I tell you, no prophet is accepted on his own land.

Assume: /ə-soom/ Verb. Making an ass out of you and me

Sometimes you find pearls right under your nose. You just miss seeing them because you make certain assumptions based on what you’ve heard or how you have been conditioned. This happened to me recently when I discovered there is a Kentucky law school on the cutting edge of teaching innovation, entrepreneurship and legal technology. I missed this based on two faulty assumptions: the name of the school actually doing this and the fact that it was in my home state.
And no, it’s not what many consider the blue blood of Kentucky law schools, the University of Kentucky.

And no, it’s not the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. Both schools have been around forever and many forget there is one more law school in Kentucky: The Chase College of Law in northern Kentucky. Who would have thought that Chase has assumed the role of cutting edge training for lawyers of the future? That Chase, not Kentucky or Louisville would achieve a high ranking in Dan Linna’s Law School Innovation Index.


The Chase Law School


Some background: The Salmon P. Chase College of Law was named for Salmon Chase, one-time Lincoln rival and later confidant and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1864-1873. The College of Law was founded in 1893 as just the third night school in the country. In 1971 it moved from downtown Cincinnati across the river to Kentucky, merged with Northern Kentucky University and added day classes. Even today, it is one of the few law schools still offering a part time night school program.

For years, many in the state in both practice and academia unfortunately looked down on Chase, in part no doubt due its night school offering, in part due to its history and location and in part due to its emphasis on the practical training for law practice. Some Kentucky firms went so far as to refuse to hire graduates or even interview there. This despite the fact that for some years, Chase had the highest Kentucky bar pass rate and was the first in the state to offer an advanced LL.M degree.

The Lunsford Academy

But aided by a $1 million endowment from Bruce Lunsford, a Chase law school graduate and founder of Ventas, Inc. a healthcare investment company and member of the Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, Chase, in 2014, established the W. Bruce Lunsford Academy for Law, Business + Innovation also known as the Lunsford Academy. The mission of the Academy tells you all you need to know: “The Lunsford Academy offers students an honors curriculum designed to enhance the comprehensive legal education emphasizing legal technology, quantitative methods, leadership, informatics and other skills critical to the future practice of law and business.”

They then hired Bob Furnier to run it. Bob is a bit of a jack of all trades having practiced in and managed a big law firm, a small law firm, formed a legal tech startup and taught in a law school among other things. When I first heard of the Lunsford Academy, I met with Bob and was shocked to learn that he and I had often been at the same ABA Law Practice Division meetings and even set next to one another. Once again, a pearl right under my nose. Bob is an innovator and tech evangelist and a consummate politician. He’s full of energy and ideas.


The Curriculum


The curriculum being offered by the Academy is interesting. Required classes include business organizations, essential quantitative skills for lawyers, law practice technology (imagine that!), intellectual property: drafting and negotiation strategies, Electives include courses in entrepreneurship, marketing, information privacy and cyber law. The Academy is active in various symposium including ones on cyber security, brand protection and cybersquatting, controversies in internet law and gaming and participates in the ABA TechShow and women in legal tech initiatives. It offers not only J.D. degrees but also a combined J.D. and Master of Business Administration, Master of Business Infomatics and Master of Health Infomatics degrees.

Based on these offerings, Chase was not only the highest ranked school in Dan Linna’s Innovation Index in Kentucky but scored the same as Indiana University of Bill Henderson fame and Yale. Chase was also named by the E-Lawyering Task Force of the ABA Law Practice Management Section as one of the top 13 law schools teaching law practice technology. Not too bad.

I asked Bob why Chase and not Kentucky or Louisville. He noted that in large part this was due to the endowment and foresight of Bruce Lunsford. He also said that most law schools don’t change much until they see other schools doing something different, much like law firms. And he said that the track to tenure in most law schools follows a classic pattern that generally does not embrace and value innovative ideas and being on the cutting edge. Being an early adopter is never easy.

It’s unclear where this will go. Bob is full of energy and ideas and knows how to make things happen. But he’s not an academic in the classic sense and it’s not clear what the long-term relationship will be between the academics at Chase and the Lunsford Academy. Will they accept it? Will they embrace it? How will the rest of the state look at Chase? How will employers? Don’t know.

Having just participated in LegalRnD Labs workshop on building a better lawyer and what law schools must be doing to train students for the future, I’m proud that a Kentucky law school stands with Michigan State/s LegalRnD Labs and Stanford’s Legal Design Labs in offering cutting edge training for future lawyers.

Thanks Bruce Lunsford and Chase for doing what other schools have not and offering 21st century training for your students. And thanks for doing it in Kentucky.