BPP University Law School is reviewing the way it incorporates technology into its legal training – including which document and matter management system to select to embed within its courses – as it begins a search for a new head of innovation technology to help lead the process.
The review, which is being led by joint director of LPC programmes, Jane Houston and conducted in consultation with many of the 60 law firms that use BPP exclusively, has the following broad aims:
– to digitalise the delivery of BPP’s legal training curriculum;
– to acclimatise students to the type of technology they are likely to encounter in practice; and
– to add modules to the curriculum to cover topics not currently taught or assessed on the LPC but which modern lawyers need to understand in order to make the best use of technology to drive efficiencies and meet the value for money demands of clients.
Between February and last month Houston was working alongside newly-appointed head of innovation technology Mark Collins, however Collins has now returned to private practice.
Houston told us: “We have an advert out again for Mark’s replacement – it will be a joint role because we’ve got someone internally who is very keen and very able in this area but we want someone from practice who is pretty senior.
“Mark’s background was not fee-earning but he was head of KM and had a very good understanding of the systems in which law firms operate in, bringing to us the whole matter management system/document management system (DMS) understanding.
“We want someone with that kind of knowledge because we want to embed that kind of software into our future training so that future trainees will work with and become used to working those systems.”
BPP is already considering which DMS it will adopt and Houston said: “We’re already speaking to someone about how they can help us – we need a platform in which we can embed a certain amount of academic content but frame it so that it simulates the environment students will be working in.”
The law school will be taking basic steps to digitise the way it interacts with students in terms of course work and scheduling appointments. Houston says: “They are very able in the Snapchat world and aren’t afraid of technology but they don’t have the business software skills they need.”
Beyond that, BPP is still consulting on what technology to incorporate within its teaching, with much of the focus currently expected to be on how to use core systems to become more efficient rather than, for example, teaching students how to code.
One thing that all law firms have a demand for, according to Houston, is matter management training and exposure. “They’re getting demands from their clients who are becoming more tech savvy and asking for more value for money and want to see what work is actually being done and track what you’re doing and when you’re doing it,” Houston says.
BPP in March ran an ’employability week’ where the theme was legal technology and the law school had the likes of Kira Systems and Mishcon de Reya’s chief strategy officer Nick West come in to hold panel discussions and workshops.
Houston added: “It’s a bit early to be training students in coding and AI: initially we need to get them working with business software by embedding it. Take tax – you have to complete the tasks using and manipulating data in Excel as part of the module on tax, so we’re subtly introducing it to the course.”
The review comes as the Solicitors Regulation Authority recently announced that it will in 2020 roll out a new and all-encompassing Solicitors Qualification Examination (SQE), which will see the SRA drop the need for future lawyers to take the LPC or Graduate Diploma in Law.
Houston said: “The big silver lining with the SQE is that it gives us carte blanche to say to our law firm clients: ‘What else do you want? What other training do you need that will suit your firm?”
However, UK law schools have been heavily criticised for not modernising their legal practice training to date and Houston says the changes hanging over them under the SQE are much to blame. “For law schools, one of the biggest blockers for innovation has been the SRA’s consultation on the SQE, which has been going on for a couple of years. I’ve long been banging on the drum of legal tech but we haven’t known what is going on in a wider education context,” she says.
“It’s very difficult to innovate and change when you think wholesale change may be coming anyway. It has been a big factor for law schools in the last 18 months to two years. I’ve had multiple conversations about technology and talked about e-learning – that’s all been great but the waiting to hear what’s happening in legal education – that’s made things stagnant.”
Anyone wishing to contribute their views to the consultation should contact Jane Houston at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further details on the role of head of innovation technology see here: http://legaltechnology.com//legal-it-jobs/law-school-head-of-innovation-technology/
Respected UCL professor Richard Moorhead is undertaking a survey of the tech training currently available in UK law schools – see the article below for further details and a link to the survey and get involved.