LawTech Edinburgh: connecting law and tech students

January 28, 2020

Many in the legal and tech professions are aware that their respective worlds could do more to work together for mutual benefit. Just the other week, the FT featured an editorial on 10th January 2020 entitled “Big tech and law must learn to work together”  reflecting the growing awareness of the impact of the distance between these two monoliths of modern society, and how this may become more of a problem in 2020. 

The current disconnect is particularly pronounced in the tertiary education sphere where law and technology students, despite often sharing a campus, may never cross paths until they enter the world of work. Prompted by this I, along with peers from law and technology backgrounds, have developed a grass-roots discussion forum initiating the improvement of relations and understanding between law and tech students, called “LawTech”.

LawTech is a special interest group at the University of Edinburgh. The group began its first iteration in January 2018, when a group of law students became interested in the crossover of technology and law. LawTech works under the umbrella of the University of Edinburgh Computing Society, CompSoc. This meant LawTech could benefit from the expertise, outreach and advice of those on the CompSoc board, whilst also providing a hands-off approach to the day-to-day running of LawTech. More importantly, this link reflects a key ethos of LawTech – that of encouraging greater liaison and engagement between law and technology students. Without the help of the CompSoc, it would have been very difficult to access and attract the technology students interested in these areas.

I took over LawTech in September 2019, with the intention of restarting, reinvigorating and expanding the group beyond its initial remit of technology in law, to the wider area of technology and law. My aim was, and continues to be, the development and creation of stronger relations between those in technology and law, starting as early as possible. 

At the Law and Technology Conference 2019 in Glasgow, organised by the Law Society of Scotland, many commented on  what was viewed as a lack of engagement from young lawyers around the potentials of technology. Although that is an understandable and valid concern, it is my experience that the lack of engagement comes less from a lack of interest and more from an unclear view of what the remit of law and technology could actually be and  the two could impact  wider society. This disparity seems to me clear both from  the comments at the conference and  my accumulated knowledge of the industry.

Our approach to combining the worlds of law and technology has been based on a simple premise: many people do not want to join the conversation due to the fear that they do not know enough to have a valid opinion. 

Our work in the last three months of 2019 has focused on this fear. We curated Discussion Workshops looking specifically at wider areas of technology and explaining the basic concepts, before developing a discussion of the current state of law around these areas. The idea is not to lecture but to open the forum to those with different backgrounds and experiences, whether technology or law or other, and to allow those in the room to share their knowledge and learning. We are not experts in these fields, but we want to facilitate best practice and open to cross fertilization of knowledge, problems, experiences. 

By creating the opportunity to create and discuss presentations, we are hoping that law and tech students will see the benefits of alternative views and thought processes and hence recognise that they are capable of innovative and valuable contributions, regardless of experience. 

So far, this model has developed well. The Discussion Workshops have included topics on Data Rights, Cryptocurrency, and Cybersecurity, introducing the concepts and giving real life examples alongside fictional case studies.. Between 10 and 20 people have attended these sessions which, given our team initially consisted of two people (me, and my fellow law student Zack Parekh), has been a very positive and encouraging beginning to this project. Since September, we have opened up the development of the workshops to those with specific interests, as well as developing a group (now upwards of 40 people) that shares and discusses these topics and more outwith scheduled workshops.

This coming semester we are looking at consolidating the work, preparing plans to continue our workshops, and developing new and exciting events. Primarily, we want to show students the exponential growth of future careers where law and tech intersect by inviting professional and academic speakers to discuss their work, and to build stronger links with the Law and Informatics faculties at the University of Edinburgh. 

On a more personal note, most important to us is to continue with our primary aim, promoting genuine interest in, and understanding of, the many future paths that the burgeoning industries of law and technology will provide.

(Editor’s note: if you are an SCL member in the Edinburgh area, Lauren would love to hear from you — connect via LinkedIn 

picture of lauren graham

Lauren Graham