The Legal Tech Lesson Law Schools Haven’t Yet Learned

Imagine a law firm getting ready to replace decades-old software. A representative from NuLaw pitches their new legal case management software based on the well-respected Salesforce CRM app. Try as she might, that representative cannot get the firm’s partners to understand the benefits of new technology.

The scenario just described here is actually the norm. Despite what the legal tech industry has come up with in the last couple of years, law firms are still not grasping how technology is changing their industry. One likely reason is that law schools still aren’t engaging students in the technological arena.

A Guild Mentality

The vast majority of law schools in the United States still teach students the way they were being taught 20 and 30 years ago. In a scathing article on the current state of technology in the legal industry, Forbes contributor Mark Cohen referred to law schools as “relics of the legal guild.” He may have a good point.

In a generic sense, a guild is an association of people with a similar interest or pursuit who take it upon themselves to oversee the practices of every guild member. The legal guild in the United States is not a single entity. Rather, each state bar association acts as a guild for its members. Associations control nearly every aspect of how attorneys practice.

Cohen maintains this is an outdated method. He also maintains that law schools are perpetuated in the guild mindset by the way they teach. Law schools teach students how to be good guild members in addition to being attorneys. But because an attorney needs to be admitted to the bar in order to practice, being a good guild member comes first.

The Problem with Technology

So, what does any of this have to do with technology or the legal tech industry? Actually, everything. Most state bar associations give mere lip service to technology. Association rules may state that attorneys have a legal obligation to be mindful of technology, but that’s about it.

As such, law schools feel no sense of obligation to prepare students with any kind of technology training. They teach the same traditions year in and year out to prepare students to be good guild members. Those students enter an environment in which they have to learn about technology on the fly.

The problem with this type of scenario is that law firms are not up to date in their technology, for the most part. That means new attorneys are not learning about technology as quickly or as thoroughly as they ought. The end result is a vast sea of available technology that isn’t being utilized to its fullest potential.

Fixing the Problem

One of the proposed solutions is to get rid of the traditional law school model of putting in your years at university and then being done with it and replacing it with a model of lifelong learning. Though this idea sounds reasonable, it’s not any better than the current guild model. All it does is take control away from state bar associations and gives it to law schools instead. Where is the benefit in that?

The big legal tech lesson law schools still haven’t learned is that technology is changing the way law is practiced. It’s not just streamlining things and making them more efficient; it is actually changing the way everyone from attorneys to judges do their jobs. Until law schools get a handle on this, their students will continue to be trained as future guild members. Meanwhile, technology will languish under the shadow of the guild mentality.

Jeffrey Roberts

Emily Roberts: Emily, a former corporate lawyer, demystifies the world of law with clear explanations of legal principles, case analyses, and insights into the legal profession. Her blog is a valuable resource for law students, legal professionals, and anyone interested in law.