Last year, Casey Flaherty and Darth Vaugh wrote an article for the ABA Journal about the myth that Millennials are innately adept with any and all technology. Spoiler alert: they’re not. Yet, the myth still informs how law firms and law schools operate.
Sure, pretty much everyone working in a legal technology start-up is a Millennial, but then again a ton of lawyers also need corrective lenses or glasses; there may be some sort of a correlation, but not a direct causality. Mistaking correlation for causality creates a blind spot in law school teaching. Why teach technology when these Millennials innately get it? Why teach something that they’ll easily pick up after graduation? As a result, law schools are missing a real opportunity to test, assess and train law students with even the most basic, and arguably, the most useful piece of legal technology currently available: Word, Excel and Acrobat. After all, these programs, along with brain power, are truly the tools of every lawyer’s trade. So, why only teach half the toolkit? Especially in an era where a lawyer no longer has a dedicated admin assistant?
At my legal innovation course at the University of Calgary Law School, I ran a pilot of the Legal Technology Assessment platform operated by Casey Flaherty and Andrew Perlman. I wanted to test my law students against the Millennial technology myth. Unfortunately, the first hurdle to be cleared was that the assessment doesn’t run on Apple products – and nearly all my students had Apples. Interestingly, while all of my students raved about how much they loved their Macs, none had considered that the law firms at which they hoped to work would all be running PCs – not Macs.
Be that as it may, my students still believed that the assessment was going to be easy. After all, how hard could it be? So, off to the school’s computer laboratory we went for our class. The Assessment tests user skills with Word, Excel and Adobe, but given time restraints, we could only do the Word testing. From the get go, it was a struggle for my students. This wasn’t a simple “cut and paste,” or “change the font” exercise. The students were tested on about 40 real-life drafting issues; such as auto-numbering, auto-cross-references, styles and many other skills that not only save time, they reduce errors.
Only 1 out of 15 students received a passing grade. The rest failed.
A few members of the law faculty later inquired about the assessment and were genuinely stunned by the poor results. This gave me my opening. “Ideally,” I told them, “the audit would be taken twice a year for every year of law school; at the beginning of the year and again at the end. Benchmarks would be set up – and graduation would depend upon the student hitting those benchmarks. That way, along with a law degree students would have a useable skill that dovetails precisely with any area of law.” The faculty reception to my radical idea was barely lukewarm. Perhaps because law schools still refuse to believe that students attend for the sole purpose of becoming a lawyer – or perhaps because the Millennial myth allows law schools to be wilfully blind to needed change. Whatever the reason, in era where Millennial lawyers are receptive and excited about technology in legal practice, surely someone should take the lead in teaching them how to use it to maximum advantage?
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 2017. Follow him on Twitter @mekowalski or visit his website www.kowalski.ca