Rebel With a Cause

By Koren Wetmore

In some ways Daniel Martin Katz, associate professor of law, is as complex as the law itself. Brash and outspoken yet clever and suave, he fires ideas like bullets aimed at disrupting legal practice, scholarship, and education.

So far, he’s struck every target.

Daniel Martin Katz

Katz has proposed a new business model where future legal firms will resemble tech startups and embrace entrepreneurial pursuits. He has developed algorithms that can predict United States Supreme Court decisions with an accuracy rate of 70 percent and shown how those court decisions can move financial markets. At Michigan State University (MSU), his former teaching post, Katz co-founded the successful ReInvent Law Laboratory, a program that teaches law students computational-based topics like quantitative legal prediction along with Lean Six Sigma business-performance skills.

For his polytechnic approach to legal education, Katz earned a place among the American Bar Association Journal’s 2013 “Legal Rebels,” professionals recognized as innovators who are helping to reinvent their field. It is an appropriate award for a man who seeks not only to arm the next generation of lawyers with science and technology skills but also to transform the entire legal profession.

“I think lawyers have an impoverished view of themselves,” says Katz, who joined the Chicago-Kent College of Law faculty last fall. “They think, oh, we’re just going to be the lawyers on this—whatever that even means. Why accept those limitations? Why not be the problem solvers?”

“Dan is purposely challenging the status quo.” - Joan Howarth

The son of two public defenders, Arizona native Katz grasped early on the potential lawyers have to shape the world. The legal field fascinated him but also raised concerns, particularly with how problems and decisions were approached from a law-centric, single-expert view. Katz also noticed that while a large volume of legal data was available for analysis, it was not structured in a way that could be mined for meaningful information. Future lawyers, he says, will employ analytics and software applications to use that untapped data alongside groups of human experts to predict potential outcomes, risks, and costs in a more efficient, accurate way.

Katz’s polytechnic approach capitalizes on the human ability to recognize patterns and relationships while filtering any cognitive biases through data-driven, evidence-based science. It requires multidisciplinary skill sets that include deep substantive law knowledge combined with that of business, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—none of which are taught in your typical liberal-arts-oriented legal education.

“Dan is purposely challenging the status quo,” says Joan Howarth, dean of the MSU College of Law, who hired Katz to spur change in that school’s academic program. “He has a much broader range than many academics and is a visionary who moved us in new directions.”

His vision for Illinois Tech focuses on advancing the pioneering work already begun by people like Professor Ronald Staudt, director of the Center for Access to Justice & Technology, who invited Katz to join the Chicago-Kent faculty.

“The work I did at MSU was to respond to the critics of legal education. The difference at Illinois Tech is that people have already been doing this stuff. I just want to continue us down that path and accelerate the pace of innovation,” Katz explains.

Along with teaching courses such as Civil Procedure and Entrepreneurial Lawyering, Katz will launch the Law Laboratory in 2016 to provide a venue for law students to practice design thinking and R&D approaches. Potential lab projects include analytic work and building technology that can improve legal decision-making in a variety of professions.