Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism’s annual conference: The Future is Now: Legal Services 2.019. As a current law student, the speakers challenged me to think about leveraging technology in the legal profession. The conference was as much an honest self-reflection of the legal profession’s current environment as it was a showcase of the requisite professional competencies of the future lawyer. I left the conference thinking that many law students are unaware of the legal tech competencies that are and will be expected of them.
The Current Law School Methodology
My legal education revisits precedent bound in a seemingly never-ending book. The law traces the path of these precedents to arrive at the present. I apply the winding progression of the law to those grey areas tested on my final exams. As a legal education should, it prepares law students on issue identification, application of relevant law and quality of legal writing and research. However, legal education places little emphasis on leveraging technology.
The Importance of Leveraging Technology
Many of the speakers challenged those in attendance to engage with the technological possibilities of today. Rich Lee, Gyi Tsakalakis, and Lucy Endel Bassli emphasized the essentiality of leveraging technology for one’s business.
Rich Lee stressed that data security is paramount for attorneys. His talk centered on how to protect an attorney’s reputation and trust using technology. He explained that passwords, multi-factor authentication, actively updating software, full-disk encryption and backing-up your data offsite are just a few of the ways an attorney can ensure data security.
Gyi Tsakalakis discussed how the optimization of third-party applications is the next phase in legal marketing. “Machine generated human approved” applications enable lawyers to quantitatively and qualitatively understand their existing and new client business interactions. Gyi demonstrated how these tools promote greater communication, collect attribution data and generate visibility, resulting in stronger connectivity with potential and existing clients. Lawyers who deploy technology “will likely win” more clients because those lawyers demonstrate greater value to their clients.
Lastly, Lucy Endel Bassli encouraged utilizing technology and those with specialized skills to provide holistic legal services for clients. Lucy pitched incorporating project or process management, data analytics, risk management, risk analytics, financial modelers, data scientists and business analysts into one’s legal business. She asserted that when lawyers engage with technology, the universe of the lawyer’s work expands. Lawyers must become more knowledgeable and involved in various technologies to provide more comprehensive services to their clients.
Each of these speakers highlighted the efficiency, efficacy and optimization advantages that leveraging technology brings. Ultimately, they agreed that technology enables lawyers to focus on what lawyers do best – the practice of law.
Lawyers Need to Embrace Innovative Technology
New lawyers need to understand how to leverage technology. There is a growing space for lawyers outside the traditional law firm setting that needs to be filled. These spaces include legal technology, financial technology, as well as a wide array of other business areas.
Prior to law school, I worked as a risk analyst for a financial technology company. I interacted with technology at every step of the product delivery process. Whether it was running code to aggregate live-time financial data, accessing the aggregated data stored in a database through Structured Query Language (SQL), or using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) in Microsoft Excel for output purposes, technology was essential to my work. These various applications simplified my workload by automating much of the process. Although I ceded the heavy number crunching and automation to technology, I maintained control over output by controlling client-specific customization.
Moreover, every lawyer I worked with had to understand all the technology my company offered. The attorneys still prepared the contracts and service order agreements. However, the technical language required my firm’s lawyer to carefully articulate each party’s responsibility, costs and preferred data delivery methods. The lawyers also needed to accurately delineate the technological capacity of our firm. Overstating said capacity meant contractually agreeing to something we would not be able to provide. In theory, the repercussions of such could be very damaging.
Leveraging Technology as an Extension of the Legal Education
Given the advent of technology, current law students and young attorneys would be well-served by attending the annual The Future is Now: Legal Services conference. The conference is a reminder that lawyer competencies should adapt to the surrounding legal environment. Therefore, current law students and young attorneys must also transform and add critical technology skills to their repertoires.