Law School Curriculum

Innovation and Technology: Key Topics in Today’s Law School Curriculum

As the legal industry continues to evolve, so too has legal education. Thus, prospective law students should pay careful attention to the changing markets for legal services, how technology may be disrupting their fields of interest, and how schools on their list are responding to such change.

In a recent Forbes Online article, Mark Cohen describes the changing landscape of legal services as the role of legal technology increases. He references a Thomson Reuters analysis, issued earlier this year, that showed a 484 percent increase in new legal services technology patents filed globally over the past five years, with the majority filed in U.S. and China (38 percent and 34 percent respectively). The analysis reports that these numbers “reflect the rise of alternative legal services—such as virtual law firms—and the rapid expansion of the online legal industry. This trend is in large part being driven by businesses and individuals looking beyond traditional channels for legal advice.” And it supports findings presented in Deloitte’s Future Trends for Legal Services report, published in 2016, which reported data from a survey of in-house legal services purchasers. Over half of respondents predicted technology would replace the tasks of in-house lawyers in just five years. Additionally, respondents reported a need for legal partners that go “beyond legal,” or what a major law firm typically delivers, and incorporate expertise on industry topics, cyber and data security, and proactive knowledge sharing.

The future for practicing lawyers is shaping up to look considerably different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. Cohen predicts that in the future, “Fewer lawyers will engage in pure ‘practice’ and many more will leverage practice skills and a suite of new ‘delivery’ skillsets to perform as-yet unidentified legal delivery functions.“

So, what does this mean for prospective law students? It means they should be paying close attention to how schools’ are adapting their curricular offerings and knowledge center initiatives to integrate technology and business topics. Daniel Linna, Director of LegalRnD at the The Center for Legal Services Innovation at the Michigan State University College of Law recently launched a prototype for the Legal Services Innovation Index. This is a tool that can be used to track and measure innovation in legal education. While Linna warns that it does not measure quality and should not be considered a ranking, in using this tool, prospective law students can quickly gather information and compare technology-related offerings at various schools. The prototype model currently uses ten technology and legal-service delivery disciplines and includes 38 schools. It is not yet a comprehensive tool, but there are plans for increasing its scope.

Most importantly, Linna’s prototype is a much-needed acknowledgement of the changing nature of the field and the need for law schools to think innovatively about how best to prepare the lawyers of the future. “We need to start measuring these things, start describing innovation and measuring it,” Linna said. “We need metrics for what is happening in the legal industry.”

The Center for Legal Services Innovation has also created an innovation measurement for Law Firms, which is in Phase One.