From the Dean

April 15, 2019Duke Law News

Dean Kerry AbramsDear Friends:

When I became dean last summer, one area I knew I wanted to delve into immediately was technology. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other emerging technologies are frequent topics of conversation in the legal profession, in part because of how they are beginning to disrupt the way lawyers work. But advances like these do not just cause problems, they also create opportunities to teach, to study, and to learn. Duke Law School has been at the forefront of technological change for decades, from analyzing the internet’s impact on intellectual property and championing digital access to legal scholarship to examining the law and ethics of DNA testing and high-tech warfare and genetic manipulation. We are also part of a great research university that’s home to some of the world’s leading minds in engineering, computer science, medicine, and life sciences, and where interdisciplinary engagement is prized. And we live in a region that is a global hub of innovation and entrepreneurship in IT, biotech, clean energy, and more. Little wonder that our students graduate uniquely comfortable engaging with technology and its impact on our society.

To assess how emerging technologies might impact our teaching and research missions, I formed a Strategic Planning for Innovation and Technology Committee made up of distinguished members of our faculty. This group has already made great strides in evaluating the institutional and interdisciplinary opportunities in this realm and thinking through the sticky points of prioritization and collaboration. For example, they have explored how the Law School can leverage resources elsewhere on campus to embed instruction in data science throughout our curriculum. They’ve also looked at ways that we could be an expanded resource to other departments on the legal and ethical issues that these technologies pose to society.  

A key member of the committee is Associate Clinical Professor Jeff Ward JD/LLM ’09, whom I appointed in December as our first associate dean for technology and innovation. Jeff, who directs the Duke Center on Law & Technology, is quickly developing a national profile in this sphere. He was named to the 2018 Fastcase 50 list of entrepreneurs, visionaries, and innovators in the area of law and legal technology, in part for his efforts to help law students explore new technologies and understand how they will affect the law. In his new position, he is helping me develop programs to support research and broader thought leadership on law, technology, and innovation, as well as facilitating and coordinating the development of related curriculum. He is also serving as the Law School’s primary point person to the Office of the Provost and other schools and institutes at Duke to develop collaborations for interdisciplinary research or curricular programs in law and technology.

I have also been working on integrating a broader range of technical expertise into our research instruction and support with Femi Cadmus, who joined the Law School in November as Archibald C. and Frances Fulk Rufty Research Professor of Law, associate dean of information services and technology, and director of the J. Michael Goodson Law Library. Our law library has long been a focal point for instruction in technology — beginning with the rigorous legal research and writing course that all 1Ls go through and also the upper-level introduction to law office technology — as well as for using technology to aid empirical research. Femi, who previously directed the library at Cornell Law School and was also a member of the 2018 Fastcase 50, has been focused on how to integrate technology into legal research and instruction throughout her 30-year career in law librarianship. One of the first items on her agenda at Duke was to hire an associate director to support the growing amount of data-driven research that our faculty and students are undertaking.

Jeff and Femi are just two of our faculty members who have emerged as thought leaders on matters of law, technology, and innovation that you will read about in two related features in this issue of Duke Law Magazine. The first frames our approach to training lawyers who have the skills to do more than just incorporate technology into their practice, but fully understand legal and regulatory frameworks applicable to emerging and often disruptive technologies and appreciate their cultural, social, and ethical implications. We aim to train visionary leaders in a world of continuing technological evolution and change, which demands creativity and interdisciplinary collaboration, and we want them to be central in establishing principles and protocols for how we build and deploy technology. The second story focuses on leadership in the area of cybersecurity and data-breach response, something virtually every lawyer will at some point confront, regardless of practice area. A data breach raises problems that generally lack traditional solutions and cut across disciplines. Our goal, again, is to ensure that our graduates emerge as wise counselors and team leaders in crafting the correct response.

This is an exciting time to be a lawyer, and an exciting time to be training lawyers. I can’t imagine a better place than Duke to be doing that.

Thank you for your friendship and support,

Kerry Abrams

James B. Duke and Benjamin N. Duke Dean and Professor of Law