Soledad Atienza, newly appointed Dean of IE Law School, shares her vision for the future of IE Law School and recognizes the opportunities for the future of legal education and the profession.
How are law school’s responding to the disruption in the legal sector? Are we training students to be the leading legal professionals that society needs? Dean and Professor Soledad Atienza sheds some light on these questions and delves into the driving factors that shape global legal education, the consequent emerging responses and how we can address the challenges with a global and collaborative spirit.
What are three unique points you would use to describe IE Law School?
Global legal education. Our legal education goes beyond borders—which is now more important than ever. Training our students through comparative law, in order to master different legal systems, provides them a unique and creative global legal mindset. Our multijurisdictional programs offer access to legal professions in Spain, the UK, the US or India.
Joining law and technology. We’re committed to teaching using the power of technology to improve legal education, legal practice, and legal systems. We have implemented a variety of ways to explore tech and law—from Artificial Intelligence and data privacy, to issues related to cybersecurity and smart contracts—through our think tank, LawAhead, our Legal Tech Innovation Farm, an experiential Legal Tech lab, and our Jean Monnet Module.
Innovative teaching methodologies. Training global lawyers requires expertise and innovation, a challenge we take seriously. Our world-class faculty uses their academic and professional backgrounds to implement innovative teaching methodologies and legal industry know-how, creating the perfect combination to empower our graduates to succeed in the professional world.
Could you elaborate on your vision for IE Law School’s near future?
I see IE Law School as a reference point for global legal education, while also serving as a hub for legal professionals and the university community to foster:
- Innovation in legal education. Through our global comparative and multidisciplinary approach, as well as our multijurisdictional legal education model, we will play an active role in transforming global and tech-oriented legal education.
- Innovation in the legal profession. Through our research and teaching models, innovative technology and skills will be applied to the provision of legal services.
- Collaboration with the legal community. Through our close collaboration with the leaders in the private and public sectors of the global legal profession, we will serve the legal community, including various regions and legal systems, with forward-thinking methods and committed, passionate professionals.
What is IE Law School currently doing that you’re really excited about? And by the same token, what do you perceive as the biggest threat to the integrity of the school right now?
In general, this is a challenging time for society, academic institutions and law schools; however, it’s also an opportunity for institutions to move from a contingency plan to a strategic plan—which IE University has done.
Thanks to 20 years of experience in hybrid, high-quality formats, we have seamlessly moved to virtual classes. This smooth transition has been recognized—this year our Global Online MBA has been ranked first worldwide by QS and second by the Financial Times.
Not only have we shifted to virtual classes, we’ve adopted a new methodology for teaching: liquid learning. Our combined experience with blended education and innovative teaching methods has allowed us to explore new heights and provide students with immersive, experimental, and practical learning experiences that utilize both virtual and face-to-face learning.
It’s always a challenge to implement a new teaching strategy; but at IE University, we believe that we not only have the experience, but also the motivation and entrepreneurial mindset necessary to innovate higher education.
What is your overall opinion on the current processes in the Legal sector in regard to development, planning and implementation of tech strategies? Do you see differences between American, Asian and European schools’ curriculum and development processes?
As described in the report published by the International Bar Association, IBA – Task Force on the Future of Legal Services, by María Esteban, technology is one of the six drivers of change in the legal profession. According to Esteban, the UK, US, Australia and Canada standout in terms of research and publishing in this field. This proves that these regions are more advanced in tech strategy implementation.
In fact, this is one of the areas that will benefit from the current global pandemic, as it is accelerating digital transformation, especially within the legal profession. I believe this will continue to drive the creation and implementation of new tech strategies in order to provide more efficient legal services.
Law schools are beginning to transition into more technologically oriented institutions by introducing technology courses and launching programs designed to help the legal industry make the necessary changes to become a more digitized service.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for law students and legal professionals in this changing profession?
Technology and globalization are driving change in legal education and the legal profession. It’s important to promote global legal education because law schools have international students who want to practice law internationally, and candidates, students and future lawyers seek a global mindset.
I believe the main challenges that currently impact the legal profession and legal education are the regulations that restrict legal education. EU members have an advantage due to legal harmonization, making it easier to practice law across membering states. The legal market is slowly adapting and some law firms and legal services providers are hiring lawyers with international credentials; however, it’s not general practice. A change in legal culture is needed—more risks taken, and more innovative pedagogies.
Spain has received top business law firms’ offices and has become a destination for international firms due to the business opportunities and connection to Latin America. These law firms are hiring lawyers with a more international profile, as well as professional engineers or economists, showing the beginning of change.
Many legal professionals talk about the importance of the business of law, easily adopting words like brand management, consultative selling, legal tech, AI, etc., without knowing what they mean. Do you experience this lack of knowledge and how do you cope with knowledge levels?
IE Law School’s diverse student body, in both undergraduate and master programs, leads to varying educational backgrounds. In our master and executive education programs, our participants have different professional backgrounds. We’re therefore used to training our students in a diverse environment that includes having different profiles in the same classroom.
We embrace, and highly value, this educational and professional diversity, and at the same time understand the challenge of teaching in this environment. To help our students receive the best possible experience, many of our programs offer pre-courses for those who may not feel comfortable in one discipline or the other. Above all, we’ve established a learning methodology in which students learn not only from the faculty, but also from each other. This learning is fostered through the implementation of teamwork; it’s by interacting with each other that students achieve similar levels of knowledge.
Do other law schools understand the need to change the traditional curriculum, or at least pay more attention to the business of law?
Curriculum modification and implementing the business of law are relevant for law schools that focus on training lawyers. To fully understand the trends and challenges in legal education, and to create a recommendation guide for law schools and law associations around the world, IE Law School has joined forces with the International Bar Association and the Law Schools Global League to launch the Blueprint for Global Legal Education—a joint research project designed to explore legal education trends and challenges.
Seeking to identify the driving factors that shape global legal education, the consequent emerging responses and if the responses can address the challenges confronting legal professionals successfully, IE Law School has decided to coordinate the ambitious research project. The driving factors include globalization, technology and changes to regulatory frameworks.
We have worked intensively to study the trends that are shaping the future of legal services, with a particular focus on the impacts of globalization and technological disruption. Over 400 law schools, bar associations and other legal institutions have participated in this project, which will culminate in the publication of a report to be showcased at the IBA’s Annual Conference in November 2020. For more information click: Blueprint for Global Legal Education
As law schools are the breeding ground for lawyers, do you think the problem of change acceptance can be solved by changing the curriculum?
Changing the curriculum is a step, but it may not be enough. Law schools, in their role of driving innovation in the legal systems and the legal professions, need to take one step further to ensure that they continue to deliver on their mission.
We should aim for true collaboration, not only the goal to design programs to train lawyers that the law firms are looking for to best serve their clients, but instead, a deeper and more consistent collaboration. It is necessary to truly rethink the values and principles of legal education to make better lawyers for our society.
Law schools should work together to promote more vocations within the legal fields, not only lawyers. We need to work together with the public administration and the private sector in order to attract talented students to law and talented graduates to legal practice.