Law Schools Rush to Launch Specialist LL.M.s in Legal Technology

Technology is increasingly being used to provide legal services, which demands a new breed of innovative lawyer for the 21st century. Law schools are launching specialist LL.M.s in response, giving students computing skills

Junior lawyers at Big Law firms have long been expected to work grueling hours on manual and repetitive tasks like reviewing documents and doing due diligence. Increasingly, such work is being undertaken by machines – which can be faster, cheaper and more accurately than humans. This is the world of legal technology – the use of technology to provide legal services. 

The top law schools recognize the need to train not just excellent lawyers but tech-savvy ones too, who understand the application of technology and its impact on the legal market. They are creating specialist courses for those who want to be more involved with the technology used to deliver legal advice. 

Harnessing the power of technology in the legal sector

In Spain, Madrid’s IE Law School launched an LL.M. in Legal Tech last year. The program is designed to empower lawyers, entrepreneurs and professionals from diverse backgrounds, to think outside the box, explore and harness the power of technology in the sector. Applicants need a minimum of five years’ experience at a law firm, or in-house at a multinational corporation or startup.

“Technology is changing the way we live, work and interact,” says Alejandro Touriño, co-director of the course. “This new reality demands a new breed of lawyers who can adapt to the emerging paradigm. An innovative lawyer in the 21st century needs not only to be excellent in law, but also in the sector where their clients operate and the technologies they deal with.” 

Studying at IE in Madrid, Stanford University in California and the Israel-based IDC Herzliya, candidates take four core modules in law, digital business, management and technology over 10 months. The course includes training in the areas of privacy regulation, big data, “legalbots” and machine learning, ecommerce, coding, blockchain, cybersecurity and entrepreneurship. 

“We drive students to lead the future,” says Touriño. 

LL.M.s in Legal Technology: responding to a growing need

So far, only a handful of law schools offer LL.M.s in Legal Technology. Beyond the IE program, Swansea University and Portsmouth Law School, both in the UK, offer relevant programs. Additionally, the Germany-based Bucerius Law School has also recently launched an LL.M. specialization in Legal Technology. 

The rapid growth in Legal Tech LL.M. offerings reflects a need in the professional world. Indeed, law firms know they need to become digital businesses in order to attract and retain clients and prospective employees. The top firms – like Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Allen & Overy – also know that fee-earners today are not just lawyers but technologists too. The firms are creating new career tracks for this new hybrid breed of innovative lawyer. 

Freshfields, for instance, in 2017 established a program that sends associates on six-month stints to clients where they come up with better ways to deliver legal services using technology. One outcome was the introduction of “product owners”, or teams of lawyers and technologists who work on client initiatives in multidisciplinary teams with short development cycles. 

“The changing way in which consumers obtain legal advice - and how much they expect to pay for that advice in a world where information is available at the click of a mouse – requires practices to rethink their business models along with the skills they expect from their employees,” says Adam Zachary Wyner, who leads the LL.M. in LegalTech at the UK’s Swansea University. 

The program at Swansea was launched this year in response to the emerging impact of technology such as AI on legal practice. It’s aimed at law graduates and practitioners working at all levels of the legal profession. They do not need prior experience of working with technology, but a 2.1 degree in law - or relevant professional experience - is ideal. 

Students will get to grips with the key issues, challenges and technologies that may well shape their legal careers. The modules are focused on the application of technologies to the law, as well as on how the law is applied to technological issues (think ethics, rights, privacy, intellectual property). There are also modules on entrepreneurship. 

Post-LL.M. careers in legal technology

Wyner says graduates will be well placed to pursue careers in legal practice, and non-traditional careers in law firms where there are emerging opportunities on the technology side of legal practice. “They will also find rewarding opportunities in areas such as business management, policy-making, research,” he says, and “LegalTech” entrepreneurship.

Joanne Atkinson is the director of the LL.M. in Law and LegalTech at the UK’s Portsmouth Law School. The new course launches in September 2020 and is taught full-time in one year, or over 30 months part-time. 

Atkinson says the program is valuable for professionals across the legal spectrum, from paralegal to partner, as well as IT professionals that Big Law firms want to hire. Entry requirements include a second class degree in any discipline, or the equivalent qualifications or professional experience.

Students without a background in law are required to take an introductory course. Everyone studies a module on how to apply technology to legal services, and a commercial module where they explore business opportunities for technology like  blockchain. Electives cover intellectual property, dispute resolution and employment law.

“We are aiming to capitalize on the emerging opportunities in this marketplace and equip graduates with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing sector,” says Atkinson. 

Possible careers are as broad as the course’s target audience, she says. They include project management, practice management, software development, IT consultancy, as well as specialist pathways for solicitors and other legal professionals in areas such as electronic contracting and online dispute resolution.

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