Gabe Teninbaum is the Assistant Dean for Innovation, Strategic Initiatives and Distance Education, as well as a Professor of Legal Writing, at Suffolk University Law School. Among other responsibilities, he leads the #1 ranked legal tech program in the nation, as ranked by National Jurist Magazine. He has taught more than 10 different courses (including classes held in Hungary, Sweden, and at MIT) and has published more than 30 law review pieces and other articles.
Tell me a little about your background and how you ended up in your current role.
I started my career with the federal government, where I worked for the U.S. Secret Service. I went to Suffolk Law at night while doing so. I eventually left government work and was an associate at a Boston firm, where I was lucky enough to learn the ropes from some outstanding trial attorneys. Even though I enjoyed being a trial lawyer, I had really enjoyed law school and attending had given me the bug to teach. So, when Suffolk Law posted that they were hiring, I applied. It all worked out, and I’m in my 14th year now. I was hired as a legal writing professor, though I haven’t taught in our outstanding Legal Practice Skills program for several years. Instead, I’ve focused my teaching and research on legal tech. Since 2015, I’ve overseen our legal innovation and technology (“LIT”) programs, and in 2020, I was named an Assistant Dean overseeing Innovation, Strategic Initiatives and Distance Education. I’m very lucky to have been put in a position to think about, and be involved with, tons of fascinating stuff. I’m very grateful to be where I am.
What are your thoughts on how legal education currently aligns with the current practice of law?
I’ll limit my answer to Suffolk Law, where we work very hard to align the two. Beyond the traditional courses and a huge catalog of electives, we also give students as many valuable experiences as we can to supplement what they learn in the classroom. For example, in a typical year, something like a hundred of our 1Ls spend the summer as judicial interns in Massachusetts courts, and get an up-close-and-personal perspective on litigation, all while getting mentored by a judge. We have unique programs like the Accelerator to Practice, which is the first of its kind, comprehensive three-year course of study and practice designed to prepare graduates to join or start sustainable law practices serving average-income individuals and families. Also, on the cutting-edge end of things, we have the nation’s #1 ranked legal tech program, per National Jurist Magazine. We’re quite focused on showing students how to deliver legal services in all new ways and to be competitive for legal jobs with titles that didn’t even exist 20 years ago (our alums titles include Legal Solutions Architects, Innovation Consultants, Legal Project Manager, and more). Plus, I don’t want to leave out that the school has invested in significant ways to align our more traditional programs with law practice. For example, Suffolk Law has top 25 nationally ranked legal writing, clinical, and ADR programs.
What’s your opinion on lawyers and learning how to code?
If you mean learning enough code to build your own software from scratch, then I think that’s unnecessary for most everyone, but terrific for those with the passion and inclination to learn it. However, I think every legal professional should have an understanding of the relevant technologies to their practice areas, and to make smart decisions about when to use them. Part and parcel of that is having a broad understanding of what coding is and what sorts of problems it’s capable of solving (and just as importantly, what problems it’s not capable of solving).
Access to justice is an ongoing area of focus within legal tech circles. Why is it important and how is legal tech helping address it?
Access to justice is necessary for a free and fair society. Roughly one million impoverished Americans a year who qualify for free legal aid get turned away (a number I fear will be worse in the COVID era). These are folks who need help to keep their home, keep their family together, or get access to healthcare or other benefits they are entitled to. There are fantastic efforts underway to close this gap, including the courtformsonline.org project the Suffolk LIT Lab leads. We need lots of more of projects like this because I think it’s unlikely there will ever be sufficient funding for legal aid attorneys to solve these problems, so using technologies to help bridge the gap (particularly in areas where technologies do the tasks as well or better than humans) is necessary.
What do you think are the top five skills a new lawyer should possess upon first entering the legal industry and why?
I’m going to fight the hypo and say that people should use the Delta Model to identify relevant skills. In essence, the Delta Model cuts across three categories of skills legal professionals need to develop to be successful: understanding of the law, understanding business & operations (to include things like legal tech and data analysis), and personal effectiveness skills (teamwork, negotiation skills, interviewing, etc.). Each of those has several different skills people should learn, either in law school or law practice, and this is what frames how I think about teaching my students and designing courses. But, if that’s considered fighting the hypo, I’ll go with “Excel.”