Pierre Larouche

How do lawyers think differently from STEM professionals when approaching problems and risk?

It is difficult to make statements that would be true of all lawyers or all STEM professionals, respectively. Not only do individual members of these two groups differ in character, but within each of these two groups, there is a range of functions, each of which might warrant a different approach to problems and risk. For lawyers, the roles of outside counsel and in-house lawyers are distinguishable, for example. This distinction can probably be made with even greater clarity in Europe, where in-house lawyers do not have to be members of the bar. Practicing lawyers, as a matter of professional culture or as a consequence of professional liability, tend to approach problems in a more linear fashion and risks more defensively. Problems call for solutions, but attention is not often given to how these solutions can lead to additional problems elsewhere. Legal practitioners also tend to be risk-averse, often taking a defensive stance in their advice, whereby legal risks are identified and clients are advised to avoid or minimize them. In comparison, in-house lawyers (certainly in Europe) have the freedom to espouse more closely the holistic approach to problems and the more risk-neutral stance that is generally associated with STEM professionals. In that sense, in-house lawyers show that the gulf between lawyers and STEM professionals might not be so large, and might depend more on professional functions and culture than on a deep disciplinary gulf.

What incentives would foster more collaboration between the law and STEM fields, in either academic or business/entrepreneurial settings?

I can see a number of possibilities here.

As a starting point, it is important to create the right environment for inter-disciplinary dialogue, whether in academia or in business; this begins with education and training, so as to overcome prejudices and create appetite for collaboration.

Fostering education and training in both fields can certainly contribute to increasing collaboration: academics and professionals who have obtained degrees in both fields usually have personal experience of the ins-and-outs of each field, and they should have a personal incentive (hopefully) to foster collaboration between the two fields. However, in the current circumstances, there will only be so many individuals with dual training.

Less intensive education programs might be practicable for a broader range of individuals and therefore deliver significantly more value. In my view, the operational threshold here is to enable graduates from these programs to join multi-disciplinary teams and interact with colleagues from other disciplines. In order to reach that threshold, the crucial element in the education program is to bring students to the point where they know enough of the other field to realize that it is not monolithic, i.e. that law and STEM fields do not deliver easy, ready-made and unequivocal answers to any questions. Once students realize that the other discipline is just as lively as their own, they will usually also see that the other discipline does not pre-empt discussions in their own discipline, but rather enriches them with additional elements. For instance, privacy and security are not obvious issues either in law or in information and communications technology (ICT): once that realization dawns upon the lawyer or the ICT scientist, then they should be able to see how inter-disciplinary dialogue helps them enrich their respective fields. The type of program that would bring graduates to that level of knowledge of the other field is less intensive than a true multi-disciplinary program: typically, this can be achieved through a one-year master’s degree.

Aside from education programs, further incentives could arise from more limited measures. In academia, a critical mass of conferences and periodicals at the law–STEM intersection would give academics the confidence that their efforts have an audience. In business, putting lawyers and STEM graduates in closer contact would probably give them more incentive to work together. At this juncture, lawyers often intervene outside of STEM-centered processes: they come in later and are given a critical role (certainly for outside lawyers, and even for in-house lawyers). ‘Embedding’ lawyers into STEM-centered teams would provide better conditions for constructive collaboration.

Technological change recently has altered business models in the legal field, and these changes will continue to affect the practice of law itself. How can we, as educators, prepare law students to meet the challenges of new technology throughout their careers?

Not all law students are the same: some have a STEM background and will accordingly be ahead of the curve, in that they will already be able to form their own view as to what technological advances mean to them and their career prospects. Leaving these students aside, the rest of the law student population is typically at most as technologically-savvy as their age group across the university, if not less.

In response to the question, I would argue that legal education should expand its scope to cover two additional issues (in addition to any training in technology that one might want to provide to students, as is done by Paul Ohm at Georgetown Law and others).

The first issue is the strategy and organization of the provision of legal services. Traditional business models are changing, but it is less clear that legal services are changing as well. It would be interesting to put together a course that surveys the different business models, in existence or in development, regarding legal services (big law, boutique firms, in-house centralized, in-house decentralized, sub-contracting and outsourcing, networks, etc.), so that students are aware of the range of possibilities. In addition, that course should also examine comparable industries that have been changed or upended by technology, such as media, pharma/biotech, healthcare, etc. Here as well, there is a wealth of information out there.

I would call the second issue “interdisciplinary epistemology,” and it would cover the interplay between disciplines, seen from the perspective of law (and in particular from the generation of knowledge in law, hence the title). On one hand, it is important to properly frame the law–STEM relationship. Short of the technological singularity that some ICT scientists dream about, the governance of human affairs will continue to be central, and thus law should retain its ‘gatekeeper’ function. Technological developments have to be translated into the law. On the other hand, there is more to law than rules, which are too often the focus of legal education. The wonderful thing about technological developments is that, by putting rules into question, they force lawyers to go back to underlying policies and principles. Once lawyers figure that policies and principles are much more impervious to technological change and are actually flexible enough to be re-implemented in a changed technological environment, then they should be less worried about the impact of technological change.


Pierre Larouche is Professor of Competition Law at Tilburg University and Co-Director of the Tilburg Law and Economics Center (TILEC), as well as Professor at the College of Europe (Bruges). Before starting his academic career in 1996 at the University of Maastricht, he clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1991–92 and practiced law for three years in the EU law unit of Stibbe Simont Monahan Duhot in Brussels. His teaching and research interests include competition law, telecommunications law, media law, basic community law, and the common European law of torts.