Friday, August 8, 2014

Basic Legal Tech Skills That Should Exist in Law School Curricula


ApplesLaw schools must address the intersection of information technology and law practice, and provide law students with a basic understanding of how to assess the risks and benefits of technological advances. Law students need to be prepared to take on different roles once they pass the bar that expand beyond the once-expected, traditional first year associate in a law firm position. These new roles might include legal knowledge engineer, legal technologist, legal hybrid, legal process analyst, legal project manager, ODR practitioner, legal management consultant, and high risk manager.

I co-authored an article with Ron Dolin entitled Course Correction: Teaching Tomorrow’s Lawyers Legal Tech Skills for the summer edition of the ILTA Peer to Peer Magazine. Ron developed the syllabus for and taught the first course on legal informatics at Stanford Law School. Several of his students from that course have gone on to find innovative paths in the legal industry, including Margaret Hagan, his co-founder in the Program for Legal Tech and Design.  In our article we summarize the key issues that law schools need to address when designing a curriculum that prepares new lawyers to use technology in a changed legal marketplace. 

The following is a list of basic technology skills that we compiled based on our teaching and consulting experience (both of us advise and work with law firms and legal tech startups) that would benefit most law school curricula:

1. How to design the information architecture of a law practice, including for example, understanding data structures, law firm metrics, and how ethics rules apply to the use of technology;

2. Basics of cloud-based practice management systems, including the use of multiple applications and technologies, and their associated interoperability;

3. Selection of technology vendors, products and services, including review of service level agreements and understanding how the selection may affect compliance with the rules of professional conduct or ethics opinions;

4. Secure client portal technology and the basics of online delivery of legal services and unbundling practices;

5. Collaboration technologies that allow for legal teams to communicate remotely, such as virtual deal  rooms, client intranets, and other tools developed for the growing field of ODR;

6. Use of technology for client development, including online marketing tools, collaborating with branded networks, online lead generation, creating and maintaining firm websites and blogs, use of social media, and the ethical issues and best practices around these;

7. Payment systems for online billing and collection of fees;

8. Technology that speeds up the processing of standardized legal work, such as document automation and assembly tools and expert systems; and finally

9. Evaluative methodologies to compare features, efficiency, and quality of the tools.

We were one short of a "top ten" list. Feel free to suggest a tenth skills that you might expect to see in a law school curricula and how that skill might be integrated into existing courses or offered as a separate course, elective, or supplemental certificate program.

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Great list. How about teaching students how to use "established" legal technology, like word processing and spreadsheets? As important as doc automation is, there is still a need for some bespoke document preparation, and I find that many students (and lawyers) don't use these important tools properly. That's the impetus for the legal technology audit that Casey Flaherty has pioneered. (Disclosure: I'm working with Casey on automating his audit, and a version of it will be targeted at law students. Details will be released in the very near future.)


Posted by: Andrew Perlman | Aug 8, 2014 1:56:59 PM

Excellent point, Andy. I agree. Richard Granat and I teach a course called Law Practice Technology and Management, and we found that we have to dedicate a session of the course to teaching students how to create a spreadsheet so that they complete the financial projections for their business plans. We would expect students to know their way around wordprocessing, but even that seems to have fallen through the cracks in undergrad. I'm looking forward to learning more about the legal tech audit. Sounds useful for more than just law students!

Posted by: Stephanie Kimbro | Aug 8, 2014 2:19:34 PM

For those entering the field of legal technology startups, and increasingly for the application of law in general, learning a human-centered design process might be the 10th skill. We're only starting to investigate the application of the process to substantive law, but certainly in terms of the ways that people interact with the legal system, be it lawyers or their clients, there's a lot we can do to make complex legal procedures more understandable and navigable.

In regards to the audit issue, I think that this extends more generally to quality metrics for many legal services that allow would clients to better compare providers and to measure the ROI on their legal spend. I also look forward to hearing more about this work, and hopefully contributing to it myself down the road.

Posted by: Ron Dolin | Aug 8, 2014 5:43:24 PM

I have been amazed by a) the number of people who assume that the current generation will fully understand how to use computers and various applications simply because they grew up using computers, and b) the number of people who grew up with technology who are actually fairly uncomfortable with it but afraid to admit it or ask questions. There are a few faulty assumptions that tend to happen, and the biggest one is that base knowledge for personal and academic technology usage is the same as the base knowledge for professional usage (with the second being that the starting knowledge for professions is generally the same unless you’re working as an computer program, IT specialist, or other specialized field).

My first job out of high school was working in a file room, and many of my jobs after undergrad were administrative. But the base skills sets for each were different. Over the years I developed a full skill set in all the basic office admin and reception skills, and I also learned that a lot of people relied on having staff like myself and that reliance frequently came back to bite them. Basic office skills, particularly office tech skills are not so slowly becoming a baseline knowledge requirement. It can be particularly painful for those who have had extensive educations to be blindsided by a jammed copier/printer or finding something buried in multi-sheet excel document. I have seen supervisors and professors get frustrated by someone’s inability to comprehend what they are saying without realizing that are starting the discussion three steps ahead of the person’s knowledge base. If someone doesn’t understand the difference between Word and Excel (or they think that one is just a pre-formated table), or they don’t understand much beyond this is the power button, they might not know how to format a table, use styles, or create a formula for pre-calculating things.

My suggestion for number ten would be a combination of administrative and communication skills. For me the two are intertwined as I have spent nearly a decade (prior to law school, during law school, and now) helping people navigate complex and confusing systems by means of really good administrative and organizational skills and really good communication skills.

Posted by: Amanda Lee | Aug 8, 2014 6:42:39 PM

Following up on my earlier comment, here is more information about the legal technology audit:

Posted by: Andrew Perlman | Aug 13, 2014 11:09:50 AM

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