take, building the expert system or automated workflow is relatively straightforward–even with sophisticated tools like Neota Logic and ThinkSmart.

I really enjoyed being a part of this Computational Law workshop. Many possibilities exists to better understanding legal processes, automate them, and improve legal-services delivery. I look forward to finding new ways to make legal advice more accurate, accessible, and actionable.


Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the Chicago Legal Innovation and Technology Meetup at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. I spoke about how LegalRnD is training 21st Century lawyers, using a project assessing a pilot Eviction Diversion Program (EDP) that I led in the 54A District Court in Lansing, Michigan as an example. Because many people asked questions about the project after my talk, I’ve drafted this post to describe the project in greater detail.


Other speakers at this Meetup: Carla Goldstein, former AGC at BMO Harris and member of the founding team of SeyfarthLean; Jim Lupo, Director of the Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law; and Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft

Initiating the EDP

This project began in early 2017 when Judge Alderson reached out to Dan Linna, Director of LegalRnD and Professor of Law in Residence at MSU College of Law, to ask for LegalRnD’s help implementing and assessing an Eviction Diversion Pilot Program she planned to implement in her court. Professor Linna suggested bringing on two students and me (in my capacity as LegalRnD fellow and Innovation Counsel) to work on this project during the summer and fall of 2017. Nick Gamber, Andrew Sanders, and I completed this LegalRnD project and wrote a paper in connection with Professor Linna’s Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers class.

Bringing LegalRnD Skills to 54A

One of the great things about this project was that it allowed my team and me to utilize many of the core competencies we emphasize in the LegalRnD curriculum. We strive to replace legal industry anecdotes about what purportedly works and does not with data-driven conclusions, measuring the effectiveness of legal service delivery. We also start with identifying the customer and an understanding of what they value. Additionally, while we set big goals, we strive for continuous improvements, which may start small but will accumulate and compound over time. The following components of the EDP project show how we aimed to achieve this.

Project Management

To allow ourselves the freedom to iterate quickly, fail quickly, and learn quickly, we prefer an Agile project management style over a traditional waterfall method. However, there are key components that build the foundation of any successful project, such as: (1) communication with the stakeholders to understand the challenge and scope; (2) a project charter; and (3) a way to track the workflow. For the EDP, we instituted the following:

  • Project Charter — a guiding document that addressed the scope of the project, a list of key stakeholders, project milestones, and constraints, assumptions, risks, and dependencies. This was an essential document that ensured our understanding of the project was in line with Judge Alderson’s expectations. We consulted and adjusted these key documents frequently as we moved through the project.
  • Stakeholder Interviews — before the EDP began, we interviewed those who would be impacted by the program, including court personnel, landlords, and tenant groups.
  • Kanban Board — as discussed in a previous post, Kanban boards are an incredibly useful tool to control workflow. For this project and others, I designed Kanban boards to track our action items, goals, and deliverables.
My kanban board

User Testing

A key component of the EDP was a flier that we sent out with the Summons and Complaint informing tenants of various ways to seek legal help, that they may be eligible for free legal aid and funding opportunities at court, and the consequences of failing to appear for their hearing. Our idea was that this would reduce defaults. But we did not just execute on our ideas. We did user testing to validate our assumptions and improve the flier. In doing so, we worked with Margaret Hagan, Founder of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, to create a flier. Then, Professor Linna and I took that flier to the court before the EDP kickoff date and talked with tenants. We asked tenants open ended questions to better understand their first impressions and what actions they thought they would take upon receiving this flier. Margaret took this tenant feedback and created a revised draft of the flier.

Flier created by Margaret Hagan

Data Analysis & Visualization

Because we had been asked to assess the program as well as help implement it, data analysis and visualization was a large part of this project. After discussions with Judge Alderson, our team and I decided to focus on three key metrics: formal eviction rates (i.e., how many landlords came back for a final writ of eviction); default rate; and dismissal rate. Because only Judge Alderson piloted the EDP, we had a natural experiment. Finding differences between groups, we conducted tests to determine if the differences were statistically significant. In other words, the statistical tests allowed us to determine if the differences were large enough to reject the null hypothesis that the EDP had no effect. (We continue to gather and analyze data, but so far the differences have been statistically significant, supporting the alternative hypothesis that the EDP is reducing eviction rates and default rates.) Finally, I used Tableau to create data visualizations. Not only is Tableau an excellent tool for creating data visualizations, it also avoids data integrity issues that sometimes arise with other tools, including inadvertent changes to data.

It was a great privilege to be able to work on this project and see several LegalRnD core competencies at work. I look forward to sharing more in the future.

A (Very) Brief Introduction to Kanban

The purpose of a Kanban system is to create a visual representation of a workflow that ultimately improves the quality and percentage of tasks completed, minimizes waste, and highlights areas where a process can be improved.

Image obtained from “Kanban Reference Guide and Learning Center”

A Kanban board is segmented into derivations of three basic columns, called “lanes”: (1) To Do; (2) Doing; (3) Done. The lanes can be renamed to fit the needs of the project. To learn more about Kanban, I encourage you to visit

Managing My Workflow

Using the principles above, I created a Kanban board to track my own workflow. The great thing about a Kanban system is that it can be tailored to the needs of any project or organization. The goals for my system were to keep my teams:

  1. On track ensure that tasks are completed on time; minimize the work in process; understand the dependencies of each task;
  2. Organized inform everyone about which tasks are due, overdue, and done; who is responsible for each task; which phase or phases of our project we are in;
  3. Empowered reduce the number of instances where team members feel overwhelmed; promote work satisfaction and morale;
  4. Motivated create a drive to perform, and pride in accomplishing a goal; and
  5. Accountable create a sense of ownership of a task and responsibility to the team
My kanban board

At first, this seemed like a lofty goal for one white board and a few (dozen) sticky notes. However, I put every detail of this board to work so that each aspect contributes to my overall goals. Through this system of lanes, name tags, due dates, and red flags, my team is:

  1. On track because we can easily keep track of where each task is in the workflow, and are continually reminded to reduce our work in process. If there are too many sticky notes in one of the “work in process” lanes, we know that we need to stop, ask ourselves why tasks are building up, and finish a task before starting another one.
  2. Organized because if a team member has a question about what he or she is responsible for, what is coming up due or is overdue, or how close we are to meeting our goal, they know exactly where to look. This avoids confusion, rework, and incomplete assignments.
  3. Empowered because when tasks are presented as a numbered list, or, worse yet, verbally rained-down on a team member all at once, completing a project can feel overwhelming. However, when tasks are presented as pieces of an overall workflow, with separate team members accountable for each task, team members feel more relaxed and empowered to complete their assignments well and on time.
  4. Motivated because as the General Counsel for VillageMD, Wendy Rubas, said during her visit to LegalRnD, “Data triggers people.” Team members can physically see that they are behind on their goal, and are spurred to drive the numbers up. When the goal is met, it allows us to pause and have a moment of celebration and pride for accomplishing a goal. This also tells us it’s time to set new, more ambitious goals.
  5. Accountable because a team member sees his or her name and a due date on a card in one of the “work in process” lanes, and he or she knows that if it is not completed on time, it will receive a red flag. At the next meeting, that team member is asked to explain why something was not completed on time. This is not done as punishment. Rather, it is used to determine how we, as a team, can improve our process so that delays and bottlenecks in work are minimized.

In the future, I may look to an online Kanban platform such as Trello or Leankit to help manage multiple projects or dispersed team members. For now, though, I am very pleased with how I have been able to adapt the Kanban methodology to my organization. I look forward to exploring other project management and process improvement tools in the future.

I am three months into a year-long fellowship with LegalRnD—The Center for Legal Services Innovation at MSU College of Law. I could not be happier with my decision to pursue this as my first job out of law school. I came to law school with a background in chemistry, and, though I chose not to pursue science as a profession, I was inspired by the idea of improving legal-service delivery using scientific methods and a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach. With this blog, I hope to illustrate some of the many ways in which LegalRnD is using these principles to re-engineer legal-service delivery, and how I am using them to become a more successful leader.

How LegalRnD is Training 21st Century Lawyers

If you’re reading this blog, you have may have seen Above the Law’s article declaring that “Michigan State College of Law ranks number one.” MSU Law and LegalRnD earned such high praise in part because LegalRnD is dedicated to training 21st Century, T-Shaped lawyers, as described by MSU Law alumna R. Amani Smathers.

Twentieth-century lawyers prided themselves on, and were valued for, their deep legal expertise. In the technology-driven 21st century, clients demand more—and the T-shaped lawyer is better equipped to provide it.” –R. Amani Smathers, The 21st Century T-Shaped Lawyer

20th Century, I-Shaped lawyers had deep legal expertise, but little training in other disciplines. In 2017, clients demand more from their lawyers. Deep legal knowledge must be supplemented by a working knowledge of such disciplines as technology, business, data analytics, data privacy, process improvement, and project management in order to better serve clients and ensure thriving practices. Because LegalRnD is teaching these “top of the ‘T’” skills, its alumni are better equipped not only to face the challenges of an evolving legal industry, but also to be leaders in the 21st century.


LegalRnD offers a full curriculum of classes focused on improving legal-service delivery through a people-process-technology approach. This includes Delivering Legal Services: New Legal Landscape, where Professor Ken Grady  employs a tactile approach to teaching such skills as Design Thinking and process mapping.

Students prototyping in Professor Grady’s Delivering Legal Services class.

Another student favorite is Quantitative Analysis for Lawyers, where Professor and Director of LegalRnD, Dan Linna, introduces students to various modes of quantitative thinking for data-driven law practice. Students learn data analysis tools like Excel and are introduced to Python, Jupyter Notebook, and Tableau. The course includes several hands-on exercises that illustrate the possibilities for data-analytics. A primary goal is to demystify tools like expert systems and artificial intelligence so that students can recognize how they can be used to not only become more efficient but also to produce greater value and obtain better outcomes for clients.

Research Projects

Bolstered by Professor Linna’s idea that law schools should be used as labs for innovation, LegalRnD also provides opportunities for students to conduct research and development and, in many cases, work with outside clients to transform the delivery of legal services.


Finally, students are continuously exposed to new ideas and opportunities to innovate through LegalRnD’s diverse co-curricular workshops, speaker series, conferences, and hackathons.

Research, Development, and Events Currently Underway at LegalRnD

Research & Development

The research projects conducted at LegalRnD are more than academic exercises. Students work in the field to help create more efficient legal organizations, close the access-to-justice gap, and innovate in ways that are user-centric and data-driven. I am currently part of two such ongoing LegalRnD projects:

  • Eviction Diversion Pilot Program–54A District Court, Lansing, Michigan–Chief Judge Louise Alderson contacted LegalRnD with an idea for a project: implement an eviction diversion pilot program in her court and gather outcome data to improve and assess the program. This is a perfect opportunity for the two students, Nick Gamber and Drew Sanders, who are working with Professor Linna and me on this project to apply several LegalRnD core competencies: project management, process improvement, empirical research, and data analysis. I am excited to share more in the future about this process.
Working with Margaret Hagan at 54A District Court in Lansing.
  • SOLID Collaborative Innovation–At the SOLID Summit in September, Professor Linna and other members of the legal community formed a workgroup with a goal in mind: to create a framework for innovation in the legal industry. Tying in the idea of law schools as labs for innovation, several students are now working on projects with outside clients. Students Anita Western, Joe Mullin, and Matt Gardner are working with Professor Linna on an “Internet of Things” project with Maya Markovich from Dentons’ NextLawLabs, Milos Kresojevic from Freshfields, and Dennis Kennedy from Mastercard. Students Danielle Chirdon and Justin Evans are working with Professor Linna on a blockchain project with Lisa Bryzcki from Northwestern Mutual, and Kate Simpson from Bennett Jones LLP, with focuses ranging from change management, to Internet of Things and Blockchain.


So far this year, we have had the privilege of hosting amazing professionals for lunchtime and evening presentations. We have many more planned for the coming year:

  • Amani Smathers, MSU Law alumna and Legal Solutions Architect at DWT De Novo, kicked off the semester with a lunchtime talk on what it means to be T-Shaped, and the skills and technology employed by modern lawyers.

    Brian Kuhn speaks at MSU Law
  • Brian Kuhn, Co-creator and Global Co-leader of IBM Watson Legal, spent the day at MSU Law, engaging in a prototyping session with Professor Linna’s Quantitative Analysis class, and demystified artificial intelligence during his presentation on IBM Watson’s transformation of how legal work is performed.
  • Several MSU Law students attended the Chicago Legal Innovation Meetup on September 30, where they had the opportunity to network and listen to presentations of several thought leaders in the legal innovation space.
  • On October 11, LegalRnD hosted Craig Glidden, the General Counsel for General Motors, who discussed the evolution of corporate legal departments, including technology’s role in that transformation.
  • On October 17, the Honigman law firm ran its periodic value initiative meeting live from LegalRnD. Students had the benefit of seeing how the firm conducts its value meeting. Additionally, because Honigman had graciously included LegalRnD student presentations in its agenda, attendees also got to hear about some of the research projects underway at MSU Law.
Legal Hack Chicago Innovation Meetup
  • On October 19, several students and MSU Law alumni attended the Fin(Legal)Tech conference hosted by Illinois Tech–Chicago-Kent College of Law. The many enlightening presentations included themes on how to learn from the finance industry’s past to improve the legal industry’s future.
  • On November 5, Pamela Morgan, Founder of Third Key Solutions, will be leading a weekend workshop on Bitcoin, blockchain, and smart contracts.
  • On November 6, Wendy Rubas, General Counsel for Village MD, will be giving a lunchtime talk on data-driven law practices and leading theQuantitative Analysis class in a data exercise.
  • In February, Margaret Hagan, Director of the Legal Design Lab at Stanford, will be leading a design thinking workshop and giving a lunchtime talk.

One of our goals at LegalRnD is to expose our students to the main ways to get engaged in the legal industry, leveraging innovation and technology to improve legal-service delivery. We’re thrilled to present so many such opportunities to our students, and I’m grateful to be a part of these activities. I look forward to further discussing these projects as they develop.