What “Teaching Legal Tech” Could Mean

The balance between going too far and not far enough

Falling Into The Coding Trap

A few years later, I was in law school and the personal computer had arrived. Along with it came amazing software such as the first generation of the database program, dBase I. This software became the leading database program for years. I was working at a boutique law firm part-time and our litigation opponents were large law firms. That meant we were physically outnumbered on every case.

The Modern Legal Tech Debate

The debate rages today over what level of tech training law schools should provide to law students. Others debate how tech knowledgeable practicing lawyers must become. At one end, some law schools are teaching how to code artificial intelligence and machine learning. At the other end, many law schools are ignoring tech. We also have schools teaching specific legal tech software and others teaching basic skills. Among those already practicing, we have a huge universe of lawyers who know nothing about modern tech.

Do You Need To Learn To Code To Be A Better Lawyer

There is another argument raised in favor of teaching lawyers, and pretty much anyone, to code. Coding, they say, is an exercise in applied logic. As you learn how to code you learn how to be precise and thorough in your thinking. The computer cannot guess what you want next nor is it good at taking an instruction and saying “what you really mean is this...” Computers are literal. So, your instructions must be precise and in the correct sequence. You also must think through the possible outcomes and plan for all of them (the computer-world equivalent and the fertile octogenarian in law).

The Time Challenge

In some ways, the debate comes down to a time challenge. We have three years to teach law students what they need to know to hit the streets “practice ready”. Some want to shrink that to two years, to save money and eliminate some law school boredom. Either way, we need to decide how to make the best use of the time a student spends in law school. Exposing them to tools like tech, project management, process improvement, and data analytics will help them as they learn how to manage matters.

It Isn’t Just Academic

Law schools face a difficult environment today. The traditional approach of teaching legal theory and letting practice skills come after law school has come under a lot of pressure. Large law firms, which at one time hired as many as 40% of all law school graduates in the U.S., today hire under 20%. At the same time, about 40% of all law school graduates in 2016 went to solo firms or firms with 10 or fewer lawyers. The pressure for “practice ready” lawyers is increasing. Beyond legal theory, it can be difficult to identify precisely what tech skills new lawyers will need. Difficult as it may be, law schools need to do more.

Integration Instead Of Add-On

I think there is another solution to this challenge that would work better than the current approaches, but it would take cooperative faculties. By incorporating tech (and project management, and process improvement, etc.) into law school courses, we could avoid the question of whether to add separate classes. If these methodologies become part of the learning experience, students will see them as part of how to practice law. They should be integrated with how law is taught, so that students exiting law school have a solid skill base.

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Ken Grady

Writing & innovating at the intersection of people, processes, & tech. @LeanLawStrategy; https://medium.com/the-algorithmic-society.