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Can LegalTech Save Law School?

Can LegalTech Save Law School?

27 September 2017

Law.  School.  Those two little words used to mean something big!

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But, today, less people are going to law school.   Why?

Like most things legal, the format of U.S. legal education hasn’t changed much since the turn of the 19th century. It’s still 3 years of post-graduate study with mostly the same required first and second year courses (Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, etc.) plus the grueling state bar exam.  Unsurprisingly, this has not played well with prospective law students as of late. Millennials especially. 

Law school applications plummeted this decade.   The numbers seem to have bottomed out at levels not seen since the 1970s, but who knows how much worse it could get?  According to the recent Law School Transparency Report, enrollment in ABA accredited law schools dropped 28% since 2010.   This data is compounded by news of the law school brain drain - the latest trend of the smartest undergraduate students taking a pass on law school entirely.

So, what happened?

For starters, law schools have not kept up with the times in terms of offering practical and exciting work/study opportunities in the growing tech markets, including "LegalTech."  This is in vast contrast to the MBA alternative, which continues to show strength despite a rough economy.

Law schools also  lag in providing critical "on the job" training within corporate legal departments.  Jobs exist in house, but qualified candidates are harder to come by.   This is because most law schools ignore in house practice, focusing on archaic law firm work instead (memos, briefs, bluebooking, etc.).  The formula of funneling recent law grads to large and middle sized firms makes less sense in the new legal market, where in house and "LegalTech" startups present real JOB opportunities for newly minted JDs.

I speak from experience.  

During my 2L year, my alma mater Pace Law offered a Corporate Externship taught by an in house guru and former counsel for Sony.   This experience, a rarity in law school, allowed me to shadow an actual General Counsel and acquire critical business and technology skills.   These skills,  too often glossed over by traditional legal education, were essential in surviving the toughest legal job market in decades.  Honestly, I learned more during that single working semester than all my law school years combined.  Including the bar.

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What do we need?  

More law schools should offer technology driven courses and collaboration opportunities.  Take the example of Duke’s Innovative Law Tech Lab with a mission to incubate the next generation of legal and civic technology entrepreneurs.  Another leader is New York Law's Innovation Center for Law and Technology, providing cutting-edge coursework in various tech related fields, including data security, hacking and the Internet of Things.  

Now that's exciting stuff in this century.

Simultaneously, law schools must continue to find ways to make legal education less costly to an increasingly shrewd and funds strapped public, without sacrificing incoming student quality (i.e. lowering LSAT scores). 

Many forget that legal education was free for most of human history.  Prospective lawyers would "read the law" by pouring over classic texts, such as Edward Coke and William Blackstone.   Smart students understand today that a 3 year time investment, plus the bar exam, presents a lower "return on investment" than a 2 year business school or jumping straight into the workforce.   Combine this with a lack of practical experience and zero exciting tech.   You can begin to understand the emptying law lecture halls.   

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Law school is struggling as of late.  But, LegalTech can help.  By offering technology driven opportunities, and lowering the cost of entry, law schools will start to replenish their ranks with better and brighter students.  

The end result will be a better and brighter profession.

Ian Connett

SoHo, New York

Ian Connett