In my blog series, ‘Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Lawyers? Part 1 – Opinions of the Experts, Part 2 – The Future Has Arrived… and Part 3 – Legal Technology Overview I look at the question of whether lawyers are going to be put out of work by artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of expert systems, robotic automations, cognitive computing, deep learning algorithms and lightning-fast research tools.

The short answer is ‘no’, we’ll still need lawyers, but the work they will be doing and the skills they will need will be different and we probably won’t need as many of them – particularly at junior level.

In the remaining parts of the series, I will look (Part 4) at the technological solutions now in deployment by innovators and early adopters; (Part 5) the work that future firms of lawyers will be doing, their likely business models and the skills lawyers will need once the technological solutions to come have been widely adopted; and (Part 6) I’ll look at how I think legal education needs to change in order to prepare young lawyers for their future role in the legal profession.

This article is an advance look at the ideas that I will share in parts 6 of the series.

Emerging from the educational and technological past

I did my law degree from 1987 – 1990 at the University of Southampton. I remember that the lectures were mostly very interesting but there was little interaction during the often high-speed, and invariably one-way flow of information.

The lecture would be your first ‘hit’ on a topic and whilst the lecturers we highly knowledgeable, the technology and teaching methods that they employed were not effective in facilitating my learning when compared with modern teaching methods and technology.

My university lectures were very much received and I did not really feel part of them. Sure you could ask questions – but the lecturers did not invite you in to the experience. They mostly talked at you, not with you.

Of course, there were no PowerPoint presentations, slide handouts, recording permissions, recording technology or video to consult later. It was very difficult to scrawl down a decent set of notes that could serve me well when it came to revision time weeks or months later. My lecture notes were always a source of disappointment and frustration at exam time, often raising more questions than they answered.

The lecturer of the past conveyed information, whereas the tutor of the present and the future should think about what the student can take away with them and then unpack and use during consolidation, revision and performance.

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In my teaching practice, my large group sessions are very interactive and I immediately invite the students to participate in the experience and make them feel part of it by eliciting their views.

The secret is to act like you are only talking to 15 people, not 50 or more. My students access my slides in advance, there is usually a video recording of the session (if not of me, then of another tutor delivering the same session). Some students have recording permission and no doubt others make recordings regardless of permission – the technology to do so is present in every phone and laptop.

I think hard about what I want my students to write down and take away from my large group sessions. I incorporate short, productive exercises where students talk in pairs and then give me answers (which keeps attention levels and interaction high). I plan my white boards, use lots of diagrams, and above all I focus on how my service needs to add value for my students when all memory of the large group session has evaporated and they only have a note or recording of the session.

Back in the late 1980’s, in my tutorial/small groups at Southampton, we sat in horseshoe-shaped seating arrangements or in rows; it was all very tutor-focused and there was little or no interaction between students during the sessions. The group discussions and peer learning that are now so crucial for modern learning environments had not really been invented back then.

We learnt from academics, not teachers. I can remember my law of evidence course, where the academic would give a monologue for an hour looking only down at his table and his notes, never looking up or around the class. He did not ask us any questions and he got very few from us. He droned on, paying zero attention to his students and his course delivery remains the worst, most impenetrable display of teaching I have ever witnessed.

In one session, my friend, sitting next to me, fell asleep – his head rolling back, mouth open. The academic didn’t notice. The rest of the class did and started smirking, which notified me and I turned to my now snoring flatmate and brought him back to life with a prod to the ribs. The academic did not break his monologue. This incident is seared into my memory.

Looking back, these were the tutoring dark ages. The lecturers all knew the law but not many of them knew much about facilitating the learning of the law or how to aid an understanding of the application of the law. There being no group work, you just had to fumble through with your own half-completed jigsaw as best you could.

There was also no explanation as to how you were supposed to apply the law to the facts in an examination. What did ‘application’ look like in a good answer? This was never explained. I did not know that I was supposed to methodically use the facts of the scenario and match them up with the law. The academics never told us how to apply the law in written form. I now know that this is merely a matter of technique – but it’s a technique that needs to be taught.

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This year, I wrote a book on the subject of an exam technique: Free Guide to Law Exams – 10 Powerful Exam Busting Techniques to Boost Your Exam Score by 10%. In doing so, I was addressing my need from nearly 30 years ago.

Exam technique can have a big impact on exam results and to my mind there is still not enough focus on this area, even now. So my book is my attempt to correct matters. The feedback I have received on the book has been excellent.

Any law student can download this book for free from my home page.

I passed the Solicitors Final Examination (SFE) in 1991. On this course there was no skills training whatsoever. In lectures, we annotated pre-prepared skeleton notes (which for me represented an advance in the technology of the lecture) and in workshops we advised fictional clients.

We had to learn everything by heart and sat all nine examinations in one nightmare week. An article in New Scientist around that time said that only astronauts at NASA had to learn more information in a shorter period of time than we had to master for the SFE. For each subject, I had 20 or so sheets of paper making up my condensed revision notes, with tiny writing on each, highlighted with various different colours. I tried to remember each sheet with a combination of repetition and photographic memory.

A couple of months after the exams, I could remember virtually nothing of what I had supposedly learnt. No deep, practical, skills-based learning had occurred throughout my whole four-year legal education. I entered my training contract with a West End media firm and pretty much had to start from scratch, building each skill brick-by-brick.

Out in the field in the 1990s, earning a living from the practice of law, things were also backward by modern standards. I can remember going to an interview in 1994 at a firm that did not have a fax machine – as a matter of policy. The partner interviewing me said that if the firm had a fax it would allow clients to contact them any time of the day and this was something to be firmly resisted.

In 1999, I became a law lecturer, fulfilling a long-term ambition. When studying at university and law school I always knew that I wanted to teach. I used to lie awake at night and imagine myself up there in front of the students – loving every minute of it.

By the time I made my dreams a reality and started teaching law, the SFE had morphed into the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and had become more practical and less about wrote learning. As part of the LPC, there were open book exams, coursework and practical legal skills training in advocacy, legal research, legal writing and interviewing. The facilitation of learning the practice of law had moved into the modern era.   

Education on the cusp of the technological revolution

Skip forward to 2016 and within UK legal education the focus is upon giving students a greater understanding of business and the business of running a law firm. The key message I now hammer home to law students is that lawyers need to know about business and provide business solutions for their clients.

Sessions are also designed to allow students to discuss problem scenarios in groups and then present their answers to the rest of the class. The idea is that students therefore acquire presentation and other soft skills. Or so the theory goes.

Whilst advances are being made with the focus on business, legal education still needs much greater focus on service-oriented soft skills such as communication and emotional intelligence. Dedicated sessions are required on these client-facing skills and on negotiation, presentations, meetings, project management and teamwork.

Unfortunately, these sessions are not provided on the vast majority of law courses around the UK.

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In my experience, students leave post-graduate legal education (LPC and GDL) with broadly the same soft skills with which they arrived.

Some arrive oven ready: they are very confident and have a good grasp of the law; they have well-tuned commercial awareness and soft skills, and from this position they are able to present with confidence and clarity and discuss issues with the entire class. You’ll see classes full of these students on firm specific courses, which are sponsored by big City firms and contain their trainees-in-waiting.

On other non-firm specific courses, there are fewer strong students and they really shine in the classroom in comparison to the other students. These strong students do very well during assessment days and interviews – but, significantly, they have already acquired good soft skills before they arrive in my classroom.

If, however, you are a student who is struggling to understand the law and how it applies to scenarios, including which law applies in which scenario, it is impossible for you to be able to present on the law to the rest of the class. Presenting on the law needs to come after understanding. Further, you’ll not feel able to fully participate in table discussions which are designed to simulate discussions that might take place between lawyers within a law firm.

Those students who are struggling with the law have too much on their plate to be able to pick up much in the way of presentation skills and meeting skills within the law class.

In any event, developing good, service-oriented soft skills requires dedicated focus and should be assessed. These skills need nurturing and guidance. That such skills are not given dedicated focus as a standard feature across most of UK legal education underserves our law students.

Research by Deloitte supports my concerns. In the February 2016 report Developing Legal Talent – Stepping into the future law firm Deloitte state that:

 

“Businesses identify a mismatch between the skills being developed through education and those required in the workplace…”

Tweet this quote!

 

The skills gap is an industry-wide issue. The 2014 article in Law Practice Today: Developing Lawyers Soft Skills – a challenge for the New Era in Legal Services, Marni Becker-Avin, makes some interesting observations on this issue:

“A firm that makes client service a priority will remain successful. How do we accomplish this? It should be innate, and yet, as mentioned, communication is still the number one complaint.

Given that so many people have access to and contact with clients in a law firm on a daily basis, we must stop taking “soft skills” for granted, and start placing a higher value on teaching and attaining those skills.” –   Marni Becker-Avin

Marni Becker-Avin points out that lawyers do not handle matters well when they have not been as responsive as they should have been. Too often they act to deflect, avoid or excuse.

“The best strategy may be to simply say “I’m sorry,” and then address the problem. Several university studies with physicians have concluded that when doctors make a mistake and apologizes, the rate of malpractice filings drops by 46%, and where cases are filed they are settled for far less than in cases where there was no apology.

Angry people lash out. Clients with whom you have developed and maintained a good personal relationship rarely do.” –   Marni Becker-Avin

My experience of teaching graduates and postgraduates over 20 years is that the majority upon leaving have not learnt how to communicate with clients to a good standard, how to ask questions (open-ended), discuss options, give delicate or difficult advice while demonstrating emotional intelligence. Dedicated sessions are essential if modern, practical legal education is to deliver on its promise to give law students well-formed, service-oriented soft skills that make them ready for client contact.

Of course, individual firms do give training on such skills but as Marni Becker-Avin points out there is a tendency to view such soft skills as innate, when the reality is very different:

“Unfortunately, lawyers tend to need improvement on the soft skills as much as (ok, let’s be honest: more than) most people. David Maister, the former Harvard Business School professor who has made a specialty of law firms, and the author of several good books such as True Professionalism, and Managing the Professional Service Firm, wrote an article a few years back titled, “Are Law Firms Manageable?”.

In it, he states that which should be obvious to almost anyone who is not a lawyer: “Lawyers are professional skeptics… They place the worst possible construction on the outcome of any idea or proposal, and on the motives, intentions, and likely behaviors of those they are dealing with.”

He goes on to state that in law firms “initiatives that depend on teamwork and joint efforts will rarely be implemented well, if at all.”

The article almost becomes a rant—lawyers lack intimacy and sociability, they rarely adhere to principles or values, they are inherently distrustful; law firm management has become cold and detached. The leaders are just as bad as the associates and staff! Wow! Are things really that bad? I think so. Are they hopeless? I think not. Even old dogs can learn new tricks.” –   Marni Becker-Avin

I think that this is an excellent comment and strikes at the heart of the traditional, outmoded law firm and old-school lawyer identity.

Often in my teaching sessions, I witness students make comments that are cold and detached or devoid of an understanding of features of a scenario that are beyond the law.

When I explain that an essential part of their role as lawyers is to be focused on a client’s feelings and concerns there is often surprise. I’m regularly struck by a general lack of emotional intelligence in some students, the inability to communicate and the lack of understanding of the bigger picture beyond a mechanical legal analysis.

This is not to say that these things cannot be taught – they definitely can – but they need dedicated sessions to really give the students a proper set of skills.

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Empathy and taking the time to understand what a client is going through and being able to communicate in a down-to-earth language that the client can understand is so important in the modern legal market. Having filled their heads with legal jargon we need to train them how to set it all aside and speak with clients in plain English.

As modern lawyers, we are all in the business of delivering value to our clients over and above just providing contracts, performing due diligence and litigating matters.

In developing the value proposition, soft skills and emotional intelligence are essential. Without them, our clients will walk.

However, in the vast majority of law schools such skills are not taught in dedicated sessions. The assumption is that students will just pick up soft skills if they are vaguely tacked on to sessions, for example ‘feedback via presentations’. Granted, in the UK, once trainee solicitors start their training contracts, they do attend client care sessions as part of the Professional Skills Course (PSC), but I believe that sessions on client care and emotional intelligence are required earlier – on the LPC.  

Client-facing skills will become increasingly important as the technological revolution reformats the legal profession. Over the coming years we will see that much of the work performed by junior lawyers will either be replaced by super-efficient, super-fast and scalable technology solutions and or it will be outsourced to third party providers.

Young lawyers will need a full range of soft skills in order to perform in a highly augmented legal service, where they will harness the machines (which will be doing the heavy lifting and legal grunt work, like research and due diligence) and work with clients to help them achieve their business goals.

Lawyers will still be doing high-end legal work but they will also be working with the technology, working out what it is telling them (with the help of the analytics department) and interfacing with the client.

Some law firms will become software vendors and will need lawyers to work with clients to select and implement technology solutions for them – for example a combination of products and services that assist clients in achieving their business goals.

Lawyers will need excellent inter-personal and other skills in order manage the delivery of such services to clients: emotional intelligence and client care, leadership and team working, project management, presentations, marketing and so on.

However, the vast majority of law schools do not teach these skills in depth, or at all.

As my blog posts on AI (see links at the top of this article) explain, the widespread technological changes may be upon us in a shorter period of time than many commentators suggest.

Chrissie Lightfoot, author of The Naked Lawyer and Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer, points to 2018 as being the big year for significant deployment of the new technology, which she says “can already do 80% of the work lawyers do”.

Therefore, law students coming through legal education now need service-oriented, soft skills and training in emotional intelligence…and they need to know about the rapid developments in legal technology.

The changing business of law and emerging technology

Which brings us to the elephant in the classroom. Professor Richard Susskind, in his book The Future of the Professions – How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts points out that law schools are still producing lawyers for an “old law” world which is not going to exist anymore. When the technological advances have been adopted, and Prof. Richard Susskind suggest 2020 will be the tipping point, far fewer young lawyers will be needed and those lawyers still in work will be doing very different things in comparison to previous generations.

Some predict that the number of junior lawyers will drop to a quarter of the current numbers as law firms go from having pyramid structures (with few partners at the top and lots of juniors at the bottom), to rocket-shaped structures with far fewer junior lawyers – and more other people i.e. law tech professionals. The graphic below from BCG’s excellent New Study: “How Legal Technology Will Change the Business of Law shows how the big law model may change.

law-firm-structure-pyramid-vs-rocket

How Legal Technology will change the Business of Law – Page 10, Exhibit 5

 

Firms will be staffed by people with new roles like ‘legal project manager’, who will manage case management processes,legal database manager’, who will deal with Big Data within the firm, and ‘legal analyst’, who will interpret the results produced by deep learning AI.

The statistics for 2013-14 show that over 60% of all law graduates in the UK do not find work within the legal profession.

If the numbers required by law firms and other legal sector employers do drop to the bleakly predicted level of a quarter of the current numbers then we could be looking at a staggering 90% of law graduates not finding work in the legal profession.

deloitte

Deloitte: Developing Legal Talent – Page 4, Figure 3

 

As a law tutor of 20 years’ experience, this causes me considerable concern. I am hoping that things do not pan out this way – and perhaps the diversity of opportunity now available to law graduates will counter a drop in numbers going into law firms, by far the biggest employer. I will say more on this later in this article.

My view is that we need to be giving law students full information. As a minimum, law students should now be made aware as part of any practical law course of the way the structure of firms may change:

  • What is the pyramid structure?
  • What is the rocket structure?
  • What is the implication for junior lawyers of the switch between the two?
  • How can law students attempt to ‘future proof’ themselves, for example by acquiring additional client-facing, soft skills and technological skills?
  • What is the new technology, how does it work? What are cognitive computing, deep learning AI, Big Data, expert systems, robotic automation etc.?
  • If there will be more legal technicians within law firms, what will these people do?
  • How might students go about training to be one of these technicians?
  • What are the range of options for employment: New Law/alternative legal service provider, tech start-up, etc.?

UK Legal Education – ‘No Tech’

How much of the above is being taught in law schools in the UK? Very little. Professor Richard Susskind has admitted failure in getting any of the universities that he works with to run law and technology courses. There are small pockets of instruction given in different universities – for example, an optional session involving a visiting law-tech speakers from a forward-thinking law firm – but nothing yet of real substance.

How can this be?

For sure, many universities are simply unaware of the developments or the rapidity of change or the pressing need for coverage in this area. Another issue is that change within institutions takes time.

However, it also needs to be noted that law schools are businesses and the UK model is currently producing good income. That model is volume: producing young lawyers to the old law mold, in large numbers, for as long as those numbers keep coming through the door. If a university is to truly serve the model, including getting more students through the door than the competition, maybe a view is taken that it’s not really in the interests of the model to teach students about how technology is going to seriously affect the number of young lawyers needed and the work that they will do – which, incidentally, they are not currently being fully skilled for due to an insufficiently forward-looking curriculum when it comes to skills.

Any course looking at the business of law would have to look at how things are likely to pan out: the law firms will stop hiring so many young lawyers once the tech solutions go online in the mainstream and this will eventually feedback through the universities with less people applying.

Of course this feedback will take time – and meantime there will be a lot of disappointed law students chasing far fewer places to work. If I were a student now, I would wish to know this.

American universities have seen numbers dropping for a number of years as prospective students weigh up the benefits of a legal career with the costs, and perhaps look elsewhere for job opportunities.

The excellent report by Michele R. Pistone and Michael B Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Disrupting Law School: How Disruptive Innovation Will Revolutionise the Legal World identifies a crisis within U.S. legal education. Whilst the report focuses on the U.S. market, I think its conclusions will be relevant to the UK market in the future:

“Facing dramatic declines in enrollment, revenue, and student quality at the same time that their cost structure continues to rise and public support has waned, law schools are in crisis. A key driver of the crisis is shrinking employment opportunities for recent graduates, which stem in part from the disruption of the traditional business model for the provision of legal services.

Although this root problem will soon choke off the financial viability of many schools, most law schools remain unable or unwilling to address this existential problem in more than a marginal way, as they instead prefer to maintain the status quo and hope that the job market soon improves.”

Further:

“…law schools and their administrators run the risk of overlooking the longer-term impact that the disruption of traditional legal services businesses will have on the provision of legal services and, in turn, on law schools themselves. This is happening at the same time as disruption is primed to take place in legal education itself.

As we have seen in industry after industry, disruptive innovations change sectors in ways that do not allow for a return to the status quo. Instead, the changes that disruptive innovations bring are so fundamental that entire products or services are marginalized or, in some cases, even displaced, never to return again.

The roots of disruptive innovation lie in the serving of non-consumption—areas in a sector where people have no access to the existing offerings because they are too expensive, inconvenient, or complicated to use and therefore the alternative to the innovation is nothing at all. There is significant non-consumption in the market for legal services, which disproportionately impacts low-income and disenfranchised individuals.”

In conclusion:

“The legal industry is now in the early stage of disruption—and there is a corresponding opportunity for disruption to emerge in legal education. Over time, law schools will only be as successful as the industry for which they train graduates. The growing misalignment between the commoditization of legal services and traditional legal education will last only so long.”

So where are we in the UK, compared to the U.S.? In my view, we are a fair bit behind the U.S., where New Law and legal technology have made more significant inroads into the traditional model for the provision of legal services.

Aside from the innovators and early adopters, UK law firms are, on the whole, certainly in comparison with the U.S., less enthused about legal technology – and are not insisting upon training in legal technology being provided by universities.

Likewise, universities in the UK are not incorporating modules on law and technology into their courses or publicising the likely effects on employment once tasks that young lawyers used to perform go to the bots.

This is a serious omission since the changes may be upon more quickly than we think. Legal education needs to anticipate and prepare, not play catch-up.  UK legal education is behind the curve compared to vanguard foreign institutions in other parts of the world, which are providing detailed, progressive, practical instruction on innovation, lean thinking and technology.

UK law schools and law courses need to become technologically literate now and plan for a future which has already arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

Progressive law tech education programs

The Universities of Georgetown (IronTech) and Melbourne (Bake Off) run law and technology courses which incorporate a competition where students use Neota’s expert system to create a functioning app which solves a real-world problem by delivering a legal service or law-related solution.

Georgetown also runs a course: Computer Programming for Lawyers: An Introduction.

Law Without Walls (LWOW), set up by Michelle DeStefano, and based at the University of Miami School of law, has been running for several years and takes students from participating universities and gives them a chance to solve real problems in legal education or practice. Successful projects are taken to market.

“Each LWOW team is comprised of 3 law and/or business school students, two Team Leaders, and three Mentors: one academic, one entrepreneur, and one business. To develop cultural competency, teaming, leadership skills, and, importantly, the most creative solutions, the teams are purposefully diverse in terms of age, culture, expertise, and experience.”

LegalTrek’s article Legal Tech Knowledge: Will Law Schools React on Time highlights other notable successes with forward-looking law courses incorporating legal technology modules. I now look at each of these below.

 

Bucerius Law School (BLS), Germany’s top-ranked law school, ensures that students are aware of modern technology, new business models and entrepreneurship.

Bucerius Consulting Group’s New Study “How Legal Technology Will Change the Business of Law states:

“Indeed, tech skills in the area of digital communications and collaboration, computer and data science, and statistics will become the coin of the realm in this profession.

In some law firms, new roles including legal process managers and general legal technicians will emerge.

Particularly in large law firms, lawyers will need holistic legal project management skills as well as a knowledge of software.

Law schools can further serve their professions by teaching students business, project management, and general tech skills. To do so, schools may need to expand the mandatory curriculum beyond fields of substantive law by offering an additional course introducing case management processes and legal technology. More specific legal tech skills (such as database management, statistics, analytics, and digital communication) can be taught in electives.

As a rule of thumb, the closer a law student gets to his or her job entry, the higher the need for these non-legal skills.”

 

On BLS’s Master of Law and Business (MLB) students:

“Apply legal and business theories to real-life case studies and develop soft skills and competencies that are directly relevant for careers in international companies, law firms and other organisations.”

There are workshops on soft skills training, regular excursions and study trips and an eight-week internship in Germany or abroad. All students have the option to obtain a Specialisation in Entrepreneurship. Students are automatically given the chance to participate in LWOW. There students create a business plan for a legal start-up and under the guidance of mentors from academic, business and legal fields.

BLS also expects its students to show interest in the world and people around them and as part of the curriculum the course includes a social project of at least 30 hours per students.

 

Michigan State University via its LegalRnD centre trains students in legal technology and innovation and in modern business methods such as lean thinking.

“LegalRnD is dedicated to improving legal-service delivery and access across the legal industry. We accomplish this mission through research and development of efficient, high-quality legal-service delivery tools and systems. We do the research and development that has been lacking in the legal industry.

LegalRnD brings together professionals from a broad range of disciplines. Contributors start with well-established concepts—such as lean thinking—and use them to improve legal-service delivery. We train our students in these concepts and study them with our partners, including: legal aid organizations, solo practitioners, corporate legal departments, law firms, courts, and entire justice systems.”

 

Vanderbilt Law School based in Nashville runs a program called Law and Innovation which includes instruction on legal technologies, legal innovation and entrepreneurship.  

“The law, the legal services industry and legal education are all undergoing unprecedented transformations as a result of rapid social, economic and technological changes. Vanderbilt’s Program on Law and Innovation is designed to equip Vanderbilt Law students to become innovators who successfully navigate and influence the directions in which these changes take law and the legal industry throughout their careers.

The way lawyers practice law is changing at a pace far greater than ever before. Legal clients increasingly demand more efficiency, lower costs and better results. Technological advancements in data computation have led to technologies—such as document review using machine learning—that have disrupted settled ways of managing legal practices and cases. And law itself is evolving rapidly. Now more than ever before, lawyers must also be innovators.”

 

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Lawyers of Tomorrow – business savvy, technology literate

For any law student reading this article, my advice is this:

If you are chasing a future career that is based on a vision of the present, then that future does look bleak – because it’s not going to exist. Innovation, advances in technology and changes to the traditional legal sector landscape are moving very quickly.

As a lawyer in training, you need to differentiate yourself by acquiring business acumen, service-oriented soft skills and legal-tech awareness in any way you can.

I set up Lawyers of Tomorrow to assist in the re-skilling process.

As a committed legal futurist, I wholeheartedly embrace the challenge of preparing the next generation of legal specialists for a legal market that will require them to have skill sets that are very different from those of the traditional lawyer and will see them being fully familiar with technological solutions that augment their provision of legal services.

And in this respect, I’m a student too. Taking a longer term view, I believe that lawyers will be at a commercial advantage if they can code i.e. speak the language of the machines. I have started learning to code in order that Lawyers of Tomorrow will be well-placed to provide guidance and assistant on this issue – and, who knows, maybe even develop our own tech solutions – and I will be blogging about my journey through the land of code.

Invitation to legal technology partners

I believe that, in the light of the rapid pace of technological change, we cannot afford to wait for mainstream legal education and firms practising in the legal market to provide law students and junior lawyers with legal tech skills. There is a real danger that the next generation of lawyers could have a tech skills deficit, so my suggestion is that we act now to help the next generation achieve their full potential by offering them training in the new technologies.

Lawyers of Tomorrow is seeking to partner with technology companies to provide access to legal technology platforms for law students and junior lawyers in order that the next generation of legal specialist are tech-savvy, trained in a broad range of the latest technologies and are minded to look for ways to innovate and thereby add value to their service to clients.

If your company would like to discuss this offer to collaborate to help the next generation of legal talent, then please email me stephen@lawyersoftomorrow.com

Become a Lawyer of Tomorrow

Lawyers of Tomorrow provides additional training via an ecosystem of training products and services, including:

  1. Service-oriented soft skills
  2. Business awareness
  3. Emotional intelligence
  4. Technology for law

There are a range of skills and competencies that we focus on. You can achieve the following outcomes to gain an unfair advantage over the competition by becoming a highly attractive prospect for the modern legal sector:

  1. Thinking like a business personto assist clients in increasing sales, developing a product ecosystem, marketing products and promoting the brand to help build better businesses for clients.
  2. Acquiring soft skills, emotional intelligence and technology skills being able to empathise, persuade, collaborate, seek opinion and exert influence, lead, master social media and harness legal technology solutions.
  3. Communicating your knowledge, ideas and value – being comfortable presenting and speaking to clients and lawyers and demonstrating excellent presentation and communication skills.
  4. Developing a personal brand and profile – by publishing your ideas, being comfortable speaking to camera and promoting your personal brand via social media.
  5. Forming strong relationships with clients and employers – by building a network of potential clients and business professionals, including harnessing the power of social media platforms.

Disruptive Innovations in Teaching – Competency Based Learning

Currently, most universities and law schools operate on versions of the following model:

  • self-motivated pre-reading
  • live lecture or online lecture
  • timetabled tutorial group
  • summative examination at the end of the course

Alternatively, the course may be assessed by coursework alone or a mix of exam and coursework.

The standard size of a module may typically range from between 9 to 16 two-hour tutorial units – so, around 18 to 32 hours of tutorial teaching. There may be a mock examination during the course, with feedback on this.

However, as far as the course as a whole is concerned, students only get feedback on their overall performance after the examination – when they are only given an examination mark or grade – at which point it is impossible to make adjustment because the course is over. Moreover, an examination mark is no substitute for feedback on relative strengths and weaknesses. Typically, only upon failing the examination are students given written feedback on each section of the exam.   

This model works well for universities. Shorter, intensive modules, say nine weeks, are easier to timetable, and can be run at various times of the year.

However, the model is less satisfactory for students, some of whom will not be comfortable learning at the pace of the course.

Students have different learning styles and speeds but the fixed-timetable course module, with set times for tutorials and with a summative exam, is inflexible and is therefore unsuitable for a lot of learners. Learning is often compromised due to lack of time to assimilate the concepts and learn how to apply them. The lack of feedback built into the traditional system is also a big drawback of this model.

By adopting new methodologies and technologies, a move can be made to competency-based learning (CBL), which is inherently flexible and allows for differing learning styles and learning speeds in a way that traditional modular, fixed-timetable models do not.

CBL involves students attaining a mastery of a unit before moving on to the next unit. Regular feedback is built into the system so that students are able to adjust their learning and focus on weak areas as necessary, as they go along.

By the use of modern technology, the feedback in CBL does not have to be face-to-face, and can be facilitated through virtual meeting place software.

There is still a place for traditional face-to-face tuition groups to resolve pain points and difficulties. In some instances, such traditional classroom teaching will be preferable.

The Clayton Christensen Institute’s report: Disrupting Law School – How Disruptive Innovation Will Revolutionise the Legal World outlines in detail how such disruptive innovation may sweep the legal industry.

“A variety of potential disruptors, all powered at least in part through some form of online learning, are emerging in higher education from coding boot camps that do some blending of online and face-to-face learning, such as General Assembly and Galvanize, to online course providers, such as Udacity and Udemy, and from providers of modules of online content such as Lynda.com and Khan Academy, to online, competency-based programs such as Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire’s College for America, there is no shortage of organisations serving non-consumers of traditional higher education.”

I have experienced the competency-based learning model first hand via my recent enrolling as a pro-member of Codeacademy. You move at your own pace – which is completely different from the standard learning model within a university institution. I don’t move on to a new level until I have mastered the previous level – it’s more fun because the pressure to be ready for some arbitrary deadline (a tutorial) has been removed.

So retention of knowledge and practical understanding – which is the whole point of the enterprise – goes up. There are various mechanisms for practice including projects, quizzes – you essentially get to build your own website. It’s flexible and fun and when I need feedback, there is an expert on hand to review my code and let me know where I’m going wrong.

Lawyers of Tomorrow are committed to using the CBL model in the courses we provide where it shows clear benefits. For example, Business Awareness Blueprint allows students to improve their business awareness in their own time by working on research and project work, including reporting via video logs, which is then followed by a tutorial online using meeting place software.

Students initial learning is done via digital delivery, followed by project work, including group work which can be facilitated in teams by the use of a Facebook page within a secret group which is only accessible and visible to group members. By the time the students get to the virtual tutorial/feedback session they are sufficiently advanced in their project work and can then focus on key issues and pain points during the tutorial.

Lawyers of tomorrow are looking to develop programs in collaboration with legal technology providers in order that law students are made aware of the functioning of state-of-the-art technological solutions in the market.

For example, via access to a training platform students can gain an invaluable working understanding of the operation of cloud-based project management software including, billing, timesheets, time tracking, alternative fee arrangements, familiarity with customised reports and dashboards, matter management, tasking and teamwork, events, contacts, deadlines and reminders.

In this way, students can see how a modern technology-enabled law firm operates day-to-day using an easy-to-operate, state-of-the-art practice management platform.

Final advice to young lawyers – ‘future proof’ yourselves!

Increasingly, clients are resisting the notion that they should have to pay higher legal fees in order to cover the cost of law firm training budgets for young lawyers. Therefore, training budgets are becoming squeezed. It’s common for clients to refuse to pay for any trainee or low-level associate time spent working on a matter. Such arrangements can be individually negotiated between a law firm and a client. Moreover, the movement towards greater adoption of alternative/fixed fee charging will mean that there is further pressure on training budgets.

Under value pricing, where clients only pay for work that they value, training the next generation of young lawyers in the firm is not work that clients value or wish to pay for.  

Many Law firms will, therefore, increasingly look for applicants who are ‘oven ready’ i.e. who arrive with the complete toolbox of future lawyer skills. In addition, the increasing competition for employment will increase a law firm’s ability to pick and choose its candidates – so law students with the most complete skill sets will be selected.

The knock-on effect is that young lawyers need to take responsibility for self-acquiring full skill sets. The extensive training-on-the-job model is no longer viable in many circumstances and cannot be relied upon as it once was to provide young lawyers with all the skills they need – with the clients picking up the tab. This is not to say that firms will not do internal training – of course they will – but the days of large training budgets paid for by clients are essentially over.

As a result, increasingly law students need to top up their legal training from university with training in soft skills, emotional intelligence, legal technology, business awareness, as is necessary.

One advantage of training in the current market is that there are more varied opportunities available. Besides law firms, students can obtain work experience with alternative business structures, legal start-ups, multidisciplinary practices – and any other NewLaw variant i.e.  any non-traditional structure or business that provides legal services or associated services. This includes alternative business structures providing legal solutions for law firms on a contractor/outsourcing basis, for example, document reviews.

Lawyers will inevitably find work in all these structures. You never know, you might be one of them.

There will be more tech start-ups bringing innovate solutions to market – and more work for lawyers too. I’ve met several ex-lawyers who are working for legal tech start-ups in young, go-getting, dynamic and modern working environments. It’s exciting work.

In addition, in-house lawyers will likely continue to increase in numbers, extending the current trend in the growing in-house legal sector.

That’s a lot of options compared to the traditional pyramid structure of your typical law firm, where junior lawyers work hard and try to scramble up the ladder towards the narrow opening at the top through which only a few can pass to the next stage…partnership.

The future has many more options for the highly skilled and open-minded young lawyer than it did when I qualified in 1994. The competition is greater but I also believe that these are more exciting times to be a legal professional.

AI will not be able to replace you if you make a conscious decision to up your game. You’ll be fine if, as well as knowing the law, you develop a toolbox of future lawyer skills. If you can do this, you’ll be future proofed, in work and highly prized.

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