New law is not so new anymore – to anyone who pays attention. All over the world people engaged in the legal industry, not least the paying customers, have started to question the traditional ways and methods of delivering legal services. They demand more value for the money. We see more and more industry disrupting start-ups within the legal community as well as the more traditional players waking up to the inevitable changes ahead. I think it is fair to say that no currently existing legal business is safe.
Already now computers replace younger lawyers in knowledge management related tasks as they are way more efficient in processing vast databases. We see document generators automating more and more complex documents and agreements replacing traditional lawyers’ work (and eliminating human error factors). We witness artificial intelligence with machine learning skills entering the legal sphere (e.g. the recently launched http://www.rossintelligence.com/).
In other words, what we actually see, are computers, piece by piece, replacing various tasks of the human lawyer.
Venture capital and private equity funds are entering the legal industry to strengthen these trends as they smell big business opportunities laying ahead.
The legal education
One thing we lawyers have in common is our legal education. Traditionally our education is almost exclusively focused on substance i.e. learning about statutes, case law and doctrine. Is this what we want this education to be all about? Is this what outside world actually needs from us and has the right to expect? Are lawyers graduating from universities actually fit for fight?
Universities should give lawyers the skills they need. Today’s law students should be prepared for tomorrow’s demands. Face to face with the changing world and the new demands of the legal service customers, the substance knowledge just isn’t enough.
This year I participated as a mentor and a judge in Law Without Walls, a program initiated by the University of Miami and headed by Michele DeStefano and her incredible team. This program, currently involving at least 30 universities and having more than 700 change agents in its network, is focused on giving law and business students a practical insight into tomorrow’s law. It was a fantastic experience to witness how students from all over the globe came together, collaborated with their mentors and did research around their given topic to come up with new solutions and business ideas, to solve various legal issues more efficiently than before.
In just a few months, all these student teams came up with interesting and credible new ideas of which some might just turn into actual enterprises. In addition (and this is not something lawyers usually excel in) the students learned cultural competency, team work, project management as well as communication and visualization skills.
You can find a lot more information on this topic on www.lawwithoutwalls.org .
De lege ferenda?
Programs like Law Without Walls are highly valuable in educating tomorrow’s lawyers and in fixing inefficiencies in the legal industry (at least in positioning the mindset of law students). All law schools should have mandatory courses introducing new law, bringing law students up to speed and molding the thinking of tomorrow’s lawyers to give their students an edge in the fierce competition they will face in the more and more automated and diverse future of the legal industry.