A 3L’s Perspective on Technology and the Future of the Legal Profession

It is no surprise that with growing advances in technology the context of the legal profession has begun to change and evolve. For a student entering her third year of law school, I find this trend both intimidating and exciting. Not a day goes by without me digging through my purse every five minutes for my Iphone or frantically pulling up a school email on an Ipad. Students today, including myself, are attached to this technology, and because of this reliance, the future of the legal profession is drastically changing. In Jon Garon’s article, Legal Education in Disruption: The Headwinds and Tailwinds of Technology, he addresses these changes and technological attachment and how they will forever affect the practice of law. Lawyers today, Garon explains, rely heavily on technology: submitting court documents digitally, responding to client emails from their iPhones, and locating clients on social media networks. Just yesterday, a close friend was recounting her day in a city court where an attorney conducted his entire caseload from his Ipad. In addition to that, not only can the state penal code, criminal procedure law, and vehicle and traffic law be found via an App from Itunes ($5.99 each), but entire case files can now be converted to be available on a tablet and subsequently, emailed to the court clerk.  It seems that this will lead to a balancing act where the technically savvy lawyer will prosper by harnessing this technology and mirroring that with the ability to provide adequate services to their clients. While I somehow find this “balance” calming, I can understand why those practicing law for several years can see this change looming on the horizon with both anxiety and nervousness.

Garon also explains that in today’s world there are plenty of “self help” remedies that can be found online, giving consumers legal products which require no actual contact with a lawyer. Out of curiosity, I googled “legal documents” and over 34 million results popped up, with the first page consisting of free downloadable forms (with suggestions for leases, promissory notes, and living wills). Garon states that the legal education must respond to the changing times, and must follow closely with the development of technology. It is particularly scary to a third year law student that the skills I am being taught in class and in my internships can simply be replaced by typing into a search engine. Professors and faculty must find a way to teach both the traits that can be found in successful lawyers, while balancing with business practices and technological advances in “forward looking practices.” The classes that seem to prepare law students the best are the ones that see these challenges and obstacles that face students, like myself, and grasp at the chance to show us how we can navigate through these changing times.

Garon ends his article with the question, ‘If not now, when?” While I understand that this question is directed towards faculty and staff at law schools, it is my belief that law students need to answer this question as well, for one day (very soon) we will also be practicing attorneys. Through embracing these constant changes in technology and combating these changes with teaching “intentionally rather than inductively,” law schools will be able to provide the best legal education possible and begin to transform the profession into a modern and technologically sound resource.

Here is the abstract:

“By harnessing improvements on communications and computational systems, law firms are producing a revolution in the practice of law. Self-help legal manuals have transformed into sophisticated interactive software; predictive coding can empower clients to receive sophisticated legal advice from a machine; socially mediated portals select among potential lawyers and assess the quality of the advice given; and virtual law firms threaten to distintermediate the grand edifices of twentieth century Big Law. These changes may profoundly restructure the legal practice, undermining the business model for many solo and small firm practices.

This paper focuses on the implications of these profound disruptive changes. It looks at the expectations the market may place on future lawyers and by extension the training necessary for lawyers entering the practice of law. The final section reflects a suggested curriculum and programmatic redesign, highlighting one possible future legal educational model, complete with acquiescence to existing constraints found in American Bar Association and other accreditation regimes.”

A working draft of the article can be found here.

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