BYU law school creates legal design lab to improve accessibility

The J. Reuben Clark Law School recently announced the creation of LawX, a legal design lab focused on making legal services more accessible and helping the public better understand their legal rights.

LawX is the nationally acclaimed law school’s solution to the increasingly difficult legal landscape and costs thrust on Utahns facing lawsuits.

D. Gordon Smith and Kimball Parker devised the program. D. Gordon Smith is the law school’s dean and Kimball Parker is an acclaimed legal tech entrepreneur and litigator for Parsons Behle and Latimer law firm. Parker is set to lead LawX.

Parker said people involved in the most common cases often proceed without a lawyer because of cost.

Matt Imbler, BYU Law
From left: Kimball Parker, set to lead LawX, stands with D. Gordon Smith of BYU Law School.  (Matt Imbler)

“In the law, there is a serious problem,” Parker said, “Legal services have become so expensive that most can’t afford them. It’s a problem that’s been growing and now it’s reached crisis levels that can be seen easily in Utah.”

Over 62 percent of Utah defendants are processed through misdemeanor courts without a lawyer, according to The Sixth Amendment Center, a non-profit organization that evaluates public defense systems.

LawX traces its inception to Margaret Hagen, a Stanford Law School professor. Hagen spoke at BYU’s Future of Law lecture series on Oct. 12, 2016 about the Stanford Legal Design Lab.

The concept intrigued D. Gordon Smith, Dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School. Smith visited Hagen’s lab in Palo Alto in January and recruited Parker upon returning to Utah to develop a design lab at BYU.

BYU will join forerunner Stanford as one of the few universities across the country exploring the intersection of law and technology through a legal design lab. Each term, LawX will push students to solve a new legal issue contributing to law inaccessibility in Utah, beginning with helping self-represented defendants respond to lawsuits.

Parker said BYU provides the perfect environment for a program like LawX to flourish because economic factors prevent businesses and start-ups from addressing legal issues.  With customers who are unable to spend large amounts of money and are unlikely to use the service again, companies would be unable to make a profit and appease investors, unlike a university, which is not revenue driven.

“Legal tech is a burgeoning segment of the technology market, and the Legal Design Lab offers students an opportunity to combine their interest in entrepreneurship with their developing expertise in law,” Smith said.

Attorney David Schow said lawyers need to be able to articulate the law and its application to a specific client’s needs.

“Too often, legal education is focused strictly on the theoretical or academic exercise of an idea,” Schow said. “In the real world, lawyers are required to give clients answers. It appears as though LawX will force students to do that.”

Parker believes Utah provides a unique opportunity for LawX to work with the close-knit legal community, including the Supreme Court, to implement meaningful solutions in the state’s legal framework.

“BYU is really becoming a leader in legal innovation,” Parker said, “BYU Law is going to have a significant impact on the future practice of law and this is going to be a big part of that.”

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