Today’s law students will enter a legal industry that bears little resemblance to the past — think mobile access and AI-powered technologies rather than stately offices and boxes of documents. To prepare students for success in today’s digital world, law schools are increasingly focusing their curricula on issues of technology and innovation.
“Legal tech” may have once been just a buzzword, but today it’s an integral part of day-to-day legal practice. Law firms are no longer the only major players in the legal industry. As technology continues to evolve and integrate itself into the practice of law, legal technology companies and tech-based alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) are changing the landscape of legal services and presenting viable career options for law students who may have once been singularly focused on a path to Biglaw. To adapt to the changing industry and the demands of today’s tech-savvy, millennial law students, the law school curriculum of the future will need to be just as much Siri as Socratic method.
Legal tech is solidly entrenching itself in the modern law school curriculum, alongside law school staples like torts and criminal law. The country’s top law schools are leading the way with a variety of offerings focusing on legal tech and innovation, ranging from academic certificates in legal tech and innovation-focused clinics to legal tech student associations and courses focusing on legal app development.
While law schools may currently go about teaching tech in different ways, one thing seems clear — in the years to come, all law schools will increase their tech offerings and have a much stronger focus on technology in general. Law schools will need to make this significant pivot in the way they teach law in order to meet student demand for an education that will prepare them for the realities of a changing legal industry.
A Curriculum For the Future Workforce
Law schools’ efforts to teach students how legal tech is disrupting the industry is a crucial shift in preparing students for the future, but it’s only the first step. In order to graduate a fully prepared workforce, law schools must focus on preparing their students to be comfortable with today’s disruptive technology and how to successfully use it in their future careers, whether at law firms or legal tech companies.
What does that look like in terms of the legal curriculum? For starters, it means in-depth introductions to disruptive technologies like AI, machine learning, and natural language processing, in addition to primers on issues that are changing the face of legal practice, including blockchain, digitalization, cybersecurity, and data privacy regulations. Automation has unquestionably changed the way today’s lawyers practice law, and tomorrow’s lawyers need to enter the workforce being comfortable with AI and all the legal implications that come along with it.
Another major piece of teaching legal tech is getting law students to understand the importance of data and how to leverage data analytics to increase efficiency, lower costs, and optimize processes. Effectively interpreting data allows for the kind of quantitative decision-making that clients are now demanding from their counsel. Negotiating contracts has always been at the heart of transactional legal work, but today the terms of those contracts are more than just words, they’re data points. Learning to view and understand contract terms as malleable data will enable lawyers to glean important insights that allow for more effective negotiation. AI-powered data reporting and analytics are essential to uncovering key business and legal information from agreements. Knowing how to use these tools to tame ever-growing volumes of data is a valuable skill set sought by prescient employers.
In the past, lawyers have been learning these skills on the job, but, in the future, employers will be looking to hire graduates who already have them. Also, as more law school students look to tech-centric legal career paths rather than traditional lawyer roles, they’ll be looking for legal tech courses when choosing a law school. By the time they graduate, today’s law students will be at the tipping point of a disrupted industry, and a legal tech education is critical to not just navigating this disruption but thriving in it.
The Way Forward
A law school education comes with a hefty price tag, and today’s law students want to know that they’re being prepared for the legal industry of the future, which includes careers at legal tech companies and ALSPs, not just traditional law firms. Students are demanding that law schools teach them the skills they need to know to succeed in a changing job market and in an industry facing major disruption. As a result, if law schools want to continue attracting the best talent, they will need to develop a significantly more tech-centric curriculum to prepare graduates embarking into a profession undergoing a transformation in the way law is practiced.