Legal Market TrendsLegal Technology

Are Law Students Prepared for the Future of the Legal Profession?

How law school education is evolving with changing legal markets.

Ryerson University’s new Faculty of Law has hurdled over every boundary on its way to opening its new reimaged law school by September 2020. But what does Ryerson envision exactly with their revolutionary new approach to teaching law?

On the heels of opening a legal tech incubator with the Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) and launching the controversial Law Practice Program, Ryerson now seeks to build on its breadth of legal resources by modernizing the way law students are taught the practice of law. The key focuses here? Entrepreneurship, legal technology and business.

Some of Ryerson University’s descriptions on what makes Ryerson Law different from other law schools (Source: Https://ryerson.ca/law/why-ryerson-law/).

As always, several commentators have expressed concerns about opening another law school. Dissenters quickly point to the significant portion of law school grads every year that cannot find articling positions. The Law Practice Program (LPP) was created just to resolve such a concern. Won’t we be back at square one if we simply pump more students down the funnel? The answer might not be as simple as you might think.

One of the themes of LegalTech News is that technology is rapidly disrupting the global legal market. This means changes to the way work is done, who does the work and what work is available. While it is easy to fall prey to the fear mongering “robots will take all our jobs” narrative, there is ample evidence already that legal technology is enhancing the practice of law while also creating new legal jobs, as I will discuss in more detail below.

Therefore, this post eagerly begs the question – how does Ryerson Law’s emphasis on entrepreneurship, legal technology and business prepare law students for the future of the legal professional?

To get an idea for what the new law school might fit into the changing legal landscape, we took a deeper dive into the school’s planned curriculum. You can check it out here for more detail.

Ryerson Law’s Planned Curriculum and How it Differs

While the first semester looks identical to what law students are currently being taught (legal research and writing, torts, contracts, property law and ethics), the similarities end there.

The second and third semester introduce students to the Technology Innovation Bootcamp, Financial Bootcamp and The Business of Lawyering. The fourth semester kicks it up another step with a Coding Bootcamp. Additionally, students must spend at least one of their fifth or sixth semesters engaging in a Professional Placement, which we have yet to confirm the details on.

At first glance, however, the Professional Placement seems to present an interesting opportunity. If it involves anything like articling, or sort of like a pre-articling term, this would allow law students to jump the gun on developing practical skills and gaining real-world work experience. On the other hand, the professional placement could also take advantage of Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ).

According to Ryerson’s Provost and Vice President of Academics, Michael Benarroch, Ryerson’s new law school has an edge over traditional law schools because of its partnership with the LIZ. It is very likely that the Professional Placement will have a strong partnership with current legal tech startups in the LIZ, which is similar to what Osgoode Hall Law School has done with its Community and Legal Aid Service Program (CLASP).

The key point here is that learning the ropes AFTER law school is simply too late. While law schools like Osgoode Image result for unprepared studentsemphasize real world experience with what they call the “Experiential Education requirement”, the lack of real-world training for law students is immense.

I’m sure my articling cohort can relate to feeling like they knew absolutely nothing about the practice of law during their articling terms. Indeed, law school and the legal workplace are simply two different beasts. The divergence between the two has been a well discussed topic in the past. However, little has been done to tackle the divide. The faster legal educators realize that there is in fact a large divide and a steep learning curve for law students, the better law students can be prepared well in advance for their legal careers.

Nevertheless, this is not to say that learning the history of contracts law precedents, for example, is not important. It develops a keen ability in first-year law students to think like a lawyer, and this is a great foundation that can be built upon with the addition of practical experiences. It is from this perspective that Ryerson Law’s increased emphasis on practical skills is intriguing.

Benarroch notes that all students at Ryerson University will have access to any of the school’s “Zones”. This will allow law students to gain first-hand experience as interns, volunteers or curators of legal-tech starts-ups in one of the most established legal tech incubators in the world.

“We see a very close relationship evolving over time as our students and our faculty become more involved with the Legal Innovation Zone,” he added.

Benarroch’s comments evoke consideration for some of the ideas of several legal futurists such as Richard Susskind and Jordan Furlong, namely the idea that technology will cause the future of legal jobs will evolve.

Preparing Law Students for the Future of Legal Jobs

If you are located in one of the larger legal markets, you have probably caught wind of recent changes to the legal market around you. Over here in Toronto, nearly a quarter of all legal positions currently on the market are either in-house legal technologist positions or positions with emerging legal tech startups. Legal tech incubators or conferences are expanding rapidly. And if you really look close enough, you’ll also see law firms already beginning to change their practices, albeit rather discretely.

Signs of the future of legal work are here already. But, what is the future of legal work from this point forward?

According to Richard Susskind*, “when systems and processes play a more central role in law, this opens the possibility of important new forms of legal service, and of exciting new jobs for those lawyers who are sufficiently flexible, open-minded, and entrepreneurial to adapt to changing market conditions”.

Combining Susskind’s insights with a few examples of what is currently taking place in the legal market, the following legal positions provide a few examples of  will give you an idea for some of the emerging legal fields on the horizon:

  1. Legal knowledge engineer – The process of standardizing working practices in law. Interestingly enough, Kira Systems in Toronto is currently hiring for this exact position to train an artificial intelligence software here.
  1. Legal technologist – Those at the direct intersection of law and technology, such as the modern day legal-tech startups or current technologically savvy lawyers. As law becomes more intertwined with technology and the internet, legal technologists will be much sought-after specialists that know and understand that intersection well.
  1. Legal process analyst – The legal process analyst is the job of analyzing a piece of legal work, subdividing the assignment into manageable chunks and identifying the most appropriate supplier of such services. As legal process management increases in demand, so too will the analysts that come up with the management system.

There are a few modern-day examples of legal process management in action already. For example, take Osler Works for example which Osler Hoskin Harcourt LLP uses to outsource routine legal tasks to smaller legal markets.

  1. Legal project manager – Related to the legal process analyst, once the analyst has completed their analysis and sub-division of legal tasks, it is up to the legal project manager to allocate the work to appropriate providers and supervise its completion within the relevant quality, budget and time constraints of the law firm.
  1. Legal data scientist – This is a very interesting one. As machine learning and predictive analytics gain prominence in law, there will be a need for data experts to capture, analyse and manipulate the consequential large quantities of information. This will call for inter-disciplinary specialists with knowledge of law and legal service, as well as mathematics, statistics and programming.

From this angle, Ryerson’s abovementioned curriculum seems to be ahead of the curve with its mandatory classes on coding and technology innovation. I do, however, imagine the possibility a specialized dual degree that teaches both law and computer programming in the future. 

While I could continue to go on about at least a dozen or so other emerging legal positions, many of which exist today although they are not yet very popular or recognized, I think it would suffice to say that an innovative, technology-based legal curriculum seems most inciteful.

Note: If you are interested in more examples of emerging legal positions, check the note on the bottom of this article.

Will Other Law Schools in Toronto Follow Suit?

Arguably, some law schools have already made some moves in this respect, although with a much quieter presence. Blue J Legal, which raised $9.3 million CAD in funding last year to expand into the US, was co-founded by 3 members of the University of Toronto (UOFT) Faculty of Law.

See R. Amani Smathers, The 21st-Century T-Shaped Lawyer, for more information on T-Shaped lawyers.

In fact, UOFT has raised several prominent legal tech startups including Ross Intelligence. Also, check out these interesting resources that have cropped up at UOFT law in support of legal entrepreneurialism.

Osgoode Hall Law School has also recently announced its partnership with The Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP) to build what they call the “T-Shaped Professional”. More and more law schools are showing that tomorrow’s legal professional must complement their traditional legal skills with knowledge of business, technology, data analytics and legal process management.

It will be interesting to see what other partnerships take place in this next year. LegalTech News will keep an eye open.

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*I would highly recommend giving Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyer a good read if you are interested in legal technology or the future of the legal profession. It is a reference I come back to time and time again because of the interesting ideas presented throughout. Let me know what you think in the comments.

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