Technology is changing the world around us every day — what was innovative last year is now obsolete. Old industries are going extinct and new ones are being created. This massive disruption — and all of its positive and negative consequences — has impacted nearly every industry.
The legal profession seems to think it is different. Ask any articling student or lawyer about the courts and they will tell you about all the inefficiencies that technology could fix. Maybe one day these inefficiencies will be addressed — but the impact of technology is going to be so much more than digitizing courts. The impact will be about transforming the practice of law, both in substance and in form. Students need to be ready for this.
Last summer, I took a seminar at Osgoode Hall Law School called “Using Digital Technology in Law Practice,”focused on the way that technology is changing the legal profession, both in terms of substantive law and in terms of how the law is practiced. It made me realize that law schools need to embrace legal technology — both in their curricula and in their classrooms.
Teaching substantive legal tech issues
Law schools across Canada should be teaching courses focused on the changing legal landscape, like the course I took last summer. These courses could cover emerging issues like artificial intelligence, blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Furthermore, instructors of traditionalareas of law should be actively considering technological change in their courses and using these situations as examples to force students to think outside of the box.
For instance, torts professors across the country should be challenging their students to think about what happens when a self-driving car gets in an accident. This issue was raised in a recent article by Adam Goldenberg, of McCarthy Tétrault LLP. Criminal law professors need to raise issues of cybercrime — increasingly important with the permeation of technology in peoples’ lives. There are endless examples in every area of law.
Teaching about legal technologies
Law schools should also be teaching students about legal technological platforms in their courses, preparing students not just for the practice of law in its most basic sense (such as drafting contracts), but also in its most innovative sense.
Legal technology has already transformed legal research and I would guess that every law student knows about Westlaw, Quicklaw and CanLii. But, would most students know that legal technology is also transforming litigation and how law firms operate?
Consider Court Analytics, a program created by Canadian start-up Zoom Analytics. This technology is changing the way that litigation works. It allows lawyers to predict the success of their case and to map out potential strategies, accounting for the party, issue, type of proceeding and judge.
Consider also Firm Central, created by Thomson Reuters. This technology is used by some firms to bill clients and track file progress. Students should know about this technology and be aware of how it will impact their practice.
What is the point of teaching about these technologies? Will most articling students be using a platform like Court Analytics? Maybe, maybe not. But there are two things to keep in mind: first, that these technologies will only become more common in law firms and agencies; and second, that teaching about these technologies creates awareness and changes students’ mindsets from the very beginning of their legal careers.
Giving students practical skills using technology
Legal tech programs also have the potential to transform not just what students learn, but how they learn. I was first introduced to the concept of virtual legal education when I learned about the Law Practice Program, hosted at Ryerson University. The first half of the program features a virtual law firm, where students work under instructors on virtual files. Law schools should adopt this practice to give their students practical skills.
Law schools are increasingly embracing experiential education, but legal clinics such as the University of Toronto Downtown Legal Services necessarily have limited spots for students.
A course which provided a virtual law firm experience could be a great option for students who either do not secure a clinical position or do not want one, perhaps for scheduling reasons.
Such a course could provide students with the hard and soft skills of managing a file and working in a law firm. Skills of strategy, drafting and communication could be sharpened in a legal setting with no risk.
Embracing and Fostering Technological Innovation
Truly innovative law schools can look beyond just integrating technological change into their courses—they can help foster legal change.
Once again, Ryerson University could show the way forward. Ryerson hosts Canada’s first incubator focused on legal tech, the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ). The LIZ acts as any incubator does, bringing innovators together to connect, share ideas and create tech solutions and innovations. However, it is focused purely on legal tech.
Law schools across Canada should be adopting their own, in-house legal tech incubators. Law schools should be funding these programs, partnering with the private sector to procure seed money for innovative students. These incubators could then be used by the students, who could transform the law as they learn it.
John Wu, an Osgoode student, and Director of Codify Legal Publishing, urges law schools to adopt incubators.
“I see in so many students an appetite for innovation,” he says. “The establishment of legal incubators will support these students in creating new career opportunities for themselves, and encourage faculty to explore innovative approaches to pedagogy.”
If law schools could harness the innovative spirits of their students, they could actively shape the future practice of law.
Change, change, change
Much like the world around it, the legal profession is changing. Law schools have an obligation to their students to teach them about these changes. They can also harness this change to transform and enhance legal education. Lastly, they can be truly innovative and help foster that change through legal tech incubators. Change is ever-present, and legal education needs to keep up.