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mercredi 26 août 2020

Chronique du CTI - Moving from Books to Blockchain : The Need to Expand Legal Technology Education in Law Schools


By: Gregorio Lentini, Student, McGill University 


With: Katarina Daniels, Lawyer, Liaison Librarian at Nahum Gelber Law Library, McGill University

 

 

            Over the past decade, the legal industry has rapidly evolved. Law firms are expanding their use of technology, both in depth and in breadth, within their practices. At no time has the shift been clearer than during the COVID-19 pandemic, where law firms across the world successfully and seamlessly transitioned to a remote work environment, sometimes even within 24 hours. The pandemic will likely accelerate the “technologization” of the legal practice: smaller firms may recognize the cost-savings of operating entirely virtually, and partners in large firms, who were previously skeptical of new technology, may become accustomed and open to using new platforms. With certain courts expanding their virtual footprint, and lawyers increasingly turning to legal tech for assistance, there is a growing need for law schools to incorporate legal technology into their curricula.

 

Before going further, it is important to distinguish what is meant by “legal tech.” Definitions vary depending on how broadly one wishes to define the term. In a very broad sense, “legal tech” is used to denote any virtual tool that facilitates the practice of law. Legal tech includes software such as practice management software, document drafting tools, document review tools, extranets/intranets, legal research platforms, knowledge management and predictive analytics software, to name a few. Law schools generally invest in online research platforms for students; however other tools are rarely introduced to students. Now more than ever, law schools must expand the education they provide to students regarding all forms of legal tech.

 

The Importance of Introducing Law Technology in Law School


            There are several reasons why law schools must expand their introduction of legal tech to students. Firstly, legal tech is shaping how law is conducted in the world. To stay abreast of the industry changes, whether or not they choose to stay in the field of law, students must be made aware of the various legal tech platforms, as well as the potential of legal technology to improve efficiency and expand access to justice. Providing further education about legal tech also better prepares students for a job in law. Once in a firm, law students are expected to navigate intranets and document review platforms with little instruction; however, many students are not even aware of the existence of such platforms. Essentially, equipping law students with legal tech knowledge allows them to better integrate into firms, and gives them an advantage if they wish to build their own practice. Finally, teaching students about legal tech increases the potential for further legal tech innovation while introducing them to an alternate career path. Students may not even be aware that there are career opportunities in law firms as tech lawyers or legal project managers. They may also not be aware that there are business opportunities, for instance, in tech start-up environments. For all these reasons, it is vital for law schools to increase the legal tech education and exposure they provide to students.

 

Potential Obstacles to Inclusion


            While law schools may recognize the importance of educating students on legal tech, administrators may still be hesitant. Space in the curriculum is the most common reason provided by law faculties for the lack of courses in this area. With law schools being challenged not only to include additional material in courses but also to include additional courses, such as ones on the philosophical underpinnings of law or various critiques of law, it is understandable that administrators may not see room for legal tech in their curricula. Law schools are particularly hesitant to make space for a subject considered by some – particularly academics – to be merely a passing trend.

 

Cost is another potential barrier to the introduction of various legal platforms in law schools. Subscription fees tend to be high for many of these resources, and administrators may not be convinced that the value provided to students will outweigh the fees associated with them. Certain platforms, such as practice management tools, may also be more suitable for law firms rather than law students. Given the cost of some of these tools, one solution could be to provide limited licenses to students enrolled in legal tech classes for certain legal platforms. Often, these limited licenses are granted by the vendor without cost. However, providing these licenses to certain students raises concerns surrounding equity, as only the students who are able to register for such courses will have access to these resources.

            In order to include more tech-related material into law schools, administrators must be convinced that these obstacles can be overcome. The following are some options that attempt to side-step these obstacles.


Possible Methods of Inclusion


            The most obvious method of inclusion is to provide students with an entire course, either optional or mandatory, on legal tech. This course can introduce students to various tech tools, from simple organizational tools to predictive analytics. For reasons of cost, schools can begin by introducing students to less costly platforms, maybe focusing on document review, and expanding their legal research resources, given that such a significant portion of a student and associate’s day is spent in one of these two tasks. Eventually, as start-ups begin to emerge, prices may fall, and schools can purchase further services, maybe even allowing students to use practice management and document management software.

 

            Alternatively, instead of providing a full course on legal tech, law schools can introduce students to various legal tech products in a catch-all course potentially named “Fundamentals of Legal Practice.” This is not a new idea: several universities in the U.S. already provide such a course. The course introduces students to basic legal skills, such as drafting contracts, while also incorporating various legal tech products. For example, students can be taught to use contract review software to complete contract assignments.

 

            A third method of inclusion would be to incorporate legal tech concepts into other courses. For example, in Contracts, students can study the validity and strength of tech-generated clauses; in Judicial Procedure, students should be made aware of the emerging online courts, e-Discovery platforms, virtual arbitration options, and virtual mediation options. While this form of inclusion may not allow students to familiarize themselves with legal tech platforms, it nevertheless expands students’ technological vocabulary, making them more “practice aware.”


Conclusion

           

            Whether legal tech is introduced to students through a new course, or included through additional course material, law schools must recognize the technological shift occurring in law and equip students with the proper legal tech knowledge to navigate it.

 

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Les chroniques du CTI sont rédigées par un ou plusieurs membres du Comité Technologies de l’information (CTI) dans le but de susciter les discussions et de soulever les réflexions au sein de la communauté juridique à propos des nouvelles technologies et le droit. Les auteurs sont donc seuls responsables du contenu des articles et l’opinion qui y est véhiculée n’est pas celle du JBM, mais bien celle des auteurs. Si vous désirez rédiger une chronique, envoyez un courriel au cti@ajbm.qc.ca.

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