14 Reasons Law Schools Must Teach Tech

As technology reshapes both the way law firms run and the law itself, law schools must also morph, says noted legal scholar.

Michael Fitzgerald, Contributor

July 9, 2013

5 Min Read

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Legal education's inability to adapt to technology is undermining law schools around the country, argued noted legal scholar Oliver R. Goodenough in a talk Tuesday at Harvard's Berkman Center for The Internet and Society.

"Legal education in this country is in crisis," Goodenough said. That's true for two reasons, he said: One, because the traditional law firm has run its course as an efficient way to provide law services at scale, and two, because technology is radically remaking the practice of law, and law schools are being slow to respond.

Goodenough, a professor at the Vermont Law School and a Faculty Fellow at the Berkman Center, recently published "Developing an e-curriculum," a paper that has stirred interest. Goodenough already has spoken at several law schools about his ideas, and received at least two more informal invitations after his talk at Berkman.

Goodenough said that most law schools have not even begun to broach getting rid of courses rendered outmoded by technology, such as legal research. He also said technology is such an important part of legal practice that law schools should offer specialty master's degrees related to technology, something that IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law has done. He also said law schools need to be more aggressive about creating distance learning, in part to reduce costs for their students. Vermont Law School has been a leader in legal distance education.

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Crisis creates opportunity, and some of the opportunity belongs to IT departments at law schools, which have expertise in technology that most law professors lack. Goodenough said that faculty inexperience with technology is a reason why law schools have been slow to adapt their curriculum to the digital age, except for talking about digital law. That's beginning to change. He cited first movers such as Michigan State University, IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law and Suffolk University in Boston, which last year opened its Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation.

The head of Suffolk's ILPTI, Andrew Perlman, was in attendance at the talk, wearing a pair of Google glasses he won the right to buy as part of Google's competition for the first pairs.

Perlman, who used the glasses to take pictures of Goodenough's slides, said Suffolk's IT department has been instrumental in supporting the new Institute, including building a litigation app for it, and recently hiring a programmer to work with it. Suffolk is also adding courses such as "Lawyering in an Age of Smart Machines," which teaches law students programming skills. Perlman said that with law firm jobs drying up, law students with technology skills are more attractive to potential employers.

A digital revolution in law schools "is happening," Goodenough said. It will take five to 10 years, but it's on the way.

Here are Goodnenough's 14 reasons why digital lawyering matters:

1. E-discovery.
It's a new frontier in law and lawyer activity, a revolution in courts and how they handle disputes. Courts are becoming e-courts, and e-discovery is a $3.7-billion-a-year business.

2. Other new digital areas.
There is now privacy law, intellectual property law, information policies.

3. Technology is changing research and writing.
One of the major law research databases uses Netflix-like recommendation technology, noting that "people who cited this have also cited that."

4. Advocacy.
Winning a case is not just about being in court anymore. Goodenough cited activist and author Bill McKibben, who argues that law is made in the court of public opinion first, with politicians and the Supreme Court following behind.

5. Analysis.
For example, the EPA is pairing legal databases with epidemiology. Georgetown Law built an app looking at law and same-sex marriage.

6. Professional presentation.
Lawyers need to be able to respond to the emergence of sites such as Divorce Deli and Wilson Sonsini's online term sheet generator.

7. Digital competition.
Law is democratizing, in part because of inexpensive legal advice available through sites like Divorce Deli.

8. The need for good legal software.
Legal software is being written by engineers, who don't understand the law. Lawyers need to get technical enough to talk to engineers.

9. Digital jurisprudence.
The rise of cheaply available texts in the late 1800s gave rise to the Langdellian model of what a good legal education should consist of. How will the latest revolution in technology change the way the law is taught?

10. Law is getting "Turinged."
The field has been revolutionized and economically restructured by computing.

11. Computational law.
This tech uses computer algorithms to do automated readings and quantitative analysis of legal decisions. See, for instance, the work of Dan Katz at Michigan State.

12. Law tech is a $20-billion-a-year marketplace.
And it's largely untapped by law schools.

13. Improving access to justice by bringing the law to the many.
One early practitioner is Ron Staudt and the Center for Access to Justice and Technology.

14. Creative destruction.
As Theodore Levitt said in a famous Harvard Business Review paper, "Marketing Myopia," organizations have to plot the obsolescence of what now produces their livelihood.

About the Author(s)

Michael Fitzgerald


Michael Fitzgerald writes about the power of ideas and the people who bring them to bear on business, technology and culture.

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