Are robots still coming for lawyers? Despite the doomsdayers, the nay-sayers, and the harbingers, it appears that the imminent revolution is not so, well, imminent. So says a recent study of legal technology. Conducted by UNC and MIT, the study concludes that certain legal tasks are too complicated for machines to replicate. Selective advising, for example, can’t be completely outsourced to predictive technology.
But it doesn’t mean lawyers are safe. Some work that can be outsourced is the same that’s been outsourced for years – the work done by young attorneys, the 20-something to 30-something Millennials. It’s ironic (in the Alanis Morissette sense) since these Millennial attorneys are often the ones advocating for new legal technology in their offices. Millennial attorneys have been aboard every technological change that has taken place in the past thirty years both at home and in the office. It started with computers, video games, the Internet, smartphones, social media, etc. Technology is thoroughly integrated into their lives. And they expect that integration at work as well.
Law Schools and Legal Technology Training
But are Millennials ready for the technological sea change happening to the legal market? Not quite yet, if their law school training is any indication. According to one writer, “[l]aw schools do a great job of teaching the law of technology – but when it comes to the technology of law, not so much.” “[L]aw students need to understand how technology is reshaping the delivery of legal services,” says Suffolk Law Dean Andrew Perlman. “[A]nd they need to leverage that technology to compete more effectively.”
So which law schools are succeeding at this? Back in 2013 the American Bar Association conducted a survey among all accredited law schools. Their goal was to “determine the extent to which legal technology and related subjects are the focus of courses and other activities.”
Only 32 schools, or about 16% of all ABA accredited law schools, even responded to the survey, making it, as the ABA noted, “difficult to draw meaningful conclusions.” Of the schools that did respond, “one-quarter operate a center with a primary focus on the technology of law, and one-fifth offer more than two courses in that area. Three schools reported concentrations, certificates or joint degrees.”
A follow-up report conducted by a business solutions tech company called Neota Logic, found that as of July 2015 only 23 of the 205 ABA-accredited schools “[gave] significant attention to the impact of technology on practice.” Neota used the same criteria as the ABA survey did: (1) a full-time faculty member dedicated to teaching and coordinating a program in law practice technology; (2) the subject matter being the focus of serious research, and (3) at least two related credit courses such as law practice management, law practice technology, or e-discovery and big data.
Innovation at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law
Due to its ties to the Illinois Institute of Technology, Kent has a long history of forward-thinking when it comes to tech and the law. In addition to their many course offerings, certificates, and joint degrees, their Center for Access to Justice & Technology, led by Professor Ron Staudt, wants 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.” To that end, the Center developed the A2J Author Tool to allow courts, legal aid organizations, and others to use software authoring tools to develop web-based interfaces for court users. (Try this Cook County fee waiver tool to get an idea of how it works). As of 2015, ATJ had helped more than 3 million low-income Americans. Yet another way that tech is transforming access to justice.
Is your law school training its students in legal practice management? What tech ideas should Millennial lawyers be bringing to the workplace? The robots are coming to compete, at least for some jobs. Let’s make sure our next generation of lawyers is ready.
Commission intern Lindsey Lusk from the University of Illinois College of Law contributed to this article.