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Setting Trends for Legal Technology Modules at University

Do you think academia should have a role in legal innovation and if so, how and by whom should such programmes be taught?

Jonathan Patterson:

Yes definitely. It is important to capture the imagination, interest and involvement of people in the basics of legal innovation as early as possible, so academia presents one of the best opportunities to engage talent for the future at an early stage.

Specialist courses like the Law, Money and Technology programme at the University of Manchester are a good way to develop the required knowledge and skills especially when they are delivered as a collaboration between academics and industry specialists. A mix of the latest research findings and teaching best practice when combined with opportunities for real world application provide a strong foundation for students to understand and apply the skills required for legal innovation.

Claire McGourlay:

100%, I agree with JP, we have experts who are researching in this area and research led teaching is so important. We teach our students about legal innovation, co-create, and collaborate with them. This is one of the reasons we set up the Manchester Legal Technology Initiative so we could work with industrial partners on research and teaching development.

How does your course prepare and shape the next generation of law graduates? Why should students take part?

The course provides them with three main capabilities.

  • Access to the latest academic research and exposure to top quality teaching from recognised academic and industry professionals.
  • Insights into the cross section of law, commerce and technology covering a range of topics that go beyond the traditional law curriculum.
  • Developing transferrable skills and experiences that will help to differentiate themselves from other candidates when they enter the workforce.

Students should take part because it will help them understand the wider context of how the industry of law works, help prepare them to enter the workforce regardless of the route they choose and provide them with opportunities to meet, network and learn from both academic experts and industry specialists. Ultimately it enables them to understand and ready themselves for the change and challenge a career in the law requires.

From staffing to the curriculum and demand, what were some key challenges in creating the module and how did you strategise to overcome them?

We had a range of challenges

  • Identifying the right mix of relevant and applicable subjects (given the vast number of options) and aligning that with the specialist teaching expertise required to deliver it
  • Convincing industry expertise and academics to collaborate
  • Making the most of different teaching techniques to ensure the course wasn’t just traditional classroom learning
  • Providing opportunities for students to apply knowledge and gain exposure to how things work in practice as well as understanding the theoretical underpinning
  • Showing students how these new types of knowledge and skills are going to help them as they explore career options and showing that the demand from employers is changing.

However we put in place strategies to overcome the challenges:

  • Developing the curriculum with a diverse mix of expertise – academic and industry- this took us many years to develop and recruit the right staff to teach and deliver a module that has longevity and that can be sustained.
  • Engaging with students and employers to understand the requirements, interests and needs that the course should focus on and deliver
  • Creating the ability to adapt and refine the curriculum content iteratively rather than sticking to one static formula for multiple years

What should be the next steps in legal education?


We need to build on what we have already achieved and continue to work with Law Firms and Innovation teams to ensure that our students have the skills required of them in this malleable, changing, workplace. The industry is not standing still, nor should we. I love building things, creating, learning, making sure we are developing student skills in the right way, skills that mean something in the workplace, this also means learning with students, co creating, listening, and producing assessments that test those skills and that are inclusive.

What key insights and lessons should other law schools take from the University of Manchester’s Law Money and Technology module?

Many students want to take the module and we could fill the spaces 10 times over. We originally limited the space due to the way the course was designed, and we have now changed that to allow more students to take the module. We also have 6 members of staff contributing the module within their area of expertise. This shows there is appetite and demand for new programmes that align with the change we are seeing in the legal industry at all levels. The way we develop knowledge, skills and expertise that help students understand how to differentiate themselves benefits them, the university and potential employers is also key to our collaborative approach that makes the most of both academic and industry expertise and this works well if you can harness it. Also, don’t be afraid to listen to feedback and develop and refine the curriculum – it won’t be perfect the first time out but that is better than taking too long to develop something perfect. It is as much about enabling students to develop transferable knowledge and skills and a mindset of reflection and curiosity as it is teaching them about a particular aspect of law or how a specific technology works. This really is important, and it shouldn’t just be focussed on classroom learning but also opportunities for application and exposure to a wide range of stimulus.

Jonathan Patterson and Claire McGourlay

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