PUBLISHED:March 30, 2023

Students from seven law schools participate in 2023 Future of Contracts Design Derby


More than 100 law students from across the country used human-centered design principles and processes to solve real problems and imagine a better future for contracts practice in a two week program co-hosted by the Duke Center on Law & Technology, the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law, and the NCCU Technology Law & Policy Center.

The 2023 Future of Contracts Design Derby helped over 100 students from seven law schools nationwide use human-centered design principles and processes to solve real problems and imagine a better future for contracts practice.

Co-hosted by the Duke Center on Law & Technology, the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt Law, and the NCCU Technology Law & Policy Center, the Design Derby took place over two weeks in February. Students wrestled with a modern contracting challenge—the potential liabilities, risks, uncertainties, and annoyances of notice provisions—and used their creative mindsets to propose real solutions, culminating in cash prizes to the three top teams and a forthcoming white paper led by Clinical Professor Jeff Ward that will highlight their solutions. 

“To be the best educators we can be, it’s essential to get students—in this case, my Future of Contracts class—out of the classroom, rubbing elbows with practitioners, and committed to solving legal challenges in the real world,” said Ward, director of the Duke Center on Law & Technology. “The Derby helps us ensure that an academic exercise is also a real changemaking exercise.”

Students who participated in the Future of Contracts Design Derby agreed.

“Professor Ward fostered a positive and stimulating atmosphere that encouraged creative problem-solving and nurtured teamwork amongst my peers and the advisors,” said Marissa Shirdez ’23.


Participants in the 2023 Future of Contracts Design Derby
Students and mentors who participated in the 2023 Future of Contracts Design Derby at Durham Bottling Company on February 24, 2023


In-person design pods were hosted by law professors Kenton Brice from the University of Oklahoma College of Law, Caitlin (Cat) Moon at the Wond’ry on Vanderbilt University’s campus in Nashville, Diane Littlejohn at North Carolina Central University School of Law, and Ward at the Durham Bottling Company in downtown Durham. Ten additional students participated on their own in teams as part of the event’s “Anywhere Pods.”

“It was great to be one of multiple law schools taking part in this event. I love being a part of a community of tech-forward law faculty,” said Brice, the director of technology innovation at OU College of Law.

Students began the Design Derby by exploring some foundational principles of design thinking and some brief background on contracts notice, including a short video by Marla Crawford T’85, General Counsel at Cimplifi, before reviewing randomly-assigned, publicly-available agreements from major companies. Students analyzed how notice is handled, looking for any risks, uncertainties, ambiguities, or liabilities using rubrics created by Ward’s Future of Contracts students.

Armed with this background, the students came together in teams to use design thinking methods in fun, high-energy design sessions to rethink contracts practice. They were cheered on by mentors and advisors from co-sponsoring law schools, law firms, in-house practice, and legal technology companies as they aimed to meet the needs of all stakeholders while imagining entirely new ways to accomplish effective contractual notice. Students found the experience of digging into real contracts, identifying real challenges to be rewarding.

"I was able to collaborate with my peers on the issues surrounding contracts and make great connections with the advisors. Every aspiring lawyer should have this experience," said Denell Dixon, a student at NCCU Law.

Creativity in the process was a highlight for both students and practitioners.

“While in law school, it’s often easy to forget the importance of creativity. Taking part in the Design Derby was a reminder that we can be creative, foster new ideas, and turn those ideas into a tangible system that could make a change in the legal world,” said winner Jordan Stahl of the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Diane Homolak, vice president of technology solutions at Integreon, noted, “I was most impressed with the level of engagement and creativity among the students. They are truly embracing the possibilities that exist to make a difference in the future practice of law.”

As a final step, students pitched their ideas through online submissions that were reviewed by a panel of judges from law schools and industry. Prizes were awarded to the top three ideas, with a cash prize of $250 provided to each student on the winning teams. 

The Future of Contracts Design Derby was sponsored by Latham & Watkins, Nelson Mullins, and Integreon.

“Innovation is one of Integreon’s core values, so it was natural to want to partner with Duke Law and to sponsor the Future of Contracts Derby Day,” said Homolak.

“It is wonderful to see academia taking the lead in encouraging innovation and forward thinking in the next generation of lawyers. The profession needs our upcoming talent to be innovators to keep legal effective and relevant in the future.”

The prize winners were: 

Best B2B Solution – University of Oklahoma College of Law’s “Bickers & Bickers, PLLC”

  • Michaela Hansen, Class of 2023
  • Jordan Stahl, Class of 2024
  • Mary Bishop, Class of 2024
  • Keaton Mayfield, Class of 2023 

Best B2C Solution – NCCU School of Law’s “D’OH, NOTIFY ME”

  • Denell Dixon, Class of 2024
  • Kearra Richardson, Class of 2023
  • Phoebe Ogunwobi, Class of 2024
  • Terri Harris, Class of 2023

Best Sector-Specific Solution – Duke Law’s “Notify All”

  • Molly Diamondstein ’23
  • Jacob Stotser ’23
  • Marissa Shirdez ’23
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