Why should law students care about legal tech?

Why should law students care about legal tech?

You are wading your way through your law textbooks to get to grips with first principles, learn the relevant cases and statutes, and prepare for your exams. Why should you care that someone, somewhere is constructing clever digital solutions to speed up contract drafting, unearth cybercrime, or use data to analyse issues and predict outcomes?

Understanding the law and being able to apply it are, it goes without saying, the bedrock of being a lawyer. But as a law student, how much are you expected to know about and possibly have experience of legal tech? What do your future employers want to hear? And how do your courses prepare you for this?

Modern lawyers will be expected to utilise legal tech 

The best place to start to answer these questions is with the law firms themselves. What do they say?  Ellen Lake is a senior associate at Clifford Chance and involved in the recruitment process.

"The modern lawyer is expected to have a desire to explore and be open to using legal technology where appropriate in matter delivery. Our recruitment process reflects thisAll trainees receive detailed legal technology training and are able to get involved with other legal technology initiatives within the firm. The aim is ultimately for all trainees to apply this expertise throughout their career to explore and develop more efficient ways of working that ultimately benefit clients and continue to provide exceptional client service."

James Yang, law graduate and International Law Book Facility (ILBF) student essay competition judge, has direct experience of what can be asked in an interview.

Legal tech is a hot topic and its development is closely followed by all law firms. Having a good knowledge of it gives you great points to talk about in any training contract or vacation scheme interview.”

How can law students learn about legal tech?

How far does your law course prepare you for legal tech, and where can you find out more?

Most undergraduate law degrees do not specifically explore legal tech. While there are undergraduate degrees that provide a grounding in key aspects of legal tech alongside core legal, such as the University of Surrey’s  LLB in Law (Law and Technology Pathway), the majority of legal technology courses offered by universities are Masters programmes. This means that the onus is largely on law undergraduates to find out for themselves what legal tech is all about. That students and legal practitioners use online research tools like LexisLibrary or LexisPSL is only part of the legal tech story – legal tech is changing the practice of law, the way law firms operate and the expectations of their clients.

Before any interviews for vacation schemes, training contracts or pupillages, law undergraduates need to find out about and have a view on legal tech; what it does, when it matters and where it is going. Resources to find out more are everywhere online – on law firms' own websites, on the websites of solutions providers such as LexisNexis, and in blogs. Equally important is to have a view on what the limitations of legal tech are and when a human lawyer will be critical and why.

If you are intrigued by legal tech and want to be a creator or pioneer as well as a user of legal tech, then there are unique training contracts out there that will fit the bill. Clifford Chance, for example, has a tech-specific training contract scheme, ‘IGNITE’. If you come into the law from a different discipline, such as software engineering, or have developed an interest in tech during your law studies, this is a brilliant opportunity to get involved with designing future systems.

Law firms have to provide as much value as possible to their clients, and I don’t just mean nice biscuits and good coffee. Adding value means anticipating clients’ future needs and being prepared for the next business challenge, wherever that comes from. Legal tech is an important part of this. Law firms are investing heavily in the future: for example, Clifford Chance has a related arm which develops its own legal tech solutions. As with all top law firms, innovation is critical to their success.

Watch our legal tech event

To find out more about legal tech, a great place to start is to watch the recording of the ILBF and LexisNexis online session on legal tech, ‘Legal tech: do you want to compete with these emerging systems or do you want to build them?’  

Hear from industry experts: Chris O’Connor, Director of Solutions at LexisNexis, Frankie Garcia, Product Manager and Nick Sherman, VP Marketing & Design at Mind Foundry and Charles Brecque, Founder and CEO of Legislate. The event was chaired by Ellen Lake from Clifford Chance. Watch the full recording here. 

And don’t forget, if you are a law undergraduate in the UK, you can also enter the ILBF’s law student essay competition. The fantastic prize is a week’s internship with London law firm Brown Rudnick. Simply engaging with the essay question will start you on your legal tech journey and give you the chance to explore insights and ideas that will stand you in good stead when a recruiter asks that all important question…’How do you think legal tech will transform the practice of law?' Find out more about the competition here.

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About the author:
Katrina is the CEO of International Law Book Facility (ILBF), a not-for-profit that supports the Rule of Law by donating second hand legal textbooks to other not-for-profits in need of legal research resources across the globe.