SoLi summit and its facilitators seek to spur innovation in legal profession and education

Legal Technology


Creating connections and collaborations between people across the legal world, including academics, practitioners, legal technology experts, and others. Moving the legal profession and legal education into the 21st century and beyond. Those are the goals of an April 30 summit at Vanderbilt Law School called SoLI: The Summit on Law and Innovation.

The goals are ambitious but necessary, say summit co-facilitators Caitlin (Cat) Moon and Larry Bridgesmith, adjunct professors at the school’s Program on Law & Innovation. “We think constantly about how do we reach out to the law-practicing community and help them and provide insight into the disruption that is taking place in legal services and technology,” Bridgesmith says.

The summit’s stated mission is “to build connections and break down silos between legal practitioners, educators, and technologists to create critical collaboration and fuel innovation.” Moon and Bridgesmith believe that different, creative minds must come together to help move the legal profession and legal education forward into the 21st century and beyond.

“There has been a fundamental shift in the legal profession,” Moon says. “The way we deliver legal services has to change. There is a fundamental mismatch between how lawyers work and deliver legal services and the way in which people need and want to receive legal services.”

“Better innovation comes out of cognitive diversity,” says Bridgesmith, who refers to some of the upcoming talks at the summit as “TED Talks squared.”

According to Moon and Bridgesmith, the program aims to be dynamic and audience-engaging rather than traditional and tiring. The summit will feature three “igniter sessions” that examine innovation in legal education, legal practice, and technology; a session called “Leading Lawyers Without a License,” and a “Human-Centered Design Bootcamp.” The igniter sessions begin with a short talk by speakers such as Vanderbilt Law School Dean Chris Guthrie, Lawton Penn of Davis Wright Tremaine, and Shawna Hoffman and Brian Kuhn of IBM. They are then followed with a panel discussion.

Moon and Bridgesmith say that the summit is necessary to move the legal profession and legal education forward.

“The business model of the legal profession is badly outdated,” Bridgesmith says. “Time is a lawyer’s most valuable asset, but clients don’t want to overpay for lawyer’s time. In the digital age, they want to pay for quality output. We must move the legal profession forward. We need to move the profession from a competitive model to a collaborative model.”

Cat Moon.

It’s not just the legal profession that needs a push forward. Legal education needs a similar boost, Moon says. “There is a general belief that legal education has not moved forward to match the demands of the 21st century,” she states. “It does not adequately prepare young lawyers for a modern practice. We want to create a point of collaboration between educators and practitioners so that people can work together.”

For Bridgesmith and Moon, the summit represents a unique opportunity to create positive change and spur even more creative thinking across the legal community. The summit is also a chance for the two to put into practice the ideas and strategies they have spent years working on. Bridgesmith, who practiced in the original law firm billing time model, has spent decades trying to improve lawyer productivity by implementing innovative workplace strategies to help lawyers better manage their time and practice. Moon, a fifth-generation lawyer, practiced law before transitioning into consulting. For the last decade, she has embraced human-centered design thinking to spur innovation in the legal profession—and now legal education.

“I had a lawyer practicing in complex litigation tell me: ‘You have given me half my day back,’” Bridgesmith recalls. “I want that on my tombstone.”

David L. Hudson Jr. is a regular contributor to the ABA Journal, serves as the ombudsman for the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center and is an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt Law School.

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Judge tosses Manafort’s suit challenging ‘unmoored’ jurisdiction grant to Mueller

Trials & Litigation

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has tossed a lawsuit filed by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort challenging the broad grant of jurisdiction given to special counsel Robert Mueller.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled Friday against Manafort, who has been indicted on charges of money laundering and tax fraud in the special counsel probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. BuzzFeed News and the National Law Journal have stories.

Manafort had argued the May 2017 order appointing Mueller improperly gave him the power to investigate matters that are “unmoored” to an investigation of links between the Russian government and the presidential campaign. Manafort later narrowed the relief sought and was no longer asking the court to dismiss his indictment.

Instead, he was seeking to invalidate part of the order giving the special counsel the authority to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” He was also seeking an order enjoining future exercise of authority by the special counsel that was outside the scope of his power.

Despite the narrowed claims, Jackson said, Manafort’s claims must be addressed in his criminal cases.

“A civil case is not the appropriate vehicle for taking issue with what a prosecutor has done in the past or where he might be headed in the future,” she said. “It is a sound and well-established principle that a court should not exercise its equitable powers to interfere with or enjoin an ongoing criminal investigation when the defendant will have the opportunity to challenge any defects in the prosecution in the trial or on direct appeal.”

Jackson also said it’s not clear there is a current case or controversy.

“The only aspect of this case that is left standing is Manafort’s effort to forestall unspecified and as yet unknown future developments in the special counsel investigation, and a claim of that nature, where the harm is purely speculative, raises significant standing and ripeness issues,” she wrote.

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Would-be judge facing trial for ruling in traffic cases is found dead


A would-be judge who was facing a trial Monday for ruling in three traffic cases has been found dead in her home in suburban Chicago.

Rhonda Crawford, 46, was free on bond. She was pronounced dead on Thursday, report the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crawford was facing a felony charge of official misconduct and a misdemeanor charge of false impersonation. She was accused of donning a judge’s robe and ruling on the cases in August 2016 as part of a shadowing process. She was a law clerk and staff attorney in Cook County, Illinois, at the time, but was fired after the incident.

The judge who allowed Crawford to take the bench was forced to retire in December 2017 after acknowledging that she has Alzheimer’s disease.

Crawford won a judicial election in Cook County even though a state supreme court order temporarily banned her from the bench.

Crawford’s lawyer, Rob Robertson, told the Tribune he did not know the cause of death. An autopsy is scheduled. He also spoke with the Sun-Times.

“I think she was put in an untenable situation by a number of others,” Robertson told the Sun-Times. “I looked forward to vindicating her on Monday. But that’s not going to happen now.”

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ABA president Hilarie Bass backs funding of at least $482M for Legal Services Corp.


ABA President Hilarie Bass/Photo by Len Irish.

Federal funding for the Legal Services Corp. has shrunk since fiscal year 2010 despite a study finding a justice gap experienced by low-income Americans, ABA President Hilarie Bass said Friday in testimony submitted to a House subcommittee.

Legal Services Corp. received $410 million in federal funding in fiscal 2018 an amount that is below its funding level of $420 million in fiscal 2010. Bass thanked the subcommittee for the current funding level, but said more is needed.

Bass is asking Congress to hike LSC funding to at least $482 million, an amount that matches the 2010 budget in inflation-adjusted dollars. Even better, she said in her testimony, would be to fund the budget at the LSC’s requested level of $564.8 million. A press release is here, and Bass’ testimony is here.

Bass referred to a 2017 study conducted for the LSC that found 86 percent of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans in the past year were not addressed with adequate legal help. She also referred to the need to help people likely to be affected by natural disasters in 2018 and people affected by the opioid epidemic.

“As the economy revives,” Bass said, “LSC funding should also revive.”

Bass submitted the testimony to the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.

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Was Brown v. Board of Education correctly decided? These judicial nominees won’t answer


The front page of the Russell (Kansas) Daily News on May 17, 1954, announcing that school segregation is outlawed. (Library of Congress).

For around 60 years, conservative and liberal judicial nominees praised the school desegregation decision Brown v. Board of Education as a groundbreaking statement of equality by the U.S. Supreme Court.

But laudatory statements about the decision have given way to reticence as two of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees recently refused to answer questions about the decision, Slate reports in a jurisprudence essay.

Wendy Vitter, a nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, said April 11 that she didn’t “mean to be coy” but she felt she didn’t want to comment on which Supreme Court decisions were correctly decided.

“If I start commenting on ‘I agree with this case’ or ‘don’t agree with this case,’ I think we get into a slippery slope,” she said. Vitter is general counsel to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in New Orleans. PBS and the National Law Journal were among the publications with coverage of her hearing.

On Wednesday, Andrew Oldham, a nominee to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, followed suit. Oldham said he could not discuss the merits of any case, including Brown v. Board of Education, Law360 reports. Oldham is general counsel for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Law360 called Oldham’s refusal to answer “a trend among judicial nominees not to answer questions about Supreme Court cases like Brown v. Board of Education.”

The National Law Journal points out that the late Justice Antonin Scalia had refused to answer questions during his confirmation hearing about any specific opinion, including Marbury v. Madison. The landmark case is known for its holding that it is “the province and duty” of the judicial branch “to say what the law is.”

The Slate authors assert that as the Trump administration picks more unconventional judicial nominees, “ferreting out their fringiest views becomes an even greater imperative.”

“If nominees refuse to give their views about whether Brown was correctly decided, will they also refuse to give their views on Dred Scott, which refuted the very humanity of black Americans?” Slate asks. “What about the internment of Japanese Americans, which the court held lawful in Korematsu but has since been recognized as one of the most shameful moments in American political or legal history?”

See also:

ABAJournal: “The Brown v. Board of Education Question: What Would Scalia Do?”

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