Future of Contracts Design Derby

DCLT Director Jeff Ward

When you hear the name Legal Design Derby, the Duke Center on Law & Tech (DCLT) hopes you will first think of a fun competition. Having fun and embracing creativity are key aspects of this Derby, where law students aim to solve legal problems with the added bonus of competing for prize money.

“These programs introduce law students to human-centered design, supporting them as they work in teams to focus on a question to help make the law better,” said DCLT Director Jeff Ward, a clinical professor of law at Duke. “Legal professionals provide mentoring and advising to students as they work through ideating, prototyping, and iterating steps to develop their ideas.”


PPC for Legal

The DCLT will host the sixth Derby this spring.

Access to Justice

DCLT and NCCU Tech Law & Policy Center partnered for a design derby this past fall that focused on Access to Justice, working with the new Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) Innovation Lab. “The derby was an opportunity to step outside the normal law school environment and take on an issue, a challenge that they cared about,” said Ward. “In this case, it’s a question intimately connected to access to legal services for our community.”

The students learned that LANC does not have the necessary resources to provide free civil legal services to every North Carolinian who can’t afford them. LANC is working to close the access to justice gap with its Innovation Lab by seeking to improve the delivery of legal services to low-income communities, particularly addressing inequities in rural areas.


Dram Shop Experts

Teams of students asked, “How might we empower North Carolinians to understand their legal issues better and identify potential solutions for themselves?” The students spent the day talking with LANC, mentors and classmates about creative, potential tech-enabled solutions outside the methods traditionally taught in law school.

“Law students can actually benefit by adding to their tool belt,” Ward said, “Being creative, celebrating their creativity, being more thoughtful about all of the potential solutions and how the legal portion of that solution might work in collaboration with other disciplines.”

“It’s been really refreshing to see the solutions that students come up with,” added Diane Littlejohn, executive director of NCCU Tech Law & Policy Center.

The winning derby team proposed “LANC-E,” or Legal Aid of North Carolina E-Screening tool that would use generative AI to answer questions for potential clients interested in seeking services. The algorithm behind the AI would be trained using data from questions asked by real people and answered by LANC staff.


Computer Forensics

“This exchange of ideas and best practices between academic institutions and the Legal Aid of NC Innovation Lab encourages the development of creative solutions to legal challenges through design thinking and technology,” said Scheree Gilchrist, chief innovation officer at LANC. “It fosters knowledge sharing and collaboration that can have a lasting impact on Legal Aid of NC’s clients and its ability to adapt to evolving needs.”

Spring Design Derby

For the spring derby, DCLT is offering its curriculum to faculty at US-based law schools to implement the Future of Contracts Design Derby in late February through early March 2024. “We are currently recruiting law faculty who have experience with human-centered design, or who want to partner with someone who does, and knowledge of contracts. We already have commitments from several law schools, and we welcome more,” said Kelli Raker, associate program director for Law, Technology & Entrepreneurship Programs. Faculty will implement the Derby on their campuses, with all student participants submitting their ideas to a national competition for prize money.

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