For years we have heard that the job market saying that the skills and knowledge of law school alumni don’t match the expectations of organizations. This is an understandable phenomenon; a curriculum is not altered daily and completing an education takes on average five years. In five years a lot can change in any field. Especially more so when we are talking about technology and IT.
Attorneys and lawyers have an important role in society: a role that services the portion of the population that’s unfamiliar with the law. They have to deal with marketing, products, customers and competition. In a sector where growth is slowing down, this commercial aspect gets increasingly more important.
Technology and legal services
Customers want more services for less money, and these services should be digitized, according to a report by Deloitte. In the end, by ways of competition, customers determine how services are provided. Herein lie a huge opportunity and assignment for the judicial service industry.
It is to be expected in the near future that the way we service clients in the legal sector, is going to be vastly different from how we currently do. The traditional role of the lawyer in court will be pushed into the background. Or maybe even obsolete?
Bailiffs are providing their clients with online portals where they can log in and have complete access to their dossiers. Complex contracts are being generated online without the interference of a lawyer. Variables in legal procedures, like acquiring a permit, are being translated into online decision trees. There are even initiatives who take it one step further. Ross Intelligence uses IBM’s supercomputer Watson, to answer legal questions. This tool is being deployed to help lawyers with legal research, and it’s just a matter of time before someone adapts this for a broader public use.
Actual lawyers are being replaced by interfaces on websites.
The role of education
Schools and universities should respond to this development and trend by focusing more on legal technology. Only students who interest themselves in legal tech or have some experience with IT will be able to follow suit in this development without input from schools. Anyone looking for a legal education – in which technology plays a role – will be disappointed. Unless you’re looking to specialize in IT law.
A number of universities in the Netherlands are giving students the opportunity to innovate and widen their vision on legal services. Zuyd University is a good example: their Legal Lab develops new legal products and works closely with the business sector. The University of Amsterdam takes it one step further and incorporates the Berkeley Studio into their curriculum. During the course “Judicial Information – Documentation Management” students get to develop these knowledge systems themselves.
Where to begin
Provide for students the opportunity to digitalize aspects of legal services. Students should have the choice to follow a course in legal tech. Ideally, this course would contain training and exercises, with tools that require no programming skills. It suits the role of universities to start informing and helping students prepare for the fast changing world of legal services.
In this field, there is demand for students with both legal knowledge and the ability to develop digital systems. Students find internships and even jobs with the specific task to create algorithms through decision trees.
The change starts with lawyers
One of the founders and current CEO of Ross Intelligence, Andrew Arruda, is a Canadian lawyer who has years of experience in legal research. He saw in Watson an opportunity to do legal research more efficiently and created Ross. He saw a chance and seamlessly blended a classic legal task and modern technology. A world of digital legal services starts with lawyers themselves.
Barry van Varik
Legal tech consultant and lawyer