Legal technology, LegalTech, LawTech…whatever you prefer to call it…has caught the legal services world by storm.
LegalTech startups and scaleups in the UK are growing at a rate of over 100% per year, according to a report released mid-2021 by LawtechUK, making it faster than the likes of FinTech, ClimateTech and HealthTech.
The report found that, as of December 2020, approximately 200 UK-based legal tech businesses have attracted £674m in investment and employ over 7,000 people – and these numbers are predicted to rise to £2.2bn in annual investment and 12,500 jobs in five years’ time.
But the growth in LegalTech isn’t just a result of new technology emerging on the market; demand is also accelerating.
According to a recent SRA report, a third of law firms (37%) in the UK are already using more complex legal technology, such as legal document automation, interactive websites and artificial intelligence, and more are planning to do so in the years to come.
All this change has caused such a stir that the academic world is eager to be a part of it – and some universities are driving the change themselves. Take the University of Manchester, which has partnered with law firms and other faculties such as its computer science and business departments to conduct ground-breaking research and developments as part of its Manchester Law and Technology Initiative.
As LegalTech continues to infiltrate legal services, how can educators ensure they’re preparing their students to succeed in what will surely be a very different legal world in the years to come?
Having the knowledge and desire to use digital technology will play a vital role in the career development of professionals across almost all industries – and the legal sector is no exception.
Going forward, an interest in and understanding of LegalTech will be paramount for all lawyers – whether in private practice, in-house, chambers or academia. And in return, it will help save them time, increase their effectiveness and enable them to be more strategic in their work. It will also help them to improve communication and collaboration internally and with clients or stakeholders.
But that’s not to say the lawyers of the future will need a degree or background in computer science to go about their jobs (although it wouldn’t hurt).
Professor of Management Studies at Said Business School, University of Oxford, Mari Sako, says:
“Lawyers will be expected to understand basic digital skills, such as virtual meetings and other kinds of technology that facilitates day-to-day activities, but digital skills like artificial intelligence, the real kind of high-level technology, will only apply to a minority and they may come from areas outside the legal community.”
However, some lawyers may move into these areas and acquire a lot more technology-based skills, then go on to work in other kinds of careers, she points out.
"In my view, only a minority of lawyers would be expected to have data science skills, and once they do, they may not actually be called lawyers anymore. These types of people already carry job titles like legal engineers, or legal product architects, and they're not practicing law in your traditional sense of the word.”
This is most likely already a common trend. If we look at the number of SRA accredited solicitors, there’s a rising number who are no longer practicing – hinting that perhaps they’ve moved into the LegalTech world.
According to the SRA website, the total number of solicitors on the roll at the end of August 2021 was 210,152 (an increase of approximately 50,000 since 2012), while the number of practising solicitors is 154,273 (an increase of approximately 30,000 since 2012) – leaving an estimated 20,000 non-practicing lawyers unaccounted for.
When it comes to building a curriculum that prepares students for the future of law, it would be a mistake to try and compete with an ever-changing legal technology market. It’s evolving at breakneck speed, and what is useful now could easily become irrelevant or outdated over the course of a degree.
That’s not to say exposing students to LegalTech isn’t important – it is incredibly so – but it’s even more important to teach students the skills they need to adapt and embrace new technology instead of hiding behind the tools or solutions they’re familiar with.
Law schools should seek to push their students outside of their comfort zones by becoming used to new ways of working and approaching problems. This can be done by including new platforms or tools, such as LexisPSL or Lexis Create, which allows lawyers to automate the legal document creation process, saving time and drastically reducing the margin of error. This can also be achieved by encouraging students to collaborate with people with skill sets that lie outside the confines of the law. This will encourage skills like agility or collaboration, which will play crucial roles in the future of the profession.
Being able to cope with change and uncertainty is part of the modern business world, and the more lawyers understand and are exposed to this fact, the better they will understand their clients or organisations. Luckily, for students studying during COVID-19, they would have faced a high level of uncertainty already and will hopefully have developed a high level of agility as a result.
In the LegalTech market there’s been lots of discussion around gamifying legal technology to encourage engagement. This includes throwing interactive elements into the user experience, such as points, levels or badges to add a competitive element, or social capabilities such as the ability to comment or share with others. The main objective here is to switch the attention from function focus to user focus.
Including this element of gamification into LegalTech at law schools will further encourage students to learn new skills, compete with others, track progress or demonstrate impact, enhancing their learning.
The final point to make is the growing need to incorporate more practical elements into the curriculum. According to a recent report on UK law schools by LexisNexis, 81% of law students are concerned about employability after studying.
The law curriculum is largely theory-based – and while instilling a sound knowledge of the law should continue to be the foundations of any legal course – there’s a growing need to incorporate more practical skills, such as how to use legal technology.
At LexisNexis, we’re seeing growing interest from universities to help their students utilise legal technology platforms, such as LexisPSL, to create a richer and more pragmatic learning experience.
There’s also a growing interest in work placements that focus on legal operations. For instance, a consortium of City firms (CMS UK, Dentons, Norton Rose Fulbright, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May) has joined forces to train graduates in legal operations. The legal operations graduate scheme, which was designed by the University of Law, involves an intensive four-week course and regular workshops with the hopes of luring junior talent into legal operations. While this exact approach might not be appropriate to all law schools, undergraduate students are clearly interested in gaining more practical skills before moving on to the legal profession.
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