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Practice Management: Virtual Law Practice
Workshop on the Future of the Legal Profession and Legal Education
The Association of American Law Schools (AALS) is holding its annual conference in D.C. this week. I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion entitled “Technological Innovation in Practice and Education.”
The conference has an entire workshop devoted to the future of the profession and legal ed. I see that as an acknowledgement that the legal education system is in need of innovation and reform and fast. If the legal profession is going to be rescued from its downward spiral, it’s got to start with the law schools.
A few of the questions the workshop will address:
1) What new or different kinds of training will law schools of the future need to provide?
2) How can law schools better serve students seeking to develop critical skills in the areas demanded by changes in legal practice?
3) What innovations are currently underway in law schools?
4) How will projected changes in the economics of the legal profession affect law students’ priorities and law schools’ budgets?
For my session, I will be giving a presentation about virtual law practice and showing a demonstration of how myself and other lawyers work with clients and each other using cloud-based technology. But I will also be sharing some of the emerging trends in the future of legal service delivery that will impact future young lawyers. I’m hoping for a challenging Q&A session. If I get it with any audience, it aught to be this one.
There is a book to be published soon entitled “Educating the Digital Lawyer“, co-edited by Oliver Goodenough and Marc Lauritsen. This book will showcase chapters written to address many of the issues that this workshop will raise. I wrote a chapter for it that laid out some of the topics that I thought should be in a law school curriculum and I probably won’t have time to share with the attendees here what I would like to see happen in law schools, but that’s what blogging is for. So here goes.
Starting point innovations I would like to see in law schools (this is purposefully avoiding sticky items like tuition, tenure, law school puffery of future employment odds, etc.):
1) Integration of web-based practice management and use of technology into not only practice management courses, but also into regular substantive law courses as a method of teaching those topics. Developing databases for these simulations would take time, but it could easily be updated and reused. And the students themselves could be recruited to populate this as a way to learn the material.
2) Students need to understand technology and security and how it affects confidentiality. They need a separate course in this or it needs to be added as a significant portion of a required ethics course. It’s not just the students who will practice IP law that will need to know these issues.
3) Add some form of online delivery service to the law school clinic to compliment the in-person services. This trains the students in the use of the technology which they may take into their own practices. It provides greater access for the clients and allows the clinic supervisor to oversee all of it.
4) Unbundling legal services or limited scope needs to be taught as a separate course or integrated into the required practice management course. In the next five years, almost all practitioners are going to either be offering unbundled services with their existing full service representation or they will be encountering the practice working with other self-help, pro se individuals. Best practices and ethics issues that come up need to be part of the law school education just as it should be with full service, traditional delivery.
5) Students need to have a realistic view of the future of legal services and the profession. This means talking about the not-so-highbrow topics like online marketing, social media and online networking, and how to be competitive against non-legal service providers. When they graduate with a J.D., do they know how to write a business plan and does that plan have an online marketing strategy that includes things like online lead generation, PPC marketing campaigns, legal crowdsourcing, collaborating with branded networks, developing legal web apps for increased SEO and LPO? Yeah, most of that is critical stuff even if they end up in BigLaw where someone else in the firm is paid to handle those issues. And it’s not just important to know to make a living at practicing law, it’s kinda good to know how to do all that and stay compliant with state rules and regs.
(Along those lines, it looks like the editor of Above the Law, Elie Mystal, and Ashby Jones, a writer from The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, are attending the conference to talk about blogs and social media. With all the heat some law schools are getting from the main-stream media this past year, it will be interesting to sit in on some of these discussions.)
6) Take the students out of the traditional classroom and make them meet up with each other and the professor online. In a single classroom you can have a number of different types of learners. Not everyone learns best by listening to a lecturer or watching a powerpoint. Have the professors use different platforms over the course of a semester. This accomplishes a couple things.
First, it teaches the students to be flexible in communicating and listening because each client they encounter is going to also have a different concept of “accessibility” and comfort in communication. Some will jump into web conferencing and others will need traditional phone calls and face time. Law students must be able to hop between methods. This year I’m taking part in Law Without Walls, which is an awesome initiative to use technology to teach law students to communicate with entrepreneurs and practitioners outside of their schools.
Second, it would expose the students to different platforms for working with clients and with each other. Take the students into Second Life for class one day. Hold the next lecture in a Google Hangout and the next in a Join.me desktop sharing session. All sessions can be recorded and archived for the class to refer back to.
Third, it allows more flexibility for law students to attend lectures from home or at work without having to travel to the law school. It’s most likely going to mimic the way their careers will be with the increased mobility of lawyers. Why not get them used to it now and make it a learning tool at the same time?
I could come up with more examples but this is a good starting point. There are some pretty cool things being done overseas by folks like Paul Maharg who is using technology to teach law students how to be lawyers by simulating client interactions. With the eagerness of legal SaaS providers in the States, I can’t imagine a better way for the law schools here to get started in this type of initiative than to consider partnering with a technology provider who would be more than happy to expose the law student to their product for free while allowing the professor full reign to develop a custom course curriculum that integrated the use of technology to teach a subject area or simply modern practice management itself.
I’m looking forward to learning about more innovative legal education initiatives here in the next few days and will make an effort to write about it in the near future.
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