LAII Announces Leadership Change
Effective June 1, 2022, Prof. Patrick Parsons will become the Executive Director of the LAII. Associate Dean and Prof. Kris Niedringhaus will become the Faculty Director. We talked with Profs. Parsons, Niedringhaus, Tucker, and Chapman about this exciting change.
Introducing Professor Patrick Parsons
For folks who don’t know you, please tell us about your professional background and something unique about you.
I’m originally from Southwestern Pennsylvania, where I attended Penn State University as an undergrad and the University of Pittsburgh for law school. After graduating from law school in 2009, I practiced for a few years doing a wide range of things from criminal defense to small civil cases to large-scale document review. Coming out of school in the wake of a national recession and taking on a number of private clients in several practice areas gave me an appreciation for functional tools and resources in the practice of law. This led me to return to school at the University of Arizona where I was accepted into a Law Library Fellowship Program and received my Master’s in Information and Library Science.
I have worked as a professional law librarian for the past seven and one-half years, six of those at Georgia State College of Law teaching and developing courses including Research Methods in Law, Advanced Legal Research, and a legal tech course called Legal Technology Competencies and Operations. As far as I know, GSU is one of the only schools that offers a standalone course centered on basic software and technology competency.
How did you develop your interest in law and technology, and how has that played out in your role at Georgia State College of Law?
I think I come at this job, legal technology, legal data, and analytics from a different perspective than most. As a librarian and a self-proclaimed functionalist – I like things that help us to do our jobs in innovative and effective ways. I enjoy problem-solving, process improvement, and innovation. I was exposed to the Kia Tech Audit and legal tech competencies very early in my career, namely knowing how to leverage technology and software efficiently and effectively in the practice of law. I had always looked for ways to integrate tech competency issues into my research classes. However, it wasn’t until the College of Law began the LAII that I imagined there would be a place for a standalone course. One of my favorite things about working at GSU is their openness to try new and innovative courses. So, I proposed this new course, began teaching it the next year, and slowly but surely began working more and more in the legal technology and analytics sphere.
What can you share about the transition process and when your new role officially begins?
I have been working in the background planning for this transition and the coming year, including the development of a new Technology & Innovation Track for our Certificate in Legal Analytics & Innovation, since November 2021. I will take over for Professor Chapman as the Executive Director of LAII starting June 1, 2022.
Tell us about the team at the College of Law Library and your plans
Kris Niedringhaus, Assoc. Dean for Library, Information Services, Legal Technology & Innovation will take over as our new faculty director. The restructuring will also allow us to hire two new positions, a Data & Analytics Services Professional to provide expertise in data and coding and a Legal Technologies Librarian who will act as a subject matter expert on all things legal tech. These new hires will allow us to learn, speak, and teach in many areas in the legal technology universe.
What are you excited about for the program?
We’re excited to continue and expand on the work of Professors Alexander, Smelcer, Tucker, and Chapman. As I alluded to before, we are in the process of restructuring our certificate to provide more opportunities and training to those students interested in legal technology but not analytics. This includes adding a new Introduction to Legal Technology course and an entire Technology and Innovation Path to our pre-existing Certificate in Legal Analytics & Innovation. We’re taking what I see as a very Georgia State-based approach to LAII. The universe of legal technology, innovation, and analytics is enormous. I believe our role and ultimate goal is to train our students in both legal technology and analytics, giving them the real-world skills to actively engage in both areas.
What should our partners know about the skills students will be graduating with?
They will have them! Students who pursue the Legal Analytics path will have real experience working with analytical data. Admittedly, the second two years of law school aren’t enough time to get a thorough data science and legal education. However, students coming out of this certificate path will understand both the data and legal sides of problems, allowing them to work with data themselves and act as attorney translators, explaining legal issues to data scientists and similarly the data-based options and solutions to attorneys. Students opting to take the Tech & Innovation (T&I) Path will have the opportunity to work with, evaluate, and gain expertise in legal tech and legal tech issues. The path requires each student to develop basic tech competency skills and gain exposure to several legal technology topics in their other elective courses. We are currently developing a T&I capstone course that will focus on real work tech and tech-adjacent skills, including strategic planning, tech implementation, process improvement, and other big picture skills and processes useful to any tech-forward legal professional.
Kris Niedringhaus, Associate Dean for Library & Information Services and Clinical Professor of Law will become Faculty Director of the LAII. We asked her to share her thoughts.
You’ve been very active with the national Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (“CALI”). What is CALI? How do you see that work connecting with the work around this Initiative?
CALI is a non-profit consortium, mainly of law schools, focused on using technology to advance legal education and access to justice. CALI has been around for 40 years and is a leader in the field. Many law students and graduates will know CALI best for CALI lessons and the CALI Excellence for the Future Awards, given to the top student in a class by participating law schools. CALI lessons are written by professors and librarians who are experts in their topic and provide online lessons interspersed with questions designed to test student learning and redirect the student appropriately if needed. In the early years, students would receive the lessons on a CD that they could take home or use in the computer lab. As far as I know, CALI was the first to innovate this area. But CALI is much more, they were also leaders in providing open education resources through the eLangdell coursebook program that provides free, peer-reviewed books that can be downloaded for free and modified by faculty. CALI has also been a leader in using technology to promote Access to Justice through their A2JAuthor platform.
CALI has long been a leader in using technology both in law schools and Access to Justice initiatives. I think there is a natural similarity in our interests and the possibility of collaborations with an organization like CALI, and other leaders in legal technology would be a great opportunity for our students.
Law librarians have been at the forefront of knowledge management and legal technology initiatives. Why are librarians the leaders in this area?
Historically, law librarians have always worked with what are essentially large data sets, be those case reports, statutes, regulations, etc. As legal research transitioned from print to electronic, law librarians embraced the change and often became the technology leader in their organization. The same is true as libraries transitioned from card catalogs to online library systems that manage the online public access catalog and functions such as circulation, purchasing, and cataloging. These tools are all about using technology to work more efficiently, organize, and analyze information. Librarians’ knowledge and skills translate directly to using technology in legal practice and data analysis.
You regularly work with members of the practicing bar. What do you think they want to see from GSU graduates in terms of technology and analytics skills?
These skills are on a continuum, and employers will have different needs. Some organizations will want to hire GSU graduates that have powerful analytics skills, including being able to do coding and data manipulation. Towards the other end of the spectrum, some organizations may not need someone who can do the coding and analytics themselves but need someone who understands enough legal technology to evaluate technology tools and ask the right questions before adopting a particular product. Other employers may be looking for graduates who can innovate workflows and help the organization work more efficiently through technology. GSU Law is already preparing our graduates to meet this range of legal technology and analytics needs, and I’m excited about the possibility of continuing the vital analytics work of LAII while expanding the Initiative curriculum into other types of legal technology and innovation.
What excites you about working with Prof. Parsons on this Initiative?
Prof. Parsons has a wonderful combination of qualities that will be critical to growing the Initiative. He is a strategic and innovative thinker who focuses on what students will need to know in practice and how to develop that knowledge and skills. He also has a great sense of humor which isn’t critical to the Initiative but makes working with him very enjoyable. Prof. Parsons and I have been informally collaborating on legal technology teaching for several years and last year worked together on a significant redesign of our required 1L Research Methods courses. I always learn something new when I collaborate with Patrick, and I’m looking forward to working with him on this Initiative.
Some thoughts from Professor Anne Tucker, the inaugural Faculty Director of the LAII
Professor Tucker, what will be your relationship with LAII going forward? How will you still be involved?
Going forward, I will be involved with the Legal Analytics and Innovation Initiative primarily through my ongoing research. While serving as the faculty director of the program for the last several years, I have incorporated legal analytics methodologies in most of my research streams. For example, working with Drs. Smelcer and Xia, we’re developing computational tools to analyze the content of mutual fund disclosures. We have several projects coming out of that work focused on disclosure tone, boilerplate language, and Covid-19-related disclosures. While I am stepping down as faculty director, I will be redoubling my research efforts in the field. Our research work is a part of a larger strategic vision to elevate Legal Analytics @ GSU to showcase the interdisciplinary research happening across our campus and professions.
Most of all, I hope to stay involved with our students! I want to be considered a part of the legal analytics faculty available to advise students and identify growth opportunities for the program. Basically, I’m here to help Patrick in any way needed going forward.
What have you learned from working with Prof. Chapman and building this program?
First and foremost, working with Ben has been a pleasure! I am sad to say goodbye to our dynamic duo. For anybody who’s had the opportunity to get to know Ben, his big heart and good intentions clearly shine through, which made a great foundation for us to work together. I have learned a lot from his technical knowledge—how to use programs like Calendly to be more efficient. I have learned a great deal about coding from him, and about patience and perseverance! Ben will dig into a hard problem and not let it go until he is satisfied. He also takes his time with students and with problems. I can move too fast and miss the opportunity to connect or to appreciate the bigger picture. Ben has helped me see the value in slowing down, at least some of the time. More than anything, Ben kept the program grounded and student-focused, and for that, I will always be grateful.
What are you excited about the for next chapter of LAII at GSU?
I am excited to package the existing curricular strengths in legal technology at the COL as a core component of the certificate program. I have been narrowly focused on the power of computation tools to bring structure to unstructured data (like the text in court opinions) and discover observable patterns in how the law is applied. The promise of unlocking knowledge frozen in legal text was my main motivation in building the program. But now I see that this is only one part of the larger law and technology movement. How lawyers will use technology to make data-driven decisions, streamline workflows, and expand access to justice is bigger than legal analytics alone. The new program formulation recognizes that and hopefully will make an even bigger impact in our mission to prepare lawyers that are practice ready, and future ready. Patrick and Kris’s expertise in legal technology and their commitment to this broader vision will bring new curricular and outreach opportunities to the program. I couldn’t ask for a better transition of leadership, and I am excited to see the program grow under their leadership.
Ben Chapman shares his thoughts as he prepares to depart GSU
You joined LAII in December 2018. What are you most proud of accomplishing as the first Executive Director of LAII?
I’m proud that we were able to build such a strong program during a time of unprecedented challenge and change. It’s deeply satisfying to me that we were able to develop and refine this new program, work with faculty to develop new courses and options for students, and successfully transition the program to new leadership. I was pleased to play a role in the development of new courses for the COL curriculum. Being able to participate in our work with Florida Center for Capital Representation on the use of aggravators in Florida death penalty cases was very rewarding work. This work eventually led to additional work on Georgia death penalty and life sentence cases. All these projects leveraged evolving public sources of law and combined that with analytic approaches that used sophisticated tools to analyze large numbers of cases. At the heart of all these projects were bright, motivated, and dedicated students, and it was a delight to spend so much time around them. I am very proud that we were able to successfully graduate our first classes of Certificate students, along with dual-degree and LL.M. students.
The world has changed during your time at GSU, especially because of the pandemic. What do you think these changes means for the future of law and technology/legal analytics?
There has been dramatic change in three major areas. First, there has been an extraordinary increase in terms of dollar investment in legal technology companies and products. We finally appear to be at a tipping point in terms of the ways in which law is practiced, given these investments. Second, the evolution of machine learning tools continues at an extraordinary and accelerating pace. These tools are now able to leverage an enormous and growing body of public domain case and statutory law, along with regulatory filings. Third, and perhaps most importantly, there is a dramatic and fundamental change in the social environment of work, driven both by generational change and by external factors such as the global pandemic and the price of office space. The growth in remote work as a non-negotiable requirement poses several exciting challenges and opportunities for legal practice and the development of new technologies. All these factors combine to create incredible change momentum.
What lessons or skills have you learned because of building this program?
I have learned so many things – it is difficult to know where to begin. First, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from gifted faculty members, such as Professors Alexander, Smelcer, and Tucker. Professor Tucker was simply amazing to work with and I benefitted so much from the time that I spent with her. She is an incredibly collaborative colleague, and I could not have asked for a better partner in realizing a shared vision for the program. She is also one of the most hardworking collaborators I’ve ever had.
I appreciated getting the opportunity to improve my teaching and advising skills. I was also deeply gratified to play a role in assisting faculty with the development of new courses, such as Blockchain and the Law, and Legal Innovation. As for technology, while I am a long-time systems administrator and coder, I deepened my knowledge of software environments directly related to data analytics, and I also got a crash course in machine learning and statistical analysis. My role also required me to work with other departments, staff, and faculty. I learned much more about student support and the tools available to provide that support and got even more of an appreciation for the many moving parts that go together to make a great law school. I learned how much a scrappy, entrepreneurial law school with the right people can accomplish–and I also learned a little bit about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
What do you see for the future of LAII at GSU?
I am excited to see the direction that Professors Parsons and Niedringhaus will take this program. They are committed to training lawyers for future practice and giving them a solid grounding in the tools and techniques that will make them immediately productive in their professional careers. I hope the core technology training that Certificate students receive will be shared more broadly with the law school community. The quantitative, analytical, and technology skills that the Certificate students learn can absolutely benefit all Georgia State University College of Law students.
You have been the heart and soul of the LAII program, and you will be missed! People may be surprised to learn about your transition—what can you share about your transition and what’s next in store for you?
I want to start by saluting Professors Tucker and Alexander for developing this program. It’s a testament to their vision and hard work. I have so enjoyed a part of it and of the GSU Law community. I do wish that I had found the College of Law earlier in my career. It is a unique law school with a mission that aligns very much with my goals.
However, my partner is now an Associate Dean at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord, New Hampshire and so we have a new corner of the world to hike, bike, and paddle. I have been working professionally for the last 30 years–first as a lawyer, and then in various law and technology positions at three law schools (Tulsa, Emory, and now GSU). I am ready to take a break for a bit to figure out how I can best use my skills to make an impact in the future. I am currently working on an article on doing legal research using open-source databases and new computational tools, and I imagine I’ll continue to work on similar topics going forward.