Professor Michael L. Bloom is the founding director of the Transactional Lab & Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. The clinic is an experiential program giving students the opportunity to work on transactional matters for large multinational companies.
Prof. Bloom is also the founder of Praktio, a provider of interactive, online learning games and exercises for developing practical contracts skills and knowhow. Praktio recently joined with two other training tools to form the Legal Launch Kit to help law students acquire the skills they now need to be effective in the rapidly changing law practice world. Professor Bloom is also the co-author of two books on contracts from a transactional perspective: Contracts and Commercial Transactions; and Contracts: A Transactional Approach, both published by Aspen.
The legal tech world is really taking off in terms of both development and ideas. That being said, what areas ripe for disruption do you think are not being given due attention/are being left behind?
I think we’re just scratching the surface of how we capture, organize, and deploy knowledge and lessons from experiences. Nobody should ever be recreating something they’ve already done or repeating a mistake they’ve already made, and, better yet, nobody should be doing any of that with respect to work or mistakes anyone in their organization has ever made. Knowledge management, information architecture, digital asset management — these are phrases I hope to achieve the buzzy heights of AI in legal as of late (not to say AI doesn’t have an important role to play in capturing, organizing, and deploying knowledge–those are great use cases for AI to be put to work).
What got you interested in legal tech?
I like making stuff. It’s basically how I spend all my time (whether that’s creating a law school clinic, book, company, product, or a staircase (I’ve built two!)). Legal tech is a great space for makers with a legal background. Technology, of course, allows each of us to have greater impact and reach, which is so powerful in a profession that’s traditionally built on one-to-one engagements and professional education that’s limited by capacity, time, and geographic constraints of physical classroom meetings–legal technology allows for one-to-many wherever and whenever.
Tell me a little about the impetus behind starting Praktio.
Four years ago, teaching students in my transactional clinic at Michigan Law. They’re there to work on real transactional matters for real clients and in many cases have never seen a contract before. Realizing this was akin to learning a new language, I looked around at other tools for learning languages — e.g., Rosetta Stone, Duolingo, Codeacademy, etc. I didn’t see anything like that for learning the language of contracts. So, I built it–originally as teaching materials for my clinic.
So, my students were the guinea pigs/alpha testers. Eventually, I started piloting it with law firms on the theory that if this is really useful for second- and third-year transactional clinic students to get them prepared for practice in the clinic, it would also be useful for summer and first-year associates to get them prepared for practice at law firms. And that turned out to be the case!
What do you think the most crucial thing people should know about legal tech?
I think you and I are both big believers in avoiding the trap of technology for technology’s sake. Useful tech development and adoption starts with understanding the problem you’re trying to solve and building a solution that solves it, ideally involving stakeholders/users/decision makers throughout to keep you aligned on the right goals and hopefully to get the buy-in needed for the tech to be used effectively. A great way to avoid building/using tech for tech’s sake is to start small and cheap — which often means exploring the least tech-heavy solutions first (which might be no tech)! One way to do that is mapping out a process to see opportunities for improvement. And then mapping those improvements onto a grid with one axis labeled “high impact–low impact” and the other labeled “high cost–low cost.” Then you can make your backlog, prioritizing high impact-low cost items first.
As the Director of Transactional Lab & Clinic at Michigan Law, how do you go about teaching law students how to think about/use legal technology?
It’d be a disservice to my students if I let them leave law school without some eyes on where the legal market has gone and where it seems poised to go. Of course, nobody has a crystal ball, but I want them to be thinking about macro trends in the market over time, as part of their taking ownership of their careers starting now. That conversation is bigger than legal tech but includes it.
More immediately and tactically, I expose them to some tech tools and require them to use them in their practice in my clinic.
I encourage them to tinker and explore other tools, which I often model for them in class or supervision.
We spend a day in seminar discussing the future of law, and I bring in folks from different corners of the profession (e.g., former students working at legal tech startups or “alternative” legal service providers) to partake in that conversation. As part of that conversation, we typically discuss how it’s table stakes for lawyers to be aware of and use the best tools to best serve their clients. As clients, we’d expect the same of any other service provider (from doctors to carpenters, who wants to hire someone who uses outdated tools?). And we also talk about how now’s a pretty exciting moment if you’re someone who enjoys making–because it’s a great time to be a maker with a legal background.