Teaching Law in a Legal Tech World

Law schools around the world are going into crisis. Jobs for graduates are dwindling and schools are constantly besieged by claims that they’re doing little to prepare students for the 21st Century; a century where legal services will be dominated by process and technology, with lawyer touches only where absolutely necessary. With very few exceptions, law schools treat process and technology as ancillary skills that students learn on their own time, preferably after graduation; law school’s role is to simply teach students how to think “like a lawyer.” Somewhat like teaching a carpenter how to build a house – without using tools.
Thinking like a lawyer is important. But a person who thinks like a lawyer and is able to translate those thoughts into action using the correct and best tools is even better. Law students of 2017 have grown up in a world where technology is seen to be the panacea for nearly societal ill. Yet, at law school many are told to delete their social media accounts and their coursework keeps them very far away from any technology that is not Powerpoint or the school’s caselaw research account.
In contrast, modern educators outside law schools have long believed that integrating technology into a math, science and arts curriculum, is imperative to a 21st Century education so as to deepen student learning. These educators do not see technology as a separate stand-alone course, “or as a once-in-a-while project, but as a tool to promote and extend student learning on a daily basis. The challenge, of course, is in finding ways to use technology — and to help students use it — that don’t take time away from core subjects.” (See http://www.citejournal.org/volume-5/issue-3-05/mathematics/technology-in-mathematics-education-preparing-teachers-for-the-future). Law schools have not yet adopted such an approach – which in my view is to the detriment of the latest cohort of students. Consider the benefits of teaching family law in conjunction with a contract building tool where students build separation agreements based on case-learning and fact scenarios. In other classes, expert systems can be used to foster discussion on how fact changes can change outcomes, ensuring students better understand which points are relevant and which are not.
But before integrating technology into any course, instructors need to be well-versed in the technology to be used. This requires an instructor to not only learn new skills, but to also rethink and redesign how she teaches her course, so as to creatively and constructively integrate technology. The goal is to teach students to not turn-off their brains and blindly rely upon technology – but use it as tool for learning and future practice. In the law school context, this will require a new hiring process for prospective faculty; one that moves from relying upon traditional academic accolades and the number of publications, to focussing on how prospective faculty are able and willing to explore opportunities to enhance student learning. Transitioning older, more entrenched faculty members to this mindset will take much more effort.
My point is not that law schools should use technology for the sake of technology, or that they should jump on every bandwagon and play with all the latest cool toys. However to ignore the growing number of technological tools that can enhance learning does a grave disservice to the future of the profession and perpetuates the myth that “law is different.”
Mitchell Kowalski is the Gowling WLG Visiting Professor in Legal Innovation at the University of Calgary Law School, the Legal Innovation Columnist The National Post, and the Principal Consultant at Cross Pollen Advisory where he advises in-house legal departments and law firms on the redesign of legal service delivery. He is also the author of the critically-acclaimed book, Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century. His new book, The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field will be published in September, 2017.  Follow him on Twitter @mekowalski or visit his website www.kowalski.ca