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Ahead of the Curve: Law School Theatrics

Welcome back to Ahead of the Curve. I’m Karen Sloan, legal education editor at Law.com, and I’ll be your host for this weekly look at innovation and notable developments in legal education.

This week, I’m checking in on Brooklyn Law School’s CUBE Innovators competition to find out the benefits of the growing number of legal tech competitions for law students. Next is a look at a recent of performance of the iconic play 12 Angry Men at Texas Tech University School of Law and what other shows I’d like to see put on in law schools. Raise the curtain, it’s show time!

Please share your thoughts and feedback with me at

 ksloan@alm.com or on Twitter:@KarenSloanNLJ



A Law School Legal Tech Invitational

Nine teams of students from New York City law schools gathered at Brooklyn Law School last Thursday to pitch their ideas for using legal technology to improve access to justice and make legal processes more efficient. At stake was $12,000 in prize money for the teams that the judges thought had the best ideas and the clearest path to bringing them to fruition.

It was the first time Brooklyn Law School opened its CUBE Innovators competition to teams from other law schools, and is among a growing number of hackathons and other competitions designed to spur innovation in legal technology. (CUBE refers to the law school’s Center for Urban Business and Entrepreneurship.) Georgetown University Law Center’s Iron Tech Lawyers Competition was a pioneer in this space among law schools.

There’s a reason legal tech competitions are a trend, according to John Rudikoff, who leads CUBE and helped organize last week’s event. First, today’s law students are far more tech savvy than their predecessors and are accustomed to the ideas of harnessing technology to solve problems. Conceptualizing and executing their own legal tech solutions also helps position them to counsel entrepreneurs, Rudikoff added.

“For our students, having the direct experience of walking the path of an entrepreneur—developing a business plan, developing a pitch, thinking through the challenges, problems, options, finding strategies—it just enhances their own practice,” he told me a day after the competition. “It gives them the opportunity to know what their clients are going through.”

A team of students from Cornell Tech were named the winners of the $6,000 prize with a pro bono platform dubbed Gratis, which is intended to improve the efficiency in connecting pro bono attorneys with clients in need. (You can read more about the Cornell Tech program here. The short version is that the program puts law, computer science and business students together and tasks them with building a startup. It’s pretty cool.)

Brooklyn law students took the second place $4,000 prize for their project, RAP Revise. The platform is meant to help correct errors on rap sheets. A recent study of rap sheets in New York City found that about 30 percent contain errors, which can influence sentencing and bail. A second Brooklyn Law team, as well as a team from Fordham University School of Law, won honorable mentions.

Rudikoff said the judges weren’t just looking for great ideas but also passion and commitment to taking their idea forward. “We’re looking for who has the best plan to execute their great idea, because there can be great ideas with absolutely no vision about executing it,” he said. “Most importantly, we invest in founders. It’s the individual with the most inspiring stories and commitment to what they’re doing.”

My thoughts: I think every law school should have a competition like this. It doesn’t have to be as formal as Brooklyn’s with a $12,000 prize pot. It could just be internal, with students coming up with their own ideas—even if they don’t execute them. It seems like a great way to get law students thinking about the possibilities of technology and maybe spark an entrepreneur or two…


All the Law School’s a Stage

I chanced across this article last week about a performance of the iconic play 12 Angry Men put on at Texas Tech University School of Law. In this case, the show was performed by 12 women, some of whom are law students, and was a collaboration between the law school and the university’s school of theater and dance. Students and faculty were invited to the show, which was followed by a discussion of the play, which is about jurors deciding the fate of an accused 18-year-old murderer set in the 1950s. (Women would not become eligible for jury duty in all 50 state for nearly two decades.)

That got me thinking: What other shows would I like to see performed on law campuses? Let’s be honest, legal education could do with a bit more jazz hands and emoting. Here are my suggestions:

➤➤Legally Blonde-The Musical. Yes, this one is a bit on-the-nose. But the show’s setting at Harvard Law School, with the plucky Elle Woods overcoming stereotypes, would be a fun pick-me-up for law students feeling bogged down by outlines and bluebooks.

➤➤Inherit the Wind. OK, this is another obvious choice, but if the goal is to inspire law students about the role attorneys play in standing up for justice, then it’s hard to beat Inherit the Wind, which is based on the 1952 Scopes Monkey Trial, where Clarence Darrow defended a public school teacher who taught about evolution in the classroom.

➤➤Chicago. If Inherit the Wind gives us a portrait of what a lawyer should be, then Chicago’s corrupt lawyer Billy Flynn offers an example of what not to be in this rollicking musical featuring not one but two murderesses. Bonus: The songs are catchy!

➤➤I figured I had to throw a little Shakespeare in here, so the Merchant of Venice is probably the best bet. The play, of course, culminates in a trial in which the Duke of Venice, presiding, decides whether the moneylender Shylock may extract his pound of flesh from the debtor Antonio. (Warning, the play is pretty anti-Semitic.)

The takeaway: I’m being a little flippant here, but I really do like the idea of bringing theater into the law school setting. There are certainly shows like 12 Angry Men that have clear legal themes and plots, but I also think that giving students the opportunity to step back from their casebooks—even briefly—is good for their well-being and mindsets. I especially like the idea of law students having the opportunity to perform in a play as an outlet for creativity. What works of theater would you like to see performed in law school?

Extra Credit Reading

Check out the first installment of a four-part series on why bar exam pass rates are falling and what that means for law schools and the legal profession.

University of Missouri law dean Lyrissa Lidsky has been chronicling her fight with breast cancer on Twitter.

Kim Kardashian says she is “reading the law” and wants to take the bar exam, but she’ll face steep odds. Few who bypass law school pass the bar.

Law professors are harnessing the popular Game of Thrones to teach about the law in courses, podcasts, and law review articles.

Carmelo Chimera founded a comic book store as a first-year students at the University of Chicago Law School. Now, he’s giving away one of his two stores in an essay contest.

Thanks for reading Ahead of the Curve. Sign up for the newsletter and check out past issues here.

I’ll be back next week with more news and updates on the future of legal education. Until then, keep in touch at ksloan@alm.com