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An Interview with Soledad Atienza

By Editorial Department.


1. Dr. Atienza, first and foremost: congratulations on your recent assignment as Dean of the IE Law School in Madrid. You will also continue your teaching role. What inspired you to apply for this prestigious position?


This is an amazing Law School, that is part of a forward-looking university and it is an honor to step into this position. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead this great law school with a community of over 8.600 alumni from 79 nationalities, a most diverse and international student body and truly global faculty body, where providing top global legal education drives us every day.

Lawyers, as architects of society, are called to contribute to solve global social problems. At IE Law School, with that same commitment and passion, that characterizes us as an institution, we are rethinking higher education and we are taking this opportunity to reinvent 21st century legal education.


2. If you have to choose 3 unique selling points which 3 should you choose to describe your School?


Global legal education. Legal education that goes beyond borders is now more important than ever, as local solutions or perspectives are not enough. We train our students through comparative law to master the different legal systems and provide them with a unique and creative global legal mindset. We also offer them multijurisdictional programs, offering the chance to access the legal profession in Spain, in the UK, the US or India.


Intersection of law and technology. We recognize the opportunities that lie ahead to use the power of technology to improve legal education, legal practice, and legal systems, and we are committed to research and teaching in the intersection of law and technology. We are exploring the implications in the frontier of tech and law: from Artificial Intelligence and Data Privacy to issues related to Cybersecurity and Smart Contracts, through our think tank, LawAhead, our Legal tech Innovation Farm, an experiential legal tech lab, and our Jean Monnet Module.


Innovative teaching methodologies. Training global lawyers requires expertise and innovation in global legal education and we take this challenge seriously. Our world-class international and diverse faculty, with academic and professional background use innovative teaching methodologies (including case method, flipped classroom or team based learning) and legal industry know-how, and they are the perfect combination to empower our graduates to succeed in the professional world.


3. Could you possibly elaborate a bit more on what your vision for the School in five years looks like?


I see IE law school as a reference in global legal education; as a hub for legal professionals in the broad sense (private legal practitioners, members of public administration and academics), and the IE law school community (alumni, students and faculty) to foster:

  • Innovation in legal education. Through our global comparative and multidisciplinary approach as well as multijurisdictional legal education model, we take an active role in the transformation process of legal education around the world, to create a more global and tech oriented legal education.

  • Innovation in the legal profession through research and teaching in new business model, technology and skills applied to the provision of legal services.

  • Close collaboration with the leaders in the global legal profession, in the private and public sector as well as in academic institutions, including law schools, bar associations and other legal institutions in different regions and different legal systems, to serve the legal community and a society with commitment and passion.

4. What is something that IE Law School is doing right now that you are really excited about? And by the same token, what do you perceive as the biggest threat to the integrity of the School right now?

This is a challenging time for society, for academic institutors and for law schools. And, at the same time is a time full of opportunities for those institutions that have moved from a contingency plan to a strategic plan, as IE University has done.


Under the current context, we have been able to move seamlessly to online classes, thanks to our 20 years’ experience in hybrid high-quality formats, an advantage that has been consistently recognized (this year our Global Online MBA has been ranked first worldwide by QS and second by the Financial Times).


However, we have now moved to a new way of teaching: new liquid learning . Our experience in Blended Education and innovative teaching methodologies have allowed us to explore new boundaries in order to move to a liquid learning environment and to provide our students with immersive, experiential and practical learning experiences (such as our Legal Clinic, IE Labs and online competitions), that combine the on line and the face to face learning.


It is always a challenge to create and to implement a new teaching strategy; but at IE, we believe that we not only have the experience, most important, we have a motivated and inspired community of faculty, students and staff, necessary to keep innovation in higher education. We are entrepreneurs, we are forward looking and we are ready to make this move.


5. What’s overall your opinion on the current process in the Legal sector when you think about development, planning and implementation of (innovative) tech strategies? Do you see differences between American, Asian and European Schools in their curriculum and how they develop, plan and implement (innovative) tech strategies?


“Legal technology, development and innovation” is one of the 6 drivers of change in the legal profession described in the report by the International Bar Association on the Future of legal services, by María J. Esteban https://www.ibanet.org/Task-Force-on-the-Future-of-Legal-Services.aspx . In this report USA, UK, Australia and Canada stand out in terms of authors doing research and publishing in this field. This gives us an idea of the regions that are more advanced in the implementation of tech strategies.


This is in fact, one of the areas that will benefit from the current COVID 19 situation. As this situation is accelerating the digital transformation of the legal profession, including the judiciary. I believe this circumstance will accelerate the creation and implementation of new tech strategies that will allow the legal sector to provide a more efficient legal service.


Some law schools are also transforming into more technology oriented schools and we have seen different levels of tech being introduced in law schools. One way is by introducing courses on technology as part of their programs (more intense with mandatory courses or less intense with electives), a second way would be to offer courses on legal tech (understood as technology and digitalization applied to the legal sector); and a third way is to launch programs fully devoted to legal tech, designed to help the legal industry make the necessary changes to become a more digitalized service.


6. As said, the legal profession is changing and professionals need to be more business and tech savvy. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the legal students, and so professionals in let’s say five years from now? And what will the impact be of COVID19 on this, if any at all?

Technology and globalization are some of the main forces driving change in the legal profession and in legal education. There are various reasons to promote global legal education, such as the global economy, freedom of movement EU for citizens and professionals, growing number of people movement around the world ... Some law Schools already have students from around the world who have a legal vocation and want to practice the law internationally. Another key reason to promote global legal education is that candidates, students and future lawyers, request it, and they aim for a global mindset.


If technology and globalization are some of the main forces driving change in the legal profession. Some of the main challenges that I believe currently impact legal education are regulatory ones. Regulation of legal education is quite restrictive in most regions. And even if there is some flexibility that can be used to innovate and to design creative programs (for examples by focusing in alternative pedagogies and not only on content), I believe it is necessary try to change the culture, to take more risks and to innovate.


In connection to regulation to access the legal profession, for member of the EU the advantages are that legal harmonization makes legal systems in the EU more alike and that EU regulations makes it easier to practice law in different member states. I believe the legal market is slowly adapting and some law firms, legal services providers, in house legal teams are hiring lawyers with international credentials, but this is not yet the general practice.


Spain has received many of the top business law firms from the Anglo-Saxon market, Baker and Mc.Kenzie opened over 50 years ago their Madrid office, all magic circle firms (except Slaugher & May) have offices in Madrid, some of the last additions have been White & Case and Pinsent Masons.


This confirms that Spain is still a very interesting destination for international law firms, because of the business opportunities and the connection to LATAM. These law firms are starting to hire lawyers with a more international profile and starting to hire non-lawyers (economists, engineers …). I think it is in this area where we shall see things changing in the very near future.


7. Many lawyers, GC and corporate counsel talk about the importance of the business of law and it looks like they easily adopt words like Brand Management, Consultative Selling, Legal Tech, A.I., workflow software etc. not knowing what it really stands for. Do you also experience this lack in knowledge and how do you cope with the difference in knowledge levels?


At IE Law School we experience this difference in knowledge levels due to the diverse student body that we have, in our undergraduate and master programs in law we have students from 45 nationalities, and this means different educational backgrounds which we value very highly. In our masters for experienced professionals or executive education programs we have students with many different professional backgrounds, for example in our Master in Legal Tech, some of our students are lawyers, some are managers and some are technology professionals. So we are used to train our students in a diverse environment that includes having different profiles in the same classroom.


We embrace this diversity of profiles and at the same time we understand the challenge of teaching in this environment. For this, many of our programs offer pre courses for those that do not feel comfortable enough in one discipline or the other. And above all, we establish a learning methodology whereby students learn not only from the faculty, but also from each other, by implementing large workload in teams; it is by interacting with each other that students achieve a consensus and reach similar knowledge levels.


8. Do you think that Law Schools understand the need to change the traditional curriculum or at least give more attention to the business of law?


This curriculum modification and the need to train on the business of law are very relevant for law schools that focus on training lawyers. In order to fully understand the trends and challenges in legal education (including the need to change the traditional curriculum) and to be able to create a guide with recommendations for law schools and law associations around the world, we have joined forces with the International Bar Association and the Law Schools Global League in order to launch the “Blueprint for Global Legal Education”, a joint research project to explore trends and challenges of legal education and to make an important contribution to legal education globally.


With the aims to identify the key drivers that shape global legal education, the consequent emerging responses and whether these responses can sufficiently address the challenges confronting legal professionals all over the world,


IE Law School is coordinating this ambitious research project which will be presented in the IBA annual conference in November 2020. Some of the drivers examined include: globalization, technology, and changes to regulatory frameworks.


Through the analysis of relevant literature, law schools’ websites, a global online survey and interviews with key stakeholders, we have engaged in intense work to study the trends that are shaping the future of legal services, with a particular focus on the impacts of globalization and technological disruption. More than 400 law schools bar associations and other legal institutions participate in this project, which will culminate in the publication of a report to be showcased at the IBA’s Annual Conference in 2020. For more information on the project: https://www.ie.edu/law-school/initiatives/blueprint-global-legal-education/

9. As Law Schools are the breeding ground for lawyers, how far –in your opinion- can we solve the problem of change acceptance by changing the curriculum?


Changing the curriculum is a step, but it may not be enough. In their role in driving innovation in the legal systems and the legal professions, law schools need to take one step further to ensure that they continue to deliver their mission. Their connection to law firms and other legal service providers, and the public sector, in order to add more value to society is very relevant.


We should aim for true collaboration to truly rethink the values and principles of legal education to make better lawyers for our society.


We should aim to attract top students to law schools, to all areas of the legal practice in a broad sense (private practice, public administration and legal academic) as we believe this is relevant for society. Law schools should work together to promote more vocations for the legal practice. We need to work together with the public administration and the private sector in order to attract talented students to law and talented graduates to legal practice.

About Soledad Atienza

Dr. Soledad Atienza is the Dean of IE Law School and She has an extensive academic experience and a global vision of legal education. She practiced at the leading Spanish law firm Pérez-Llorca and her expertise includes the areas of comparative law and legal teaching methods.


Soledad Atienza is Senior Advisor to the Academic and Professional Development Committee of the IBA (International Bar Association), where she is co-chair of the project “Blueprint on global legal education”and is co-director of the Pérez-Llorca / IE Chair of Business Law.


She is author of Enseñar Derecho. ¿Puede servirnos la experiencia de Estados Unidos?

(Teaching Law: Can the U.S. experience help us?)”.


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