Foundation of new research centre for legal tech

“A new way of thinking”: about the new Bucerius Center for Legal Technology and Data Science. Research booklet 2020/21: article #2.

The Bucerius Center for Legal Technology and Data Science was established in 2020 with the aim of enabling students to apply computer science methods to law and to conduct research on them. We talked to the center’s directors, Dirk Hartung and Daniel M. Katz, about the foundation – and what they envisage for the future.

Mr. Hartung, Mr. Katz, will lawyers also have to be computer scientists in the future?

Dirk Hartung: I’d say that every citizen of the 21st century needs data literacy, at least if he or she wants to play an active role in society. The thing is, when something happens in the physical world, we generally know what‘s going on or have an intuition – which is not the case in the digital world. In many professions, we therefore need an understanding of how to deal with data.

Future judges or lawyers will come into contact with the results and conflicts of digital value creation and large data volumes. It simply makes sense to have written some code, because that helps to understand computer science concepts and ask reasonable questions. And that‘s what university is for – to give a basic understanding of how the world works.

Bucerius Law School was the first university in Germany to establish a research center on legal technology. How did that come about?

Dirk Hartung: It was a process which goes right back to the days when I was a student at Bucerius Law School. During my studies, I was surprised that digitisation had hardly entered the law faculties. After graduating in 2014, I became a consultant to the university’s managing director. This was also when I read a paper by my current colleague Daniel Katz entitled: “The MIT School of Law? A Perspective on Legal Education in the 21st Century”. And I thought: wow, there are also others who think that legal education should have a stronger focus on technology.

Is law having a hard time with digitisation processes?

Daniel M. Katz: In fact, the world of law and the world of computer science had little to do with each other for a long time. In the 20th century, there was legal informatics, but it had increasingly developed independently of legal science and practice. That changed after the financial crisis in 2008, when people wanted to replace expensive lawyers with less expensive ones and started using computers for certain tasks. Although legal technology existed before, the 2010s saw a huge acceleration of these ideas: the development began in the U.S. and Great Britain, spreading from there.

However, many in law still find it rather difficult. They focus on risks and, above all, they fear a loss of quality. And then there is the traditional distinction between the humanities and the natural sciences. Law is one of the humanities, which doesn‘t have to be! Of course, in law we are dealing with normative questions. But there are also issues on which natural scientists would have a lot to say. That’s why in my paper at that time I raised the question of what legal education would look like when it combines the humanities and technology.

Why is Bucerius Law School in particular a pioneer in this field in Germany?

Dirk Hartung: First, this is due to the innovative attitude of our institution and the strong support of the university management. After I had read Dan’s paper, I embarked on a journey to a good thirty institutions in the U.S. to meet the community’s thought leaders. I attended the Future Law Conference at Stanford, met Dan, who had already put his ideas into practice, first in Michigan and then in Chicago, and I thought: we need him on our campus!

And that worked out: today he is the center’s academic director. But the fact that this idea was able to consolidate into a center is also due to the openness of our professors in the Academic Senate and the generous support of the ZEIT-Stifung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius, which allow us to explore new avenues and give us freedom.

Daniel M. Katz: Meanwhile, we see law schools from all around the globe “going online”. It is generally those that are among the more innovative in a country. After all, it is also a kind of revolution: it is about understanding law in a way that fits a modern society and economy.

What are the advantages of using technology in law?

Daniel M. Katz: In law, we are dealing with increasing complexity, and technology offers part of the solution here. Firstly, it is about measuring the complexity and then about finding solutions, linking various areas. Let‘s take an example from the U.S.: drones. They introduced a new technology to the market. Yes, there were flying objects before, but suddenly everyone had access to them.

How do you regulate their use? And who is involved? One candidate is air traffic control. But there are also others who have a say. The result: the set of rules grows and becomes increasingly difficult to manage. Ultimately, it is about making visible how problems or rules are connected and about developing tools to sort information in a more intelligent way.

Dirk Hartung: And quantitative methods allow us to generate reproducibility. As legal technology is influenced by the natural sciences, the results can be verified by anyone anywhere—which is not always the case in the normative field. We know that people in many areas of law have thought about possible solutions to problems—but rarely did they work with quantitative tools.

These, however, offer the chance to gather insights that can inspire further normative concepts and more structured, more nuanced discussions. It is a different way of thinking about law and—with the help of law as a mirror of society—also of gaining sociological insights.

In concrete terms, what does the work of the Center for Legal Technology and Data Science look like?

Dirk Hartung: In teaching, students can acquire a technology certificate. This includes introductions to computer science, programming, data science but also ethical questions of using technology and a software development project. In research, we currently have, for example, a large project called HILANO that deals with the anonymisation of legal and medical data and the safeguarding of data protection rules when using artificial intelligence.

Our Legal Data Science research group is conducting quantitative research into how the scope and structure of federal laws and regulations change over time. And then there is a dissertation being written on the admissibility of legal tech providers in the legal market, and we contribute to the reform of legal education, for example in expert hearings in parliaments.

Do you expect greater justice from legal technology?

Dirk Hartung: Let me put it this way: I think we lose a lot of potential justice if we don‘t use technology. We can use technology to facilitate access to justice, for example in class action. And we can use quantitative methods to help handle legal complexity so that people in the legal system can produce better outcomes. So, yes, it can actually lead to more justice.

About Professor Daniel Katz

Daniel M. Katz is a law professor, researcher, technologist, Director of the Law Lab at Chicago-Kent College of Law, and Academic Director of the Center for Legal Technology and Data Science at Bucerius Law School. He takes an innovative, polytechnic approach to prepare lawyers for current and future challenges. His research and teaching bring together law and engineering, especially computer science.

About Dirk Hartung

Dirk Hartung is an alumnus of Bucerius Law School (class of 2009) and Executive Director of the Center for Legal Technology and Data Science in Hamburg today. His research focuses on legal technology and data science in law, as well as technology training for students and lawyers. He teaches at Bucerius Law School and the University of Hamburg, is co-founder of the European Legal Tech Association and the Hamburg chapter of Legal Hackers.