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Legal technology and law students: Improving the profession (and your experience)

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Legal Tech

Over the past few decades, technology has played a key role in connecting individuals, businesses, and organizations across the world.  The increasing use of technology, whether in the healthcare, financial, or educational sectors, has changed the way we do things. 

In the legal industry, it promises to make the practice of law more efficient and accessible to underserved communities.

In 2012, the American Bar Association revised the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to include that a lawyer’s competency entails “keep[ing] abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology…”  Since then, many state bar associations have adopted a technology competency standard and more and more law schools have begun developing and implementing legal tech programs and curriculum.  Despite these advances, there are still graduating law students who receive limited or no legal technology training.

For those students, and for anyone else wondering how legal technology can impact your legal education and future practice, I would like to share some of the wisdom and insights I have gained over the past three years.  I hope, you too can build your own path to include options beyond what is already available at your school.

Allow your curiosity to be the driving force

The most prevalent quality I have noticed among individuals working in legal technology is the curiosity that drives their desire. Like many law students, I do not have a tech background, and I was initially afraid that I would be unable to contribute or join the legal tech community.  After some time I learned that it is not the technology that has the answers: We do. Our clients do. Our community does!  And as such, it is our job, as future lawyers and legal advocates, to identify the problems we want to address and to ask ourselves whether we can use technology to help. 

It is important to understand that not every problem requires us to develop a solution from scratch.  There are many companies and services out there that may have already solved or are working to solve the same issue you are encountering.  Examples of such companies or applications include Neota Logic, LawHelp Interactive, or Community Lawyer.  Some of them may have an open-source code or offer customizable templates that you can adapt for your own needs.

One of the most exciting opportunities legal tech has to offer is the possibility for interdisciplinary collaboration.  When we rely on the knowledge we have and the work we have done, we save time, but that should never keep us from trying new things. 

Legal technology does not require us to drop everything we have learned. In fact, it tells us to use our legal background to develop tools that can make our work easier and our clients happier.

Break away from the myths surrounding the legal tech industry

There is a growing job market for technology-trained lawyers, and now is the time to gain the skills needed to succeed in one of those jobs.  One of the biggest misconceptions regarding this emerging industry is that those involved have a degree in computer science or a related field.  After looking at hundreds of job posts and chatting with people in the industry, I have learned that is far from the truth.  While a technical background can be useful, programs like the ones mentioned above allow legal advocates to develop mobile apps, online forms, and other applications without having to write a single line of code.

Another myth one often hears is the expectation that technology alone will solve all of our problems.  The legal industry today can learn from the precedent set by other industries, both their mistakes and successes. One of the most important lessons I have learned from tech lawyers is that technology works best when solutions take into account the culture and needs of the individuals it is seeking to serve. 

For anyone who is overwhelmed and may not know where to start, I recommend first focusing on an area of law or issue you are passionate and then reaching out to people doing that type of work, starting with your contacts and the law school’s alumni network.

Build your own path

Everyone’s journey to legal tech is unique.  Mine started through my involvement with Casetext, a company that is changing the way legal research is done by using artificial intelligence.  Similarly to other legal research companies, Casetext has an ambassador program for law students, but this was not what first caught my attention.  It was the company’s commitment to access to justice and its mission to making legal knowledge more accessible that motivated me to apply and become the first ambassador at the William S. Richardson School of Law.

As I learned more about Casetext and started to share my knowledge with my peers while listening to their feedback, I realized that, even as a law student, I was contributing to and shaping the future of the legal industry.  Unlike other research tools I was using, Casetext’s C.A.R.A. A.I. allowed me to upload any document or brief I was working on and provided me with feedback that showed whether my work product was accurate and how to improve it.

 Like my decision to attend law school, my journey to legal tech started with the same sense of curiosity and passion for expanding access to legal knowledge.  Not only did this artificial intelligence-powered tool helped me saved me countless hours of research, but having the opportunity to work with the Casetext team also led me to discovering new passions and building new dreams. 

As you look for opportunities to learn about legal technology, I encourage you to not worry too much about where to start, but rather spend that time reflecting on where you are going.  My personal advice is to be proactive and to seek out companies and ask if they have any opportunities available.

Develop your own network

Because of the connections and knowledge I gained as a Casetext ambassador, I decided to look for summer opportunities in the legal tech field.  During my 2L year, I received the Access to Justice Tech Fellowship and through this program, I had the privilege to pursue an externship with Nassau Suffolk Law Services and LawHelpNY, an online tool focused on helping low-income individuals solve their legal issues.

Aside from doing a legal tech externship, law students can also benefit from attending conferences, being active in social media, and participating in legal technology hackathons.

For many students like myself, the legal tech community has become part of my extended family.  Throughout my career, I have trusted my mentors, friends, and colleagues to help me become the type of lawyer I want to be.  Their work and guidance has been a constant reminder that it is my responsibility not only to know the law, but also to look for ways to improve our legal system. 

While legal technology does not promise a one-solution-fits-all, its potential for success depends on people like you and I who are curious and passionate about exploring new opportunities to make legal knowledge more accessible and modernize the practice of law.

Andres Gonzalez Andres Gonzalez is a 3L student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law who focuses on the intersection of law and technology. He received an A.A. in Biology from Miami Dade Honors College and a B.A. in Anthropology from Stanford University. After college, Andres worked for an e-commerce platform, where he honed his customer service and sales skills, supporting both the U.S. and international markets.