June 27, 2011
Practical Skills at St. Louis University
The St. Louis University School of Law has had a Law Practice Management class in its summer session for several years. Barbara Gilchrist teaches the class.
The syllabus shows the expansive reach of the class - business forms, marketing, client managment, technology, finances and much more. As part fo the class, students go to the highly-regarded Missouri Solo and Small Firm Conference. If that's not enough, the students get to hear a wide range of speakers with expertise in each of the areas of coverage.
I (Dennis Kennedy) have had the pleasure to speak to this class several times in recent years about legal technology and related matters. I take an all Q & A approach and am always intrigued by the great questions I get and what issues the students focus on each year.
I spoke to this year's class last week and had a great discussion with the students. Perhaps not surprisingly, a lot of the questions related to social media. I enjoyed getting some of the most sophisticated questions I've ever gotten about use of social media and the Internet by lawyers. Unlike most groups of lawyers, these students not only knew what cloud computing was, they were asking about its positive aspects while still being cognizant of security and other issues. We spent quite a bit of time talking about ethical and professional responsibility issues relating to technology in general and social media in particular.
As we discussed recent state regulatory and ethical decisions on these subjects, the students voiced their concern that the rules seemed to block (or want to block) uses of social media and the Internet that seem very natural to the current generation of students. At one point, a student suggested that the disciplinary approaches seemed more directed at protecting a cartel than protecting clients.
I took my professional responsibility class in law school in the same semester as my antitrust law class, and I must admit to having similar thoughts over the years.
The conversation gave me, and should give all of us, much to think about as ethical and disciplinary approaches based on a shaky understanding of technology seem to make difficult uses of technology aimed at providing better, faster and cheaper service to clients. I liked the way that the students wanted to learn how to get involved in the rule-making process.
I like the way practice management courses such as this one help students not only learn basic practical skills and get insights about the actual practice of law, but also let them apply their academic skills to practice management areas and come up with fresh ideas and approaches.