April 5, 2022

Fostering Innovation

Students leading the future of law

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of innovation in the legal profession. UCalgary Law took advantage of this opportunity, and the foundation already put in place by the school in the innovation space, to launch our own Innovation Internship Program in the summer of 2021. Law schools looking to enhance students’ success to thrive in the future workplace can benefit from our experience.

The Foundation Already Established

Preparing students for the modern legal marketplace is one of our top priorities at UCalgary Law. The portfolio of innovative courses we offer includes innovation, project management, leadership for lawyers, business skills for lawyers, entrepreneurial law, eLitigation, and a Business Venture Clinic. Beyond individual classes, a spirit of innovation is present throughout the law school, fostered by the Dean of Law, Dr. Ian Holloway.

Having first partnered with the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP) in securing innovation internships with much success, we didn’t want to lose momentum when IFLP paused its internship program. With IFLP’s blessing, we moved forward with launching our own program in 2021. Students have expressed that they received great value from the program, and one student has even shared that they chose to attend UCalgary Law because of the program.

Objectives and Framework

Experiential learning and entrepreneurial thinking are vital focuses at the University of Calgary. The program’s objective is to allow students to learn from innovative employers while gaining experience in the critical skills required for the business of law in the 21st Century.

The program begins with foundational training, followed by a 10-week to 16-week summer internship, culminating in final presentations at the end of the internship term.

Foundational Training and Skills

Training for the interns consists of two components — the Foundational Training Program and the Legal Technology Assessment.

The Foundational Training Program provides key methodologies used to identify, develop, and implement solutions to industry issues. These include process mapping, stakeholder needs identification, project management, and communication. Additional topics include business of law in the 21st century, business structures, key performance indicators, understanding data analytics, leveraging data in the legal profession, understanding legal technology solutions, and change management. In addition, students learn the challenges facing various stakeholders in the profession from Big Law, to boutique firms, to corporate legal departments and the courts. Finally, the training culminates with a legal case study where students work in teams to evaluate and present solutions to an industry problem.

Students also complete the Legal Technology Assessment offered through Procertas, achieving Qualified Level on the Word Contract, Excel, and PDF modules. Word Brief, Word Memo, and PowerPoint modules are optional training.

Students with an agile mindset are poised to adapt and thrive in change.

Considerations in Launching a Program

Students benefit from experiential learning and a program like this is a great opportunity. Law schools considering launching their own innovation internship program should carefully consider resourcing. It is critical to assess the capacity in your team to set up and deliver the program. Do you have a staff member who can market the program? Securing employers is not just a matter of developing and sending out promotional materials — it involves a significant amount of time and follow-up.

Employers may also be more eager to signup if any wage subsidies exist. We took advantage of a government-funded program that subsidized our internships. Some programs can be administrative-heavy so carefully evaluate options. We are pivoting our approach this year based on our own funding model.

Finally, the foundational training program will require expertise and resources. Determine what resources exist in your faculty. You may need to secure outside help to ensure a successful program.

Building the Future

Change in the legal profession is rapidly occurring, and students with an agile mindset are poised to adapt and thrive in change. Whether it is a small step such as hosting a panel with alumni working in innovative JD Advantage careers or launching your own innovation internship program, you’ll be taking a step forward in continuing to support your students by positioning them to thrive, not just survive, in their future legal careers.

This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of NALP Bulletin+.