Law School’s Innovative Efforts to Produce “Practice Ready” Lawyers

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[This post was originally uploaded on January 6, 2015. It has been updated below with new information on February 19, 2015.]

With law school applications in a very steep decline, the number of legal jobs requiring a bar admittance shrinking steadily, clients not willing to pay for new associates’ time spent learning how to actually practice, and a growing number of legal services becoming more automated, law schools are making a variety of efforts to make their graduates more marketable. Simply stated, they are working to make them far more “practice ready” when they arrive at their new jobs than generations of law gads have traditionally been in the past.

Two previous Subway Fold posts have looked at this new marketplace environment from different perspectives. First, was a July 30, 2014 post entitled New Law School Courses Aim at Keeping Pace with Changing Times about classes in emerging areas of technology and policy, followed by a November 30, 2014 post entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?  Another new and innovative approach was covered in the January 5, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal  entitled Law School’s Practical Side by Joe Palazzolo. The story was also summarized and excerpted here on the same day on the WSJ Law Blog by Jacob Gershman, as well as posted here in full on the University of New Hampshire School of Law (UNH Law) website.

To briefly sum up this story, selected students at students at UNH Law who are enrolled in the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program are given special courses and hands-on experience in the highly practical skills they will need as lawyers. For example, how to, as stated in the article “interview clients, take depositions, and draft motions and interrogatories”, all geared towards litigation practice. The school’s web site further itemizes these offerings wherein students “counsel clients, work with practicing lawyers, take depositions, appear before judges, create basic business documents and learn to negotiate and mediate.’

This program has been in operation for ten years and one study has shown these graduates do indeed perform better early on in their careers than other students who had not gone through the program. Quotes from several graduates in a variety of practices, including large firms, confirmed their perceived advantages after they began their first law jobs.

I believe this is a giant step in the right direction for the entire legal profession as well as for clients. Many law schools have offered such practical skills, clinics and internships for years, but UNH Law seems to have taken this up to a new and distinguished level.  What is not mentioned in the article or on the school’s web site is how much of this practical instruction includes training and experience with supporting legal technologies including, among others, project management, document assembly and predictive coding.

Moreover, I believe that the UNH Law approach in conjunction timely new syllabus offerings, enhanced networking skills, and hands-on projects with core legal technologies would, altogether, produce a bundle of complementary benefits.  Law students would more likely have then have most, if not all, of the resources to keep adapting to a quickly changing market for legal services.

February 19, 2015 Update

Designing and implementing innovative programs to assist in preparing law students to become “practice ready” is now gathering substantial new momentum at other US law schools. As an encouraging follow on story to The Wall Street Journal’s feature on the UNH School of Law’s Daniel Webster Scholars Program described above, now The New York Times has published a most interesting full-length article entitled Law Students Leave Torts Behind (for a Bit) and Tackle Accounting by Elizabeth Olson on February 12, 2015. I will summarize some of the main points of this new report about four law schools that are focusing their effort on business skills and concepts.

1. Brooklyn Law School is now offering students a 3-day intensive “boot camp” to acquaint them with the fundamentals of, among other topics, accounting, financial statements and asset valuation. This is driven by the realities of today’s market for legal services where more rote legal processes are being “outsourced and corporate budgets are cut back”. Brooklyn Law is attempting supplement their students’ education with real world business realities not widely found in traditional legal education curricula. These further include “teamwork, business strategy, client interaction”. The dean of the law school, Nicholas W. Allard, believes that the recent recession and resulting changes to the legal marketplace have now facilitated the need to teach the business skills such as those his school is now offering.

To prepare their program, Brooklyn Law worked with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services and Brooklyn Law alumni, John P. Oswald, who is on the top executives at Capital Trust Group. Deloitte had previously developed their own similar program for new associates at law firms. (This is in contrast to the inverse arrangements elsewhere in the corporate world as described in a September 17, 2014 Subway Fold Post entitled Law Firms and High Tech Companies are Now Providing Training to Their Respective Clients.)

2. Cornell University Law School has a similar program called Business Concepts for Lawyers. It was established last year following the February 2014 publication of a survey Harvard Law School of 124 employers. They were asked about the classes law student would need most for corporate and business practice. Almost half of Cornell Law’s graduates go on to work at large firms in these fields.

3. Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland has established a business law track student may choose to pursue. The number of graduates from it has increased significantly in the last three years. In addition, the school offers a 3-day “boot camp” for students to learn business basics and negotiation skills. As with Brooklyn Law, Deloitte also participates in this. Students appreciate the value of this because of it gives them a sense of experience they have not previously had.

The law school will also soon announce a one-year fellowship program where students will work with companies and be compensated.

4. University of Colorado Law School last summer began its own boot camp focused upon the provision of legal services called the Tech Lawyer Accelerator. It uses companies to instruct students on the use of legal technology. The first round drew 16 students which led to a “10-week internship with a technology company” to apply their newly acquired skills.

I will also add to this group a similar program here in New York at Cardozo Law School called the Cardozo Data Law Initiative, launched in 2014. This is a special track designed, according to their website “to prepare law students for careers” in “information governance, e-discovery, data privacy, social media law, and cybersecurity”. In addition to 11 core courses in these areas, the program places students in 8-week externships with organizations working in these fields.

 

Differing Perspectives on the Prospects of Today’s Legal Tech Startups

light-bulb-376924_1280[This post was originally uploaded on August 18, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on January 12, 2015.]

The title of a report on TechCrunch.com on August 5, 2014, The Jury Is Out On Legal Startups , appears to say it all. As it describes the current state of this specialized market for technology aimed at supporting law offices as well as benefiting consumers, investments by venture capital investment firms in this sector has fallen rather dramatically thus far in 2014. With just a few exceptions that have received substantial rounds of funding, many other have not fared well in raising money for their operations. I recommend a click-through and full read of this for the full details of this slump including some informative charts and accompanying quotes by experts in this field explaining the difficult dynamics currently affecting this market.

This turn of events and dollars seems to run contra to all of the five far more optimistic and enthusiast posts I have grouped here under the category of Law Practice and Legal Education. These cover different aspects of ongoing innovations in the marketplace for legal services as well as legal education.

Notwithstanding this situation, I continue to remain optimistic about the ongoing prospects for legal startups. There is a vast under-served market for people who need legal services but do not have the funds to engage them. I think it is nearly inevitable that some of these developing systems, services and apps will find a place in this market segment out of pure necessity and the economics of getting things done faster and cheaper. Continuing to monitor this situation will thus likely prove interesting during the next several years. Perhaps there is a legal app yet to be developed that will prove to be so helpful to lawyers and their clients, as has happened in so many other consumer markets, which will act as a genuine tipping point.

January 12, 2015 Update:

Less than four months after TechCrunch.com posted the article described above, the site followed up with a much more upbeat assessment of the legal startup environment in a most interesting post on December 6, 2014 entitled Legal Tech Startups Have A Short History And A Bright Future by Basha Rubin. I will sum this up and add a few additional links in order to present the author’s contrasting point of view. (I previously saw Ms. Rubin give a very informative presentation at a legal industry program called Reinvent Law NYC in February 2014.)

The author is much more sanguine about the prospects of startups in the legal services market, even while acknowledging the combined effects of the lag in venture funding, regulatory environment and the “rick-averse, disaggregated stakeholders”. Nonetheless, she identifies three significant trends to track during 2015 in a market she believes is right on the cusp of being disrupted.*

First, do-it-yourself (DIY) legal services will continue to gain momentum. An important element in this trend will be an increased focus upon which transactions and processes do or do not require the services of an attorney. Rubin cites the successes in this space such as LegalZoom and RocketLawyer.  Even DIY mobile legal apps such as Shake that “create, sign and send” contracts have begun to appear and provide new value to consumers who might otherwise either not have sought to engage a lawyer for certain types of  private agreement. However, she further emphasizes that the role of a lawyer still remains quite important when strategic decisions are involved.

Second, the marketplace for alternative arrangements of legal services provided by startups will see continued growth. This includes startups providing new online conduits for locating and engaging lawyers.   Cited as examples are Priori Legal (where Rubin is a co-founder and CEO), and UpCounsel, among others.

Third, is the appearance of more versatile and affordable new websites and applications that meaningfully improve attorneys’ efficiency and, in turn, clients’ convenience and satisfaction. These include offerings for legal research, document review, project management, document generation and billing.

I completely agree with Rubin’s assessment these market forces and look forward with great anticipation to additional legal startups launching and shaking up the profession.

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*  For a very insightful and enlightening analysis of whether the legal profession is actually being “disrupted”, I highly recommend reading Ron Friedmann’s July 31, 2014 post on his Prism Legal Blog entitled Big Law Changing or Being Disrupted?