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To the Head of the Class: Tech for Legal Educators

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

To the Head of the Class: Tech for Legal Educators

"The legal profession is sometimes criticized as being willfully resistant to change. Some within the industry even wear this stubbornness as a badge of honor; partners may boast that, if their white-shoe law firm has weathered economic and social vicissitudes for decades or even centuries, then surely the firm’s continued existence is inevitable. In my more than 30 years in the legal profession, the only inevitability I have observed is the accelerating pace of technological change and the need for the legal professional to change with it.

When I first went into legal practice at the Legal Aid Society in 1986, the major technological development was the fax machine. So fancy was this new technology that we newly minted Legal Aid lawyers needed to secure permission from the office manager before using it. The widespread adoption of the fax machine and the release of personal computers (such as the Commodore 64 I used as a law clerk) in the mid-1980s made clear to us that technology was on the march. And we had better move with it.

More than three decades later, some industries—such as retail, travel and finance—show major tech momentum; others, including legal education, need a little push. Lawyer and entrepreneur Paul Lippe described this reality in a 2016 article for the South Carolina Law Review. “Over the last generation, law and lawyers have fallen further behind other fields in their level of innovation, the use of new tools to improve productivity, and thoughtful design to respond to complexity,” Lippe wrote. “While some of this is inherent in the nature of law, much of it needs to change if lawyers hope to retain the respected role of their profession.”

Law schools must do better to adapt their curricula to technological change. If they don’t, they risk underserving the students in their care and, by extension, disappointing the future employers of those students. Ultimately and most egregiously, they risk failing the clients those students will one day represent..."

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