Today’s High-Tech Teaches Tomorrow’s Lawyers

School of Law launches award-winning global initiative

After a semester of connecting virtually, students, reconnect at UM to present their capstone projects before an expert panel of judges in law, business, and entrepreneurship.

Law students Liz Rieser-Murphy, University of Miami, and Wu Dan, Peking University School of Transnational Law, didn’t let the reality of living a continent apart keep them from together tackling a growing concern in legal practice. Thanks to a new initiative sponsored by the University of Miami School of Law, they were able to use virtual technology to erase the distance.

The result of their collaboration, a website that provides credentialing information for lawyers around the world, was one of 11 projects created during LawWithoutWalls, which kicked off in London this past January.

“LawWithoutWalls is all about identifying problems in legal education or practice and finding real solutions to them,” explains its founder and co-creator Michele DeStefano Beardslee, an associate law professor at Miami Law. “Business school students are challenged to be entrepreneurs; law students should be, too.”

Law professor Michele DeStefano Beardslee demonstrates.

As such, LawWithoutWalls eschews the classroom paradigm. After an in-person training, its inaugural 23 students from Miami Law, Fordham Law, Harvard Law, New York Law School, Peking University School of Transnational Law, and University College London Faculty of Laws met weekly with mentors via Adobe Connect, a web-conferencing tool, and kept in contact with each other through Skype and Zoho, a cloud-based document management system.

They reunited in April at Miami Law to present their final Projects of Worth during a capstone event, dubbed the “ConPosium,” where they were judged by a panel of experts in law, business, and entrepreneurship. The rest of the LawWithoutWalls community chatted on Skype and voted for the best projects using clickers.

The global venture has already won national media attention and a 2011 InnovAction Award from the College of Law Practice Management. Next year’s student base will double in size and diversity with the addition of IE Business School in Spain, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Stanford Law School, Universidad de Los Andes Facultad de Derecho in Colombia, University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, and Sydney Law School.

DeStefano Beardslee and her LawWithoutWalls co-creator, Michael Bossone, special advisor to Miami Law Dean Patricia D. White, credit this overwhelming success to “the support and energy of our students, their mentors, the deans at the participating schools, and the 80-plus others who were involved.”

They cite as critical contributors to the program’s introduction and advancement Dean White, a recognized change agent, and Peter Lederer, former managing partner of the global law firm Baker & McKenzie.

“We’ve created a new model for what virtual education can be in law and in other disciplines,” notes Bossone. “We are excited about the future.”

And that future, UM student and LawWithoutWalls participant Kara Romagnino told Time magazine, is crystal clear: “Technology and globalization have touched everything,” she said. “If I’m going to be a lawyer, I can’t keep thinking it doesn’t touch me.”