There is never a dull moment for Kris Niedringhaus. As the associate dean for library and information services in the College of Law and a clinical professor of law, Niedringhaus oversees the operations of the Law Library. A lifelong learner, she enjoys the challenge of finding answers, even to the most unusual questions.
“Research is like a puzzle and I love that,” Niedringhaus said. “I love that I’m always learning something new.”
She passes that enthusiasm on to law students in her Advanced Legal Research and Law Practice Technology classes. This fall, she’ll also be teaching Research Methods in Law.
She wants to be sure that students are prepared for the world of changing technology. In fact, the American Bar Association updated their standards in 2012 to include technology competency. When Niedringhaus was a law student at Chapel Hill in the 90s, she recalls a presenter coming in to teach her class how to do research on the world wide web. Then, they used books to look up which databases to search for answers. Today, she’s talking to her students about robotics, artificial intelligence, data analytics, machine learning, e-discovery and automated drafting.
With the advent of this technology, ethical issues arise and they talk about those in class as well. Everything from cybersecurity to confidentiality is on the table. Recently, they discussed the FBI investigation into Paul Manafort, who was formerly President Trump’s campaign manager. Manafort’s attorneys appear to have used Adobe Acrobat Pro to redact documents, but instead of deleting the redacted text, they used a markup tool to cover it. This means that anyone with Acrobat Pro was simply able to remove the markup and see the original document. This is the type of technological mistake that can have dire consequences for a client.
“Technology has been become so ubiquitous that we don’t think about it,” she said. “If you use a mobile phone and keep clients in your contact list, you should consider whether an unrelated app on your phone has permission to access your contacts or your call logs. If it does, you may have just given client information over to a third party.”
One of the most unique courses that Niedringhaus teaches is Law Practice Technology. The course is designed to teach students how to use some of the most common technology tools that are used in the practice of law. Students have to be aware of how technological advances such as artificial intelligence, automated drafting, or billing apps can potentially impact the practice of law and their ethical responsibilities.
However, as much as Niedringhaus wants students to be cautious, she also wants them to be curious. She says that technology has opened up amazing possibilities in law practice and that they should always explore.
“What I want them to leave with is an understanding that they shouldn’t be afraid of technology, and that they need to find a way to stay current, whether it’s reading a blog or attending a tech show,” said Niedringhaus. “They need to pay attention and figure out how technology impacts their practice.”