Ever since the American Bar Association modified “Competence” Model Rule 1.1, comment 8 in 2012 requiring lawyers to “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology,” legal technology focused articles and commentary have flourished (just see #legaltech).
And rightfully so, as this “technology competency” requirement (now adopted by the majority of states, including Illinois as of January 1, 2016) means lawyers may not bury their head in the sand when it comes to eDiscovery or using electronic resources for legal research or even having and maintaining an understanding of technology in general.
CLE providers, bar associations, affinity bars, law firms, corporations, government agencies, and the like have all stepped up to address the ever-growing demand for technology-focused educational programming. The bench and bar are getting there. Mandates like email service of pleadings and required e-filing have prompted further attention to tech know-how.
But where should technology competency training begin to shape the competent lawyer? Law school is the logical response. So, how are law schools recognizing the integration of legal tech in the practice of law, and responding to it?
Educating the Practice-Ready Attorney
There are only so many hours in the day. And only so many hours in the law school classroom. Nevertheless, technology competency in the law needs some affirmative steps to bring practice-ready attorneys before the bar. Law students may keep pace with tech trends and innovations in general, but it demands more than just having the newest iPhone or building your social media profiles.
Technology and innovations are driven by the demand to solve problems and do so in a faster, cheaper, and more efficient manner. This same mindset needs to be prevalent in the legal profession, and that begins with integrating that mindset in the competency-based learning in the law school setting. Lawyers must be more than “knowledge aggregators” to serve our clients. We must collaborate and use the tools at hand to meet our clients’ needs.
Clients are going to see their value received in the form of tools and solutions, not in memos and letterhead. This starts in law school. And not with confirming that every student takes notes on a laptop or the professors utilizes dramatic visual PowerPoints to lecture. Instead, this means actual instructional programming from e-discovery to developing automation processes to how to streamline client services.
Negotiation, investigation, fact-checking, legal research, and so on all take on legal technology demands which can develop into a far more well-rounded attorney. One that is attractive to firms in need of the next generation lawyer.
Making Legal Technology Part of the Fundamentals
Law schools are changing. Some more than others. More courses either centered around legal technology or containing some facet of law practice competency with the “risks and benefits associated with relevant technology.” As a sampling, here are some of the ways law schools in Illinois are embracing legal technology in their programming and otherwise creating an environment where a well-rounded attorney is a competent attorney:
[As an example of its dedication to legal technology,] IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law established the Center for Access to Justice & Technology (CAJT) to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law. The Center conducts research, builds software tools, teaches classes and supports faculty, staff and student projects on access to justice and technology.
Future lawyers need to develop fluency with legal technology, along with business expertise and professional management skills. In the next five years, the school aims to develop and integrate core areas of competency across the curriculum in these three areas: technology, business acumen, and professionalization.
Across the United States, legal education is in transition with the focus shifting towards skills-based training for future attorneys. Gone are the days when new lawyers would spend their first weeks or months on the job in training.
Employers are demanding new hires who can draft complaints and legal memoranda, who can assist in discovery, who can submit documents to the court and who use modern legal technology. A legal education based solely on theory or history can’t meet those employer needs, and the move towards more experiential learning is developing. The trend is nothing new at The John Marshall Law School, where hands-on learning has long been part of the culture.
A skills class is one that offers substantial instruction in the professional skills generally regarded as necessary for effective and responsible participation in the legal profession. All J.D. students are required to complete the skills course requirement prior to graduation.
[One such course is its Legal Technology course which] will introduce students to a wide variety of law office technologies, including law firm use of everyday software programs like Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook, plus law-firm-specific programs for document automation and assembly, time and billing, case management, e-discovery, and others as time permits.
[Designed for upper-level law students, the Legal Technology and Innovation in Practice seminar course] will expose students to the variety of uses of technology in legal practice as articulated in the most recent study of attorneys via the ABA Legal Technology Survey Report. During our seminar meetings, students will learn how legal technology is quickly transforming the practice of law and is rapidly becoming a game-changing factor when setting up, maintaining, or managing a legal practice. Topics to be discussed will include: legal informatics, project management, e-discovery, social media, cloud computing, data security, courtroom and litigation software, virtual practice and mobile lawyers, online research, document collaboration, presentation and courtroom technologies, encryption apps and metadata, ethical considerations for technology in legal practice, billing, and document automation to increase the efficiency and profitability of law firms.
The future of lawyering is one in which clients will expect their counselors to be fully conversant with modern business practices and also with the essentials of technology and its connection to business performance and strategy. Increasingly, lawyers are serving clients who work in scientific and technology-based fields. New practice areas are emerging, and this requires different fluencies. As Northwestern Law pioneered the curricular aspects of teaching business and quantitative skills, we are developing the most comprehensive, integrated, and innovative curriculum that connects the study of law to the STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering, and math.
Our JD program selectively admits a small class of students each year, so you each get the personal attention you deserve. SIU Law focuses on taking the theoretical and turning it into what works. You’ll master theory. But you’ll also learn to understand that theory will only take you so far. To go the distance, you’ll develop a skill set that you’ll never stop adapting—skills that are in short supply yet great demand.
UChicago Law offers courses in Technology Law, and Entrepreneurship. … UChicago Law aims to train well-rounded, critical, and socially conscious thinkers and doers. The cornerstones that provide the foundation for UChicago Law’s educational mission are the life of the mind, participatory learning, interdisciplinary inquiry, and an education for generalists.
Legal employers seek lawyers who are bright, hard-working, and practice ready. They need lawyers who are efficient, experienced in handling legal problems, and have practical skills. … The College offers an innovative class for 1Ls students entitled “Fundamentals of Legal Practice.” Fundamentals, as it is colloquially known, gives students valuable insight on the practice of law. In Fundamentals, we cover topics that you will need to master in practice, including communications, use of legal technology, professionalism, client service, business development and marketing, the business of law, and the basics of leadership.
For more examples, also see the ABA’s “Teaching the Technology of Practice: The 10 Top Schools” (2014).