Friday, July 19, 2019

Bringing Legal Tech Into the Law School Classroom with DISCO

The following post is by guest blogger Professor Joe Regalia of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law who we're very pleased to have joining us today. 

Bringing Legal Tech Into the Law School Classroom with DISCO

Technology and innovation are vital parts of the job for lawyers today. It’s impossible to practice law without basic technology skills. And to flourish requires much more: tech-savvy that empowers lawyers to respond to our rapidly changing legal world.

A recent Wolter Kluwer survey found that most lawyers lack key technology skills. That goes for the digital-native millennials, too—who many of us assume can navigate technology with ease. Nearly three out of every four millennials said they have don’t have a "very good understanding of the technologies" that impact their practice. Only one-third of lawyers believe their organization is prepared to keep pace with technology changes.

Why are lawyers so bad with leveraging technology? The survey found that it’s because lawyers don’t have the skills to use it. Simple as that.

So what to do?

Technology and innovation in law school

My law professor colleagues and I think that the solution will come from law schools. Much of the resistance to technology comes from a lack of basic skills and a dose of cultural resistance in the legal field. And law schools are the perfect place to address both.

If technology is baked into the curriculum that law students study—from day one—then they will not only have the skills they need when they graduate, but they will also have the mindset of an innovator. We need to cultivate the mindset to seek out new ways to use technology and a better sense of how to navigate the evolving legal landscape.

With this goal in mind, I put together a pilot project with other like-minded law professors. The goal: Incorporate technology skills training into the first-year curriculum. We hoped that by introducing law students to technology and innovation early and often, we would help graduates finally start to close the technology gap.

But where to start? After some brainstorming, the answer was obvious: ediscovery. Ediscovery is the most developed and integral legal technology out there. Nearly every lawyer must learn how to review and handle digital documents, and technology tools have transformed this process. So this seemed like the best first step.

But then came the hard part. How do you even go about teaching this stuff? The first hurdle was figuring out how to pay for ediscovery software for our students and professors to use. The second was training the professors—many of whom have never even seen ediscovery software in person, much less used it themselves. The third challenge was figuring out how to introduce new law students to this complicated technology, a technology that even lawyers struggle with, and many partners don’t even know how to use.

The pilot group was sensitive to our students’ busy schedules and the huge volume of information they already have to wrangle with in their first year. But we knew these skills were too important to ignore.

We began reaching out to ediscovery companies, including Relativity. But Relativity is expensive and, more importantly, the tool is famously difficult to navigate: Lawyers often rely on a staff of specialists to conduct even basic document review and analysis. Figuring out how to use the various fields and commands can take dozens or hundreds of hours of training. These issues made it impossible to bring Relativity into the law classroom.

Teachable Opportunities with DISCO

Eventually, we found the answer: DISCO, an intuitive but powerful suite of ediscovery tools that is easy to learn and easy to teach. I’ve come to think of DISCO as the Apple of ediscovery—everything about it is simple and straightforward. It’s perfect for new law students (and law professors). No hours of training or special support staff are required. After about a half hour, even fresh-eyed law students can dive in.

Not only is DISCO so easy to use that our pilot group of professors believed we could teach it to new students—but DISCO the company also turned out to be an incredible partner, committed to educating our next generation of lawyers. It agreed to help teach the basics of ediscovery and donated the use of its software and support to our pilot group.

With DISCO’s help, we built out two ediscovery curriculums for first-year coursework.

First, we designed a short, two-hour program that is a completely self-contained ediscovery primer for law professors who wanted to bring technology into their classrooms but lack the time or ability to teach a more robust series of activities. This ediscovery primer introduced law students to the basics of documents: collecting them, processing them, and reviewing them—the most common skills practicing lawyers need. It also included simple demonstrations of ediscovery in action, with the professor working with the class to conduct document searches, tag documents, and walk through simple activities that emulate how an attorney might use ediscovery software in practice.

Our second curriculum was designed for professors to incorporate ediscovery on a larger scale. After the primer on documents and ediscovery, the professors uploaded documents relevant to an in-class writing assignment onto the DISCO platform (which is as easy as dragging and dropping). Several irrelevant documents were also uploaded, as well as privileged samples. The idea was to create a set of documents that simulated what a real document collection might look like.

The students were then given access to the platform and the chance to conduct their own document review. They tagged and collected supporting documents to use in their legal writing assignments. In other words: The students got to experience ediscovery for themselves. They learned about all the ways that DISCO and similar tools can help sift through factual documents, identify privileged documents, and analyze facts to support litigation.

Students and Professors Enthusiastically Embrace Technology

Both programs were a huge success. We’ve had over 200 law students participate in at least one DISCO class. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Law professors—even those who never used ediscovery tools—reported having an easy time demonstrating the platform to students. The law students nearly uniformly loved the introduction to ediscovery technology. Many noted that their peers did not get this exposure and thought it was a big advantage for them heading into the second year (and their first jobs).

At the end of the semester, students reported feeling better equipped for practice and more excited to explore the ways technology can help them succeed. Over 85% even asked for more technology training to be incorporated into their classes generally. Overall, students love DISCO and they love learning technology as part of their law school curriculum.

With the first phase of the pilot a success, the project is expanding and the hope is to encourage even more law professors to incorporate DISCO and other technologies into the classroom. Rather than just introduce technology into a single activity during the semester, we plan to incorporate technology into multiple assignments throughout the year—helping students fully integrate with technology and innovation skills.

(jbl on behalf of jr)

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