New Curriculum to Address Technologically Driven Economy

May 16, 2016

Two significant curricular additions, designed to help graduates succeed in the technologically driven global economy, were recently approved by Northwestern Pritzker School of Law faculty:

  • The Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship concentration will expose JD 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 expand and enhance the Law School’s ability to prepare graduates to navigate complex legal issues related to innovation, to gain exposure to evolving legal practice technologies, and to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.

“We are interested in giving our students the skills to improve legal and regulatory frameworks — and this means drawing together threads of technology and law,” said Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of the Law School. “These curriculum enhancements will address the critical need for lawyers and technologists to collaborate early and often.”

Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Concentration

The concentration includes coursework in three main areas: innovation regulation and policy, legal practice technology, and entrepreneurship. It culminates with an experiential capstone course in which students will put the knowledge and technical skills they have learned into practice.

“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, composed 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.”

Innovation Lab

In this course, a joint initiative between the Master of Science in Law (MSL) program and the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center (DPELC), students from the JD, JDMBA, LLM, and MSL degree 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.

One goal 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 IP, 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, lawyers, and business professionals from a variety of settings. It will be taught by Esther Barron, clinical professor of law and director of the DPELC, and Leslie Oster, clinical associate professor of law and director of the MSL program. 

“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.”

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 DPELC, and the 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,” Barron continued. “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 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.”

Together, these curricular initiatives will prepare Northwestern Law graduates to successfully navigate a rapidly evolving practice environment.