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Are law schools preparing students for the future of law?

Fortune Teller

The most recent reports on the future of the legal industry show law firms are in a dire need of fresh talent and new skills. Future lawyers will have to demonstrate knowledge in project management and legal technology. Such skills will be crucial for firms and attorneys who want to stay in the market.

However, the big question is:

Are law schools preparing students for the future of law, and are the changes already taking place? Let’s see the latest insights!

Prognosis on future jobs and legal skills

Several independent and credible sources agree on future jobs and skills. According to Deloitte’s report, project managers, sales executives, dealmakers, data and technology experts will playa significant role in future law firms . The authors suggest that even firms that opt for the status quo will require a review of their talent strategy.

The skill set for the new roles in law firms will require fewer general support staff, junior attorneys, and generalists, the BCG & Bucerius Law School report notes. Lawyers and especially young, inexperienced legal professionals will have to focus on developing specialist expertise in a niche area.

“Indeed, tech skills in the areas of digital communication and collaboration, computer and data science, and statistics will become the coin of the realm in this profession. In some law firms, new roles including legal process managers and general legal technicians will emerge.” ~ BCG & Bucerius Law School

BCG, Bucerius Law School, and experts from the World Economic Forum (see The Future of Jobs) suggest that law schools should provide courses on legal tech and case management processes. Rethinking educational systems, in their opinion, is one of the key areas which have long-term resilience. They note that within four years (!), 5 million jobs will be lost (!!) from “stable” professions including:

  • Legal profession
  • Manufacturing
  • Production
  • Architecture
  • Administration
  • Engineering

The need for change in educating law students is inevitable, according to “Disrupting Law School.” The authors believe that a JD degree doesn’t hold the same value as it once did. They see that changes in the legal market affect both law students and the jobs they strive for.

“The net result of these pressures is a growing storm for law schools that will not recede in the years ahead.” ~ The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation

So the key point is courses like legal tech are destined to increase the employability of graduates.

Why LegalTech should be studied in law schools

We believe some of the biggest benefits of using legal tech are that it helps firms:

  • put their processes in place,
  • eliminate waste,
  • discover the true added-value their law firm creates and
  • enable the firm to quote prices accordingly

Having a clear structure of work, predictable cost, and delivery time, are vital to earning and keeping the respect (and business) from clients. Learning legal tech will help students streamline firms’ processes such as matter management, fees tracking, invoicing et al. For those aiming for management, legal tech knowledge is even more beneficial. Training in legal IT will give young attorneys the ability to track key metrics and insights of their business.

Being tech-savvy is helpful for law school students with an interest in non-lawyer roles too. Law librarians, legal headhunters, paralegals, management consultants, and law firm administrators also need to be prepared with skills the market demands.

A bridge to the world

Hamburg-based, Bucerius Law School (BLS) is one of the most forward-thinking law schools in Germany. The school provides the most recent management and legal tech trends with its dedicated Center on the Legal Profession (CLP).

The CLP helps students become successful modern lawyers, leveraging technology, new business models, and entrepreneurship. In the image below, you’ll see the framework of the CLP. Students gain knowledge about all key aspects of the modern legal profession.

Legal Trek graphic

To have timely insights from the industry, BLS created the Open Innovation Lab. It’s an R&D collaborative platform that gathers professionals from commercial firms, legal departments, and alternative providers.

“The Lab seeks to collect data and develop knowledge and insight about the future of the legal service market and on ways to design and steer the collaboration between participants such that it is future-ready and appropriate for the market.” ~ BLS

Overcoming the walls of law

Innovating the future of legal education is LawWithoutWalls’ mission.  LWOW is an organization under the umbrella of Miami Law School. The initiative assembles international students, mentors, academics and entrepreneurs to develop educational projects that help prepare students for the future of law.

According to LWOW, successful lawyers and schools of tomorrow must be problem-solvers with a business mindset that can use technology, social media, and soft skills.

“Law school students of today view technology as a way to create new solutions to old and new problems. In LawWIthoutWalls, teams of law and business school students combined with multi-disciplinary mentors do just that – they use technology to solve law’s problems”, says Michele DeStefano, founder of LWOW.

The students involved in LWOW work on practical projects that can really make a difference. FeedForward is a good example of such a project. It is a customizable performance management software designed to be a channel of inner communication for law firms. One of the historical complaints of junior associates is the failure to receive timely feedback on their work: FeedForward solves this problem.

Doing the R&D that has been lacking in the legal industry

Another forward-thinking law school is Michigan State University. Its LegalRnD Center is dedicated to improving the way legal services are delivered. For this purpose, they train their students with modern business methods, such as ‘Lean thinking’.

“We’re conducting research to improve legal services, engaging with the legal industry, and training 21st century, T-Shaped lawyers.

We want to leverage process improvement, project management, metrics and data analytics, and legal technology to improve legal services for everyone, from legal aid to complex legal work,” says Daniel W. Linna Jr., Director of LegalRnD and Professor of Law in Residence at Michigan State University College of Law.

Legal technology and innovation are an important part of the research and development process of the student center. But, LegalRnD believes that prior to implementing technology, student and future lawyers have to define precisely the processes of their law firms.

“Historically, attempting to increase access to legal services has meant pouring resources into existing systems. But that approach has not worked. More recently, the focus has shifted to technology. We also leverage technology, but recognize that poorly defined processes, standards, and metrics lead to ineffective implementation.“

Training the next generation of lawyers

Nashville-based Vanderbilt Law School has trained lawyers for 140 years. Vanderbilt has a special program, called Law and Innovation that equips students with the skills needed in today’s changing legal environment. The program’s curriculum has four main pillars:

  • The Legal Industry
  • Legal Technologies
  • Legal Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Access to Legal Services

The program’s related activities are focused on giving practical knowledge to students and expose them to the changes that will have an influence on the way they practice law. Students work on researching legal innovation through legal project management, technology, and other legal service delivery methodologies.

Along with traditional legal knowledge, law schools should consider offering students technology-oriented programs. Legal technology has been seen as an obstacle by lawyers for too long. But all predictions for the future of law show that technology will be an indispensable part of it. It’s time for a change, not only in the legal profession but in educational systems too.

Ilina Rejeva Ilina Rejeva is a community manager at LegalTrek, a legal billing and practice management software for law firms. She holds a degree in journalism and has been practicing as a reporter in the fields of economics, IT, telecommunications and environment. She is the author of LegalTrek’s blog, and she’s building a community of forward-thinking lawyers.