Beyond the disruption: Tomorrow’s lawyers should get legal tech ready
Today’s law students will enter a legal industry that bears little resemblance of the past, and legal tech education is not only necessary for navigating a disrupted legal industry, but is critical for thriving in it, writes Arthur Marusevich.
It goes without saying that law students should continue to maintain focus on core legal skills. Understanding fundamental legal principles, growing skills in critical analysis, written and oral communication and ethical decision-making, are key ingredients that remain the pivot of being a competitive lawyer. However, with all the tech disruption in the legal sector, the technological aptitude of new lawyers is no more a preference but is fast becoming a prerequisite.
What should law students do?
Consider enrolling in law and technology courses.
Most universities in Australia are already offering law and technology courses to ensure graduates are equipped with technology skills.
Arguably the most exciting of them all is the University of Melbourne’s “Law Apps” elective. This course sees students design and build a legal expert system that can provide legal advice to non-lawyers.
Another hot option is the Australian National University’s “Legislative Drafting and Technology”. The course examines the practical application of technology in legal practice.
Then there is the University of Technology Sydney, offering a major in “Legal Futures and Technology”, while the University of Sydney and RMIT University also offer courses exploring the interface between law and technology.
Students should seriously consider enrolling in these kinds of courses, or at least complete a unit or two. They will not only benefit from learning about the exciting and innovative technologies disrupting the legal sector, but also ensure they are prepared to use the same technology in their future careers.
Gain advanced computer skills.
Students can now be expected to use Microsoft Office applications at an advanced level. Instead of knowing how to collect data on Excel, students can expect to be required to use formulas, references, macros and pivot tables in Excel. There are great learning resources to start with, including Microsoft’s own training templates.
Learn the fundamentals of e-discovery, know about APIs.
E-discovery is now widely used by law firms. It has a language of own its own, and it would be overwhelming for new lawyers attempting to decode “de-NIST” if asked to do one.
The good news is most e-discovery software providers already offer some form of introductory training, including self-paced tutorials, videos and glossary of terms. These materials can generally be accessed on the providers’ website – and best of all, they are free.
At the very least, students should consider familiarising themselves with the most popular and obscure terms used in the practice of e-discovery.
Application programming interface (API) is another technological advancement increasingly being implemented by emerging law firms, tech corporations and governments. Instead of requiring lawyers to deal with several login details and user interfaces to work on a single matter, an API allows automated data gathering and operational processes. APIs are expected to form an integral part of the client-facing solutions in law firms and corporations. Knowing about APIs is an added advantage for new lawyers.
Don’t worry about coding.
Whilst there is some buzz about coding, it is a misconception that law students should know how to code. After speaking to many people in the industry and researching hundreds of legal job posts, the reality is that although a technical background can be useful, learning coding at law school seems unnecessary. It is unlikely that lawyers of the future will be expected to code, given that automation technology already does all that. For instance, law firms that have adopted smart contracts technology already have software producing smart contracts without the need for their lawyers to know a single line of code.
The bottom line
Today’s law students will enter a legal industry that bears little resemblance of the past, and legal tech education is not only necessary for navigating a disrupted legal industry, but is critical for thriving in it. Students should start considering their options now.