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Can Technology Transform Law Education And Practice?
Legal education is a hot topic recently. The programs drive student debt – median institutional debt is over $100,000 just for law school, not including any prior education – and salaries vary widely. Law school graduates with the lowest median salaries may make as little as $20k or $30k a year, while the highest paid graduates, generally from schools like Columbia and Harvard, may earn closer to $200k in their first year after graduation. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the fact that all of this debt stems from an educational system that hasn’t changed much in the last several decades.
Legal education’s lack of change has led to major skills gap, one that’s forcing many firms to hire consultants to help their staff learn how to use new technology in their professional lives. Law schools need to make adjustments now in order to equip the next generation of lawyers to use the tools that make modern legal practice possible.
Study And Serve
When it comes to changing how lawyers are trained, students are leading the push. Today’s law students are digital natives – most have never known the pre-internet world – and they both want to apply that skillset to their legal careers and make use of all technology has to offer.
For example, millions of people in the United States face judges without legal representation every year. Technology could help connect these individuals with lawyers willing to do pro bono work or offering sliding scale legal services, but students need to be taught what the rules are for this kind of work and what tools are out there to help them to do this work, or nothing will change.
Students should also be able to take advantage of new technology as part of their education, as a way to enhance conventional training. During argumentation practice, students should record simulated courtroom events so that they can break down how effective their argument, cross-examination, and physical presence are. Doing this with a specialized system rather than a basic camera means students can maintain a library of past performances, easily compare their improvements, and take notes on student arguments – all within a contained system.
Enhanced connectivity, particularly video communications, clearly has the potential to change how lawyers are trained and how they practice, but that’s not the only way legal education needs to change. There’s also a substantial market for legal professionals in coding, data management, and related fields.
Some schools have already caught on to these emerging industries and, to that end, such elite programs as NYU and the University of Chicago offer technology-focused legal clinics. Others offer technology and law certificates for students who want to work as analysts or build legal apps. At Suffolk University’s law school, Ari Kaplan leads a Legal Innovation and Technology (LIT) Lab. The program supports students working on data science, website, and app projects for clients, allowing them to learn about the full extent of the modern legal field.
There’s still a lot we don’t understand about how technology can support lawyers and serve clients, but it’s undoubtable that these tools are an increasingly important part of legal work. Students who are properly trained in new technology will have a lot to offer to traditional firms, as well as to law-affiliated fields, but they need their schools to support this education.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes.