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Leading Legal Profession Innovation

November 04, 2022

The Future of the Profession Initiative’s new interdisciplinary, problem-solving lab will address the most significant challenges facing the American legal profession.

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School has launched the Future of the Profession Lab, a state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary, problem-solving center that will work to address the most significant challenges facing the American legal profession. Jim Sandman L’76, Distinguished Lecturer, Senior Consultant to the Future of the Profession Initiative (FPI), and one of the Law School’s most widely revered graduates, will serve as the Director of the Lab.

Jim Sandman L'76 Jim Sandman L'76“Innovation in law should incorporate learning from other disciplines to improve the justice system and the legal profession,” said Sandman, who is also President Emeritus of Legal Services Corporation and former Managing Partner of Arnold & Porter. “The Lab will work closely with faculty and students from the Law School and from other schools across the University — from Engineering, Wharton, the Weitzman School of Design, the Graduate School of Education, the School of Social Policy and Practice, Penn Nursing, and the Perelman School of Medicine — to develop meaningful opportunities to transform the legal system.”

The Lab’s focus will be on pervasive problems and scalable solutions, including:

  • enhancing client service by developing new delivery models generated through human-centered design;
  • promoting the widespread adoption of technologies that democratize law, making it more accessible for people who need to use the legal system at all levels;
  • simplifying court processes to improve efficiency and reduce friction for litigants, lawyers, and judges;
  • creating new approaches to work and workplace environments to enhance talent retention in law;
  • improving access to justice for low- and moderate-income individuals and for small businesses; and
  • rethinking courtroom design to differentiate among uses and cases to serve the public better.

“The Future of the Profession Lab embodies the Law School’s goals when it launched FPI three years ago,” said Ted Ruger, Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law. “The Lab will identify specific real-world problems that create disconnects between society and legal systems through collaboration. This will include faculty and students here on campus as well as leaders across the profession who want to drive change but may lack the time, resources, or capacity to develop, refine, and scale solutions.”

In addition to using an interdisciplinary approach to make the legal system more accessible to all, the Lab will tackle challenges related to the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the profession — an area in which the legal industry lags behind other disciplines.

“As our society rapidly evolves, so, too, must our institutions and systems,” said FPI Strategic Advisor and Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Bridget McCormack, who will contribute to the Lab’s development. Chief Justice McCormack notes, “As we have seen in Michigan, pursuing a more just and accessible legal system has a profound impact within the community and can make a difference for the most vulnerably situated individuals who are navigating the legal system on their own.”

The Lab plans to partner with expert advisers from the judiciary, court administration, law firms, corporate legal departments, legal technology developers, legal aid programs, researchers, and the client community to develop projects and design solutions. It will also aim to collaborate with other, more established legal labs, such as those at Harvard, Stanford, Suffolk Law School, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the University of Arizona, and Vanderbilt, to leverage resources and support cross-institutional learning.

The announcement of the Future of the Profession Lab coincides with FPI’s Law 2030 conference, a two-day event hosted at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, convening participants in person and online for an interactive, educational, and inspirational conversation that will explore how lawyers can use human-centered design principles to reimagine the legal workplaces of the future and unlock impactful new avenues for delivering legal services.

“Human-centered design is an approach to generating new ideas that puts the individual being served at the heart of the process,” says Marion Leary, Chief Innovation Officer of Penn Nursing, an early partner in educating the Lab’s leadership about the power of human-centered design and its uses in other fields. “Nurses are natural innovators who constantly solve problems for the patients they serve. I’ve been delighted to connect with Penn Carey Law’s Future of the Profession Initiative to share our work at Penn Nursing and think together about how lawyers — another group of natural problem-solvers — can deploy human-centricity to solve the civil justice crisis.”

Learn more about the pathbreaking work of the Future of the Profession Initiative.