Updated: Nov 17, 2020
What is legal technology and how is it changing the legal industry?
From the use of Big Data and AI, the role technology plays in the legal profession has moved beyond Microsoft and Excel. This is because law firms recognise the greater working efficiency and cost-saving attached with innovative legal tech. For instance, in commercial law, technological solutions can help firms sift through contracts and case files at a much quicker rate, meeting client needs faster than ever. What this means for prospective lawyers is that they need to be more holistic in their approach to problem-solving, capable of meeting client needs beyond just giving them advice. They should know when and how to leverage technology. Law graduates are still likely to find many doors open to them, but they will have access to more opportunities if they understand legal tech.
So, what are the available paths for prospective lawyers to gain knowledge of legal technology?
1. University courses and postgraduate study
As law firms realise the importance of legal technology, it seems probable that the training of lawyers will increasingly involve legal tech components. Although the newest generation of lawyers are at an advantage, being the most tech-forward generation the industry has ever seen, they may still not rightly understand that the demands of firms are not solely about technology. Instead, what matters is the delivery of legal services in an innovative, efficient, and process-oriented way. Technology is not the end, rather it is the means to an end. Whether those applying for positions in the legal industry understand this depends in many ways on what they were taught in law school.
However, while a growing number of universities are preparing their students to meet the modern expectations of recruiters, far too many still miss the mark. This is particularly true in the UK, who remains much slower than the US, in absorbing technology into its syllabus. But things are getting better. Universities are realising the importance of legal tech, and some are even partnering with leading firms to create programs dedicated to it. For instance, in 2018, UCL partnered with Barclays Eagle Lab new law-tech initiative to help transform the legal industry. This opportunity is open to both staff and students. Other higher education institutions, such as Ulster University, London South Bank University, and the University of Manchester have also remodelled their undergraduate courses, adding in important legal tech modules. So, prospective lawyers should choose the university they want to study at, carefully. Research should be done not only on the university of interest but also the course components, to be better prepared for the legal industry of tomorrow.
For those who already have their law degree, opportunities to widen their horizon can be found through a growing number of postgraduate courses in legal tech. Examples of such courses include the LLM in Innovation Technology and Law offered by the University of Edinburgh or the MSc in IT Law and Management offered by King’s College London. However, if postgraduate studies are not for you, other viable options also exist.
2. Virtual opportunities
It’s important to keep in mind that legal departments are not exclusively looking for candidates with exposure to particular platforms, instead what they want to see is candidates who are open to technology, and understand its impact on the industry. One way that lawyers can show their positive attitude towards legal tech is through the growing numbers of virtual courses that allow people to gain important insight into various aspects of law-tech.
The Corona Virus pandemic has boosted the use of virtual learning, and many have taken advantage of the situation to develop their skills through various free and fee-paying courses. Many of these courses are put out by universities and firms themselves, such as the University of Law’s Introduction to Innovation and Technology in Legal Services, which they share via the online platform Future Learn. Other platforms such as Coursera, InsideSherpa and edX also offer similar courses, through which you can obtain certificates (fee-paying) that can be leveraged on your CV or LinkedIn.
3. In firm development
Many firms are also starting to develop legal tech training for current and future trainees. This is an opportunity for prospective lawyers to research more carefully than ever which firms are adapting to innovative technologies and which ones are staying behind. For instance, Linklaters has recently introduced a compulsory tech module for future trainees in partnership with Swansea University. The curriculum was born out of a series of workshops the firm conducted in 2018 to identify the skills lawyers of the future will need to succeed. Other firms like Addleshaw Goddard who geared up to offer a six-month tech seat to trainees, and Clifford Chance who launched one of the first law-tech training contracts, have also seen the growing relevance of legal technology and incorporated this into their training.
It is important to stay open to the value of innovative technology in the legal sector. Although development opportunities may seem limited at first glance, many avenues do exist and should be explored if one wants to become a well-rounded lawyer of the future.
 https://www.studyinternational.com/news/lawtech-uk-university/  Ibid.  https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/an-introduction-to-legal-innovation-technology  https://www.legalcheek.com/2020/03/linklaters-introduces-tech-modules-for-trainees/  Ibid.  https://www.thelawyer.com/technology-training-contracts-whos-doing-what/