Which word doesn’t belong: data, analytics, lawyer, or software?
There’s no right answer, because technology is bringing sweeping changes to the legal profession.
According to a Robert Half survey, eight in 10 corporate lawyers said their collaboration with IT specialists has increased during the past two years. And law firms increasingly find they must hire attorneys who are already well versed in the tools of the trade to satisfy the demands of these corporate legal clients.
But 67% of law firm and corporate lawyers said it was somewhat or very challenging to find skilled legal professionals today, according to a separate study by Robert Half. Additionally, entry level lawyers are no longer just competing against each other for jobs—they’re competing against products like LegalZoom.
The same revolution, however, isn’t happening quite as quickly at some of the nation’s law schools, which could leave many students less prepared to practice law at a modern firm.
Browsing the curricula of the U.S. News & World Report Top 20 Law Schools reveals only a handful of tech-related courses, and many of them are broad overviews of legal technology rather than opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience.
But some schools, like the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law, have taken a more progressive approach to legal technology education, and are using it as a differentiator that will leave its students better equipped to compete for jobs.
“Today’s legal services delivery model requires more than just a traditional law education,” said Michael Robak, Associate Director of the UMKC Leon E. Bloch law library and School of Law CTO. “Clients expect lawyers to be able to collaborate effectively with IT professionals and have a new technical skill set inclusive of data analysis, e-discovery software, and even, in some cases, programming. Technology knowledge gives graduating law students a distinct competitive advantage.”
Robak helps develop the technology curriculum for the UMKC School of Law, and is responsible for vetting software products, like practice management software and e-discovery platforms, that will be taught in class. However, teaching these platforms requires real-life experience—a professor can’t just plug in a piece of software and start demonstrating it if they’ve never used it themselves.
“A challenge for the legal academy is that many law professors aren’t fluent in technology,” said Robak. “To educate students in legal tech, we need adjunct faculty, typically practicing attorneys or consultants, who are highly experienced in areas like e-discovery to partner with the law school doctrinal faculty and teach at law schools.”
Robak also emphasized that law schools need to put more resources into recruiting STEM students to come study law.
“They need to know that the legal market is a place where they can take advantage of their skills and provide real value for firms and clients,” he said.
As corporate data volumes grow, legal teams frequently must comb through hundreds of thousands—or even millions—of documents in mere days to find key information ahead of a deadline. Doing that without technology is simply not possible, and getting new associates up to speed on the latest tech can be time consuming. Legal tech knowledge could give grads a leg up as job seekers.
There’s been an increasing demand for e-discovery knowledge, and general technical literacy across the board. 39% of lawyers surveyed by Robert Half said the number of e-discovery projects managed by their law firm or corporate legal department has increased compared to two years ago, and a quarter said their top challenge in managing e-discovery requests was volume of data. It comes as no surprise that many firms today want entry level associates who are comfortable diving right in and using software to handle the review of large document sets, which is necessary on almost every civil case now.
In some states, legal technology knowledge isn’t nice to have—it’s required. In 2012, the American Bar Association changed its Model Rules of Professional Conduct to clarify that lawyers have an ethical duty to be competent not only in the law and its practice, but also in technology. More than half of the states in the U.S. have formally adopted the revision.
Some states have taken it even further, specifically requiring education in legal technology. In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court adopted a proposal for mandatory technology-related continuing legal education (CLE), requiring lawyers to take a minimum of three hours of technology CLE courses during a three-year cycle.
Law schools are slowly but surely adapting to the changing legal landscape. Some schools, like the UMKC School of Law, have fully embraced technology. Others have begun to add legal technology courses to their curriculum. Harvard Law school offers a class called Programming for Lawyers, and Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law has a course focusing on high-tech trial techniques.
As more law students graduate with practical technology knowledge, and more lawyers become fluent in legal technology, the pace of legal tech innovation will surely accelerate.