As I started to respond to this tweet on Twitter, it occurred to me that this is a perfect #ALTJD topic. And it’s been a while since we’ve posted here. So, I’ll respond here, and tweet about it. A twofer.
I have more questions than answers in response to the tweet.
A few questions that come to mind:
What exactly should law schools be teaching, with regards to technology?
Should law schools be leveraging technology pedagogically, i.e. in how we teach?
How can law schools and practitioners collaborate to connect the dots between legal education and practice through technology?
And, some thoughts occur as I ponder these queries. One is that law schools generally don’t much teach the practice of law, but rather legal theory and how to “think like a lawyer.” These are very different things. This seems relevant to the technology inquiry and what role it should (can?) play in legal education.
Another thought: I’m not sure we have enough qualified people to teach technology courses (once we decide what this should look like in the legal education setting). I’ve talked to folks at many schools who want to integrate technology and innovation courses into the curricula and can’t because there are no faculty to teach the courses. Even finding qualified adjunct is proving challenging.
(I have many thoughts on why this is. Starting with the fact that many people most qualified to teach technology and innovation courses aren’t necessarily biglaw lawyers who can afford to spend an enormous amount of time teaching a course for essentially no remuneration. When this is the model, you get a lot of old, white male adjuncts who generally are very traditional. This severely limits the pool.)
And because this is a microblog I’ll save further thoughts for another day.
I recently attended a by-invitation-only conclave convened to explore the future of legal services, from a global perspective. In the room? Legal educators, law company c-suite folks, operations counsel from global technology companies, leaders of legal for the Big 4, members of the current ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education. An interesting mix of people, certainly.
Attendees were asked to contribute a short paper on one of three topics. Not surprisingly, I chose the topic “design principles for law school curricula in the light of future developments in the market for legal services.”
Here is what I submitted:
The very existence of this second Conference on the Future of Legal Services affirms that the legal profession rests on shifting sands. Accordingly, I will forgo a belabored review of what is changing, and by how much, and why. And I will simply point out that what lawyers do and how we do it looks very different today than it did when my grandfather entered the practice in the 1940s, and when my father entered the practice in the 1960s, and even when I entered the practice in the 1990s. The pace of this change is not going to slow, and most likely will continue to hasten.
If we accept this as true, then what is the import for legal
education? For surely, if what lawyers do and how we do it is changing, then
how we educate and train new lawyers should change. Many people have been
discussing this for quite a while. Consider Thomas D. Morgan’s proposal that
the ABA’s law school reform efforts in 2011 “must necessarily begin — at
least implicitly — with the question of what kind of people law schools are
charged with producing.”
This question remains at the heart of any inquiry into legal education.
I recently joined the working group for the Delta Competency Model, which seeks to describe the core competencies required to be a successful modern legal practitioner: this is the kind of person law schools are charged to produce. Comprised of three primary competency areas — the law, personal effectiveness, and business and operations — the model offers an agile and dynamic framework for describing the skills and characteristics today and tomorrow’s lawyers — and legal professionals generally — need to thrive.
My proposal is simple: we need a new flavor of legal education with a curriculum designed to teach these competencies. This must happen in the immediate future, and it must be a path to both a legal practice (as a licensed lawyer) as well as positions that do not necessarily require bar passage and licensure, such as legal operations engineer, legal designer, legal process architect, and many more positions that will be needed and do not yet exist.
How do we do this? This also is very simple: the ABA creates
a sandbox for designing and testing new flavors of accredited legal education, to include curricular content aligned
with modern competencies (e.g. the Delta Model) and delivered using modern
pedagogical best practices, including methods based in learning science and
integrating advanced technology. All at a cost to law students that does not
unduly burden them financially and therefore limit (or dictate) their
reasonable employment options post-graduation.
Our obligations to uphold the rule of law and provide access to justice are too great for us to continue with our heads buried in these shifting sands. I’m a 5th-generation lawyer practicing for 20+ years. And I will leave legal education and the profession completely before I stand idly by and bear witness to our continued collective hubris. The time is now.
 Thomas D. Morgan, The Changing Face of Legal
Education: Its Impact on What It Means to Be a Lawyer, 45 Akron L. Rev. 811,
 The Delta Competency Model: see https://www.alysoncarrel.com/delta-competency-model
I receive queries often from employers who seek legal professionals with training and experience in areas that law schools are not offering (or, not offering in a meaningful and comprehensive way). So students are graduating without this exposure. And often going into law firms that do not offer this exposure.
Queries seeking to fill positions like Legal Process Innovation Architect, for example:
Where does one get exposure to and experience with these competencies? (This is not a rhetorical question.)
This is happening as I engage in the Delta Lawyer Model of competency working group. We’re seeking to identify core competencies required by a modern legal professional.
The Delta Model identifies the range of competencies that appear in this job description—a range much broader than what is offered by a traditional legal education (which happens to be the only flavor available). While the company that drafted this description has no knowledge of the model, this is not happenstance. The world is moving rapidly in the direction of requiring these competencies. (n.b.: This truth is being affirmed over and over as we test and refine the model across the spectrum of legal employers.)
A recent post on the ADR Prof Blog, Indisputably, asked the question: How does the rise of new legal technology and innovation programs impact the future of ADR programs in legal ed? The post seemed to pit one program against the other after Georgia State University Law School announced it had pulled funding for a new ADR faculty position to prioritize resources in legal technology.
As a member of the ADR community, I was concerned to hear that a school pulled funding from an ADR position. As the assistant dean for law and technology initiatives at Northwestern, I was glad to see another school recognize the changes in our practice that legal technology and innovation are driving. More schools need to open their eyes to this changing landscape and realize that learning how to “think like a lawyer” is insufficient for today’s legal market. New skills related to technology, data, and artificial intelligence are required to meet clients’ demands to provide better, faster, and cheaper services.
And while I implore law schools to recognize the importance of technology and innovation, I don’t think it should be at the expense of skills often taught in ADR courses. We can’t mistake the growing importance of learning about technology and data analytics with a shrinking importance of learning problem-solving skills. They go hand in hand.
Advocates in the legal technology and innovation space are not arguing for lawyers to become computer scientists, they are arguing for lawyers to become better problem-solvers by understanding and utilizing all the tools available to them, including technology. This was one of the reasons I gravitated towards the legal tech (and innovation) space. It is the focus on creativity and problem-solving, as well as its appreciation of the interdisciplinary nature inherent in good lawyering, that attracted me. Technology is just one of the many tools available when designing a solution.
The rise of innovation and legal technology in the delivery of legal services should be driving a more holistic understanding of lawyering and legal education. I’d like to think we can shift the conversation from an “or” stance to an “and” stance, and remind administrators why ADR programs, and more broadly lawyering and problem-solving modules, are as important to our students today as ever, maybe even more so.
We deprive ourselves and our students of the important (necessary?) contributions technology makes — both to the educational process and to the content of what we teach in law school — if our primary conversations around technology in the law school environment concern whether students can use laptops in class (or not).
My point: we are completely missing the point. And the opportunity.
Legal education in the 21st century demands technology — in how we teach, and what we teach.
Most people go to law school with the intention of practicing law. This most often means getting a job in a law firm, government agency, or other organization that requires the skills and training (and ultimately the licensure) that law school provides.
So why don’t we treat law students like the professionals they are? Law school is a professional school. We are training professionals.
For the most part, traditional legal pedagogy imparts few “soft” professional skills. A few courses may here and there, and of course, clinics generally do. But access to these opportunities is very limited.
Many law students exit law school with NO experience working in a collaborative way. Few have been exposed to best practices in professionalism. Most are treated like . . . students. Not as professionals. The difference is distinct.
We’re not training students. We are training lawyers. How do we do this? It should include at least some exposure to professional skills and the opportunity to practice them, beyond an ethics course.
(Not that I think most ethics courses impart professional skills, but I expect someone to point to ethics in the curriculum and say, “But we do!” No. We do not.)
We can keep the Socratic method. AND we can do more, and do better, to prepare students for the real world of lawyering*.
*Or whatever they go do, because the skills we teach in law school transect roles and industries.
Every year I take my legal technology students for a brief one day trip to NYC to a Legal Tech conference. Initially, when my colleague Oliver Goodenough conceived the idea, the trip was intended to broaden career horizons, offer a taste of modern law practice, and provided hands-on professional learning opportunities in an immersive fast-paced conference environment.
In 2009-2010 when we made our initial trip with students, legal practice was feeling strong impacts from the 2008 financial crisis and the common perception of career prospects for soon-to-be graduates was grim. The frenetic pace of the LegalTech show inspired our students and gave them hope about alternatives to traditional J.D. jobs – not to mention allowed them an opportunity to hear talks by judges from the cases they read. Two students found future employment and one student found an internship from connections made that day. Three from a group of ten found work in that legal career climate – we were pleased and impressed.
Fast forward to today as I prepare to take my students to what is now called Legal Week in NYC. When talking to law students about careers, one of the challenges is expanding their preconceived notions of the possible. For some of the students there is the possibility to blend their past career/learning with their J.D. to provide distinct and interesting future possibilities. Take one of my students this year. He’s a former high school math teacher with a fondness for conversations about AI, machine learning and data science. In one day at this conference he will experience the myriad of ways his skills can be blended into a future legal career. My prediction? It will change his career trajectory – now or in five years.
While I enjoy taking students for this day in NYC – delight in watching their shock and awe at all the wild possibilities – I want to bring this expansive experience back to our law school, all law schools. How do we challenge students’ preconceived notions of career possibilities from the comforts of the legal ivory tower (ivory silo)? How do we bring experiences like this to all law students? It’s critical to moving the legal profession forward.
It is so obvious that stating it feels unnecessary. This is not rocket science.
But it is. Necessary to state that law schools should take the lead in educating lawyers about technology. To be bold, and go where no one has gone before.
We have a fuzzy comment to an ethics rule adopted by most states. And really whether the comment has been adopted should be irrelevant. How can anyone take the position that technology is irrelevant to the competent practice of law today?
Law schools stand in the unique position to help design standards for technology competence and to deliver meaningful learning experiences to lawyers-in-training, who will go out into the world to be more competent, effective lawyers.
I have many thoughts on the design of such standards, and many of the thoughts center on agility and continuous evolution and accessibility.
We need lots of thoughts to be shared. And then meaningful action.
Technology is a major driver to innovation in the law and legal services. Although it isn’t the only driver of change, advancing technology has demonstrated a crucial need to reconsider how and what we teach in law schools. In describing this need, articles talk about teaching at the intersection of law & technology, but what does that mean? This overarching phrase, teaching at the intersection of law & technology, implies many different things; here are just five of the different meanings implied:
The law of technology: How is traditional doctrine applied to advances in technology and how might the law need to change in order to adapt to or shape the future stemming from technological changes?
The technology of law: How is technology changing the delivery of legal services and what ethical responsibilities does this impact?
Innovation: How is innovation, often, but not always driven by advancing technology, changing client expectations?
Tech fluency: What technological skills do law students need in order to successfully enter the changing legal service delivery environment?
Instructional Technology: How can educators utilize technology to better engage students and enhance student learning?
I find that the use of this overarching phrase creates confusion and unnecessary challenges to our many efforts of redesigning and modernizing legal education. Although we need colleagues to understand the multiplicity of issues facing the future of law and legal education — and there are many — we need to be more precise in what changes we seek in order to more effectively engage our audience.
Each faculty member wears a lens through which they perceive legal education reform. Some focus on pedagogy, some on doctrine. Unfortunately, the many meanings of the phrase intersection of law & technology may lose meaning if they perceive it through the wrong lens.
For instance, a doctrinal faculty member who views legal education through a research lens, may dismiss a workshop discussing the impact of technology on a substantive area of the law because the event was billed as a talk on the intersection of law & technology, which the faculty assumed meant the use of technology as a legal operations tool.
Or a faculty member who teaches skills courses or clinics and views legal education through an experiential lens might miss a session on how to use technology to enhance lawyer’s skills in providing client services because they assumed the session was about instructional technology.
The phrase intersection of law & technology is not inherently problematic, it is in fact a great phrase to mean all things related to law and technology. But when we are trying to persuade skeptical colleagues to heed our warning that legal education must adapt to the changing marketplace, we must communicate with more specificity so that they can hear us through whatever lens they wear.
How might we decide what 21st century lawyers need to learn?
How might we design and deliver a curriculum that reflects what we learned from the above query?
How might we prepare 21st century law students for a bar exam?
How might we connect the silos of bar examination with legal education?
Should there be a bar exam? If not, then what?
How might we prepare 21st century law students for a meaningful, productive career that does not include getting barred or engaging in the “traditional” practice of law? If we decide this is a valid mission?
How might we create a meaningful conversation on these and many other important questions about legal education, that leads to proactive innovation (change that creates value for stakeholders) rather than reactive choices that do not create value?