ABA TECHSHOW: Law Schools Move Towards Technology — Is It Enough?

Topics: Access to Justice, Artificial Intelligence, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Efficiency, Government, Law Firms, Law Schools, Legal Education, Thomson Reuters

Launching Your Career

CHICAGO — As technology continues to advance, industries across the globe are working to evolve in order to run a smarter, more efficient business — and law school students are noticing.

“I think any industry, whether it’s law, business, or medicine, should be focused on three things: people, process, and technology,” said Mauricio Guevara, a second-year law school student at Chicago-Kent College of Law at Illinois Institute of Technology.

At the 2019 ABA TECHSHOW, held February 28 to March 2, the nearly 100-session agenda focused on those three concepts — people, process, and technology. While the event attracted mainly attorneys, legal professionals, and IT experts, a number of law school students were also present. Those students spent their time attending sessions from the academic track, sponsored by Thomson Reuters, and presentations that focused on coding, cybersecurity, and best practices for managing a firm using technology.

One topic tackled within the academic track was the challenges and opportunities for students to learn and use new technologies throughout their time in law school, and how these technologies relate to the business of law. “Right now, technology is something that sets people apart, but soon it will be the status quo within the industry,” explained Kristin Riffner, a first-year law school student at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Law Schools Adopting the Growth of Technology

While the legal industry is known to be slow to adopt technology, law schools across the U.S. are working to change that trend. For example, Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law has worked to elevate technology within the classroom by establishing a TEaCH Law hub to help integrate tools into the teaching experience — from newly-designed classrooms with conference technology to large touchscreens and video.

The University of Oklahoma has also developed the Center for Technology and Innovation in Practice within its law library, with the effort being spearheaded by Associate Dean Darin Fox and Director Kenton Brice. The goal of the initiative is to prepare law school students for practice through technology training and innovative speaking.

“We are really fortunate to have this initiative at OU,” said Jordan Thomas, a third-year law school student at the University of Oklahoma College of Law. “We’re given an iPad and iPen when we arrive, and this puts everyone on a technology playing field. It’s really your journey and your own technology experience. At OU, you can earn technology certificates, can take technology classes — we even use virtual reality for learning. It’s hard to say what law school would be without technology.”

Advancing Technology within the Classroom

Not every law school has to have a program solely devoted to technology, and there are other schools that recognize the importance of driving technology innovation within the classroom and preparing students for practicing in the modern world. Whether this be using time and billing software for assignments, showing how to build a table of authorities within Word, or just providing simple tech tips via a table as students pass through the halls.

“I think it would be beneficial if law schools, in general, worked to teach the business of law,” explains second-year student Tommy Pfeil, of OU College of Law. “This includes utilizing the business of the industry, from understanding how to start a law firm to how to manage clients, as well as other business skills.”

This topic was discussed multiple times throughout the academic track at the ABA TECHSHOW. Additionally, students, such as Mathew Winer, a second-year law school student at Chicago-Kent College of Law, expressed how being more technologically aware of products and services could be beneficial to students looking for a job or heading into practice. “In my experience, the legal industry has been slow to adopt technology, so the idea of bringing knowledge of various legal technologies into your interview would be very advantageous,” Winer added. “Providing students with that knowledge during law school would definitely give them a leg up in interviews.”

Using Technology for a Career

As technology makes its way further into every industry — from the Internet of Things within manufacturing to automating medical coding — lawyers already in practice are asking the same question: Will technology take my job?

“Technology is not going to take our jobs,” commented Ryan Dobbs, a second-year law school student at OU College of Law. “But what it will do is challenge people to start playing the game or be put to the side. A lot of the jobs that we do right now, as interns or new lawyers, will be different in the next five years.”

First-year law student Christopher Muhawe, from the University of Illinois College of Law, agreed. He explained that while there are various technologies to help streamline processes to make legal processes more efficient, these technologies will not replace lawyers; they will just enhance how lawyers do their job.

Sydney Forsander, a first-year law student at OU College of Law, said that will be an advantage for those new associates that understand and use technology well. “Clients want attorneys that are efficient because they want to see those efficiencies realized in reduced costs,” explained Forsander. “It is going to be expected from a client — and if you are not tech-savvy, clients will move on.”

On the same note, it’s up to incoming associates to lead by example, said Marci Gracey, a second-year law school student at OU College of Law. She stated that some law firms may be operating the same way they did 15 years ago, and new associates should be vocal in their knowledge of technology to help lead the innovational charge.

So, what does the demand for technology within the legal industry mean for current and incoming law school students? It means working with law schools to identify opportunities for growth, as well as self-education, such as certifications and other eLearning opportunities. As Arthur Moskala, a first-year law school student from Chicago-Kent College of Law, said, technology is here and it’s only going to continue to grow from this point forward.

Cole Reynolds, a first-year law student at OU College of Law, agreed. “Let’s shorten the learning curve, because we’re going to need it,” Reynolds said. “We need to stay engaged and be abreast of all the technology changes, but students also need to advocate for the gaps we see, so that those that come after us are one step ahead.”