Monday, August 29, 2011

Do we need to teach students e-discovery skills?

This story from Forbes (hat tip ATL) is about e-discovery moving to the cloud but what really caught my attention is just how big the e-discovery industry is expected to become.  According to Forbes, e-discovery software and services generated $3 billion in revenues for 2010 and that number is expected to double in the next two years. It's not clear to me the extent to which large scale opportunities exist in the e-discovery industry for lawyers (rather than software designers), putting aside the question of whether it's wise for law students to incur heavy debt for a career in e-discovery even if that's an option.

It is abundantly clear, though, that law grads must understand the technological issues involved in e-discovery including how to search for meta-data to prevent the inadvertent waiver of the attorney-client privilege or other mistakes that could compromise the client's case.  Graduating students who don't understand these issues may be a bit like graduating ones who don't understand the significance of deadlines; they will be malpractice cases waiting to happen.  And while digital natives are fluent in social networking, the use of the web and video-games, some commentators have suggested that they have little to no understanding of the technological issues that underlie it all.

What, if anything, should law schools be doing to impart to students the skills needed to competently assess and handle e-discovery issues? I know what you're thinking - there already isn't enough room in the curriculum to teach students some of the most basic skills they will need in practice without adding "technology 101" to the mix. And besides, who on the faculty has the technological know-how to teach such a course?  Unless a faculty member has come from practice within the past few years, they most likely don't have the expertise to do it either.  Perhaps librarians (as information technology experts), vendors (we often use Wexis reps teach those technologies to students) or IT department personnel could do it.

What do you think? Are these the kinds of skills we should be adding to a "practice-ready" curriculum and if so what would such a course look like and who would staff it? Please share your thoughts below.


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We recently launched a website to provide resources (all are free) to educators teaching e-discovery:

Posted by: Bill Dimm | Sep 1, 2011 12:18:39 PM

Yes, law schools should be adding courses that cover the use of technology to the curriculum. Wayne Miller and I developed such a course at Duke Law four years ago, and I am proposing a similar one at University of Cincinnati. To be sure, there are courses primarily directed at e-discovery taught at some schools, but our course covers it as one among many technology issues with which lawyers should be familiar. Columbia University offers the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, and the University of Arizona and California Western law schools also offer courses that discuss technology in legal practice.

Posted by: Ken Hirsh | Aug 30, 2011 12:39:24 PM

I am teaching an e-discovery seminar at the University of Tennessee College of Law that gives students a hands-on experience with electronic discovery. I have previously done the same thing twice in my pre-trial lit class. I'm able to do it with thousands of documents created in a simulation and with the support of an e-discovery vendor -- IRIS this time. I have not practiced in 7 years, so it has taken some work to get up to speed on the latest technology. But it is worth it based on the feedback I have received from students who have taken the class in the past. I discuss teaching e-discovery with a simulation (and IT support) in an article that will be published in the Nevada Law Journal next year. You can find it at SSRN at I will discuss the class on a panel at AALS in January, so I hope anyone who is interested will look for our panel. It takes some work, but anyone can do this.

Posted by: Paula Schaefer | Aug 29, 2011 10:12:01 AM

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