Should Law Schools Add a Mandatory Technology Component to their Curriculum?
By Gayle O’Connor – A few months ago, I spoke about authenticating social media as evidence at the Lafourche Parish Bar Association. A young attorney approached me after the presentation and said, “I have had those exact issues come up in cases several times. Boy, do I wish they had taught that in law school.”
And there’s the crux of a major problem in the legal profession. Attorneys need to know technology but, other than legal research, the majority of law schools aren’t teaching them anything about it.
Why do they need to understand technology? Well, first because digital technology is the backbone of information management for businesses in the 21st Century. And that includes all businesses even law firms AND law schools.
A recent Aderant survey of law firm managers found that technology platforms were crucial to law firm operations in the areas of document management, business analytics, time & billing, case management, matter management, contact management, document assembly and e-discovery while automating manual tasks and integrating those technologies were essential to law firm efficiency.
Yet an earlier survey by the ABA found that well under 50% of attorneys were actually using current web-based technology for practice management or to communicate with clients and that the highest numbers of those were solo attorneys. Source: ABA Survey: How Lawyers Communicate and Collaborate With Clients In 2017.
And in addition to the business needs for technology training, there is an even more compelling reason for attorneys, particularly litigators, to understand technology. As well-known eDiscovery expert Craig Ball puts it, “that’s where the evidence is.” Bar associations and courts are recognizing this by increasingly requiring some level of technical competence with Florida this year becoming the first state to require CLE technical training.
But despite all these factors for technology understanding, are lawyers learning any of this in law school? The answer is predominantly no. In fact, in 2013 the ABA attempted to survey law school deans about how they were teaching the technology of law. Of the 203 surveys sent out, only 32 law schools even responded. That’s just 16%. Abysmal, to say the least.
But it seems that maybe, just maybe, the times they are a changing. Several law schools are known for their interest in teaching technology including the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law where Prof. Bill Hamilton, Founding Director of Social Evidence, has long been in the vanguard of teaching technology. The UF Law E-Discovery Project is a multidisciplinary endeavor enhancing litigation competence through electronic discovery law courses, research, the development of information retrieval method and tools, and offering electronic discovery skills training for practicing attorneys and litigation support professionals through public conferences and continuing legal educational offerings.
Another front runner is the Chicago-Kent College of Law. For years, the Center for Access to Justice & Technology has been breaking new ground. The center partners with the Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) group for online education on Topics in Digital Law Practice.
Chicago-Kent also spearheads the A2J Clinic Project, financed by the federal Legal Services Corporation, to train students in document automation. The A2J Clinic Project has launched initiatives at the University of North Carolina and other schools. Additionally, the administration at Chicago-Kent was very supportive in the development of an eDiscovery class, realizing that promoting the use of legal technology will better prepare their students for employment after graduation. The students agreed and in the Spring of 2015, Chicago-Kent’s eDiscovery class enrollment increased by 33% from 2014.
One school definitely worthy of a mention is Michigan State University (MSU) which has courses on legal informatics, eDiscovery, quantitative analysis, virtual law practice, and other innovative topics introduce valuable new ways of thinking and provide their students with highly marketable skills. Courses include hands-on training through the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute (TPI)—one of the most comprehensive technology-enhanced trial advocacy programs in the nation— which gives students a competitive advantage in preparing for, and presenting, their case. The school provides access to the latest in courtroom technology in the Clif and Carolyn Haley Moot Court Room. TPI students learn how to use evidence presentation technology with confidence and efficiency, saving litigants and the courts time and money. Technology Enhanced Trial Advocacy, a seven-week lab, provides full training on TrialDirector software, use of courtroom presentation software, and iPads in litigation. MSU Law’s in-house courtroom technology platform is the template used by the Federal Courts in the Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan and by other Federal and State jurisdictions on an increasing basis as courtroom technology is being implemented throughout the country.
Finally, the new ReInvent Law Laboratory at MSU challenges students to explore new modes and methods of delivering legal services, and design innovative products and processes to provide more people with access to legal services. The Laboratory equips students to add value from day one, or set their own course as an entrepreneurial lawyer.
Another on the list is Suffolk University in Boston. Suffolk’s Institute for Law
Practice Technology & Innovation offers an array of courses and experiences that will better prepare students for both traditional and non-traditional legal employment. Traditional employers (such as law firms) increasingly need lawyers who not only have traditional legal knowledge and skills, but who are also familiar with innovative processes and technologies. For example, an increasing number of firms want to take advantage of cloud computing, employ a knowledge management system, use social media for investigations and marketing, engage in cost-effective electronic discovery, incorporate insights about project management, develop automated document assembly procedures, use law practice management software, understand metrics for the efficient delivery of legal services, and create a virtual version of their law firms.
This list is by no means meant to be extensive. These are just some examples of forward thinking law schools with great programs. A bigger list can be found here. And let’s not forget the 50 or so law schools that have adjunct or CLE programs where people like Craig Ball, Maura Grossman, Robert Brownstone, Mark Sidoti, Patrick Burke, Tom O’Connor, Kelly Twigger and a host of other eDiscovery professionals who teach at law schools as well as the online education being carried on by people like Ralph Losey, Michael Arkfeld, as well as former judges like John M. Facciola, Ron Hedges and Shira Scheindlin and of course, Bill Hamilton.
Last Thoughts: Law firms also are finally paying closer attention to lawyers’ technological skills and their ability to innovate. One reason is that many corporate clients are demanding technological competence, recognizing that a lack of proficiency adds time and expense to legal matters. The bottom line is that if all law schools added technology training into their curriculum, new lawyers would be better prepared for employment, especially outside of traditional legal jobs, such as in the increasingly large and prosperous industry that provides law-related goods and services.
For example, law graduates are taking jobs with companies that provide – or are creating companies that offer – legal process outsourcing, electronic discovery services, online client lead generation, automated document assembly, investigative services, jury research, online law practice management, and similar services. Moreover, a growing number of traditional legal employers are now hiring lawyers to perform non-traditional jobs. The essential point is that a solid technology set of courses could help students prepare for a legal profession that is going through a remarkable period of rapid change.
What needs to change the state of so many schools without a technology curriculum? Which schools out there have great programs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments field.
Gayle O’Connor is a legal technology consultant with 30 years’ experience specializing in legal marketing, particularly social media, content marketing, speaking, and websites. She is currently working as the Marketing Manager at Social Evidence, a cloud-based application designed to discover, organize, analyze, and authenticate specific social media evidence. She was recently named as an Honoree in the 5,000 strong membership of Women in eDiscovery. Gayle was previously the Marketing Manager at Degan, Blanchard and Nash, a large law firm located in New Orleans. Gayle is also a former trial technician for the federal public defenders, a marketing director for numerous legal software providers and has taught legal research at law schools. Additionally, she has been a featured speaker at American Lawyer Media LegalTech Events, ABA TECHSHOW, Online World, Special Libraries Association, Washington State Paralegal Association, National Business Institute, ABA Litigation Section Meetings, local Bar Associations throughout the U.S., and international organizations such as the Law Society of British Columbia and the New Zealand Law Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.social-evidence.com or @gaylemoconnor.
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