The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the risk lawyers face if they are not clued up on technology — when Covid-19 struck in March 2020, many lawyers were scrambling to find paper copies of their clients’ supply contracts, often hidden away in company offices.
Lawyers today need to be much more than familiar with technology: they need to use it daily to innovate legal services.
Digital technology can not only make contracts easier to store and access: the drafting of documents and case briefs can increasingly be automated by artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning can also help litigators sift through reams of data much more quickly and accurately to predict outcomes.
AI can also alert lawyers to missing clauses or find them a legal precedent to help win a case, freeing up precious time that they can use to focus on more demanding tasks — and take care of their wellbeing. Distributed ledger “blockchains” can also transform the adjudication of disputes, self-executing decisions and automatically releasing funds to parties.
But the key asset that digital lawyers possess is not technology: it’s their mindset. “They can see opportunities where other see challenges, they are keen to engage with innovative thinking and are not afraid of experimenting, failing and sharing their experiences,” says Stefano Barazza, senior lecturer in intellectual property law at Swansea University.
He is also director of the LL.M. in Legal Technology at the UK law school, which opens up exciting career opportunities to harness the power of technology in the legal profession. It is one of a growing number of courses that cater to today’s digital lawyer.
Legal Tech LL.M.s: at the intersection of multiple disciplines
The best of this emerging breed of Legal Tech LL.M. programs follow the idea that legal innovation occurs at the intersection of multiple disciplines: Barazza says digital lawyers cultivate diversity and openness, recognizing the importance of emotional intelligence, resilience and open communication.
He says they are also responsible in their use of technology and adhere to the highest ethical standards, especially in relation to the use of data, taking a keen interest in the regulation of technology. Being proficient when identifying, classifying, storing and analyzing data is of primary importance.
“Within a law firm, these qualities can result in increased productivity, enhanced quality and greater cost-efficiency, bringing about new business opportunities or spin-off ventures,” he says.
For Alejandro Touriño, director of the Startup Lawyers program at IE Law School in Spain, these abilities complement the more traditional legal skills. “It may seem simple, but sometimes we forget that the key element for a good digital lawyer is always a good knowledge of the law,” he says.
“On top of that, having a strong background in technology, being trained in management skills and being familiar with the way digital businesses work are qualities that any digital lawyer should have.”
He helped to design the Master in Legal Tech at the Madrid school. Launched in 2018, this LL.M. program is designed to empower lawyers to master both technology for law and the law of technology. The students go through stages in different innovation ecosystems in Madrid, Tel Aviv and Silicon Valley.
Touriño says digital tools will help lawyers to do their job better rather than replace them altogether: “Technology should never be considered as a menace but as an ally for lawyers. Robotic process automation must be considered as the normal evolution of legal services.”
He suggests that a digital lawyer should also be able to deal not only with current technologies, but be open to discover any trend that may be relevant in the future.
Helping law firms keep up with technology
For Matthew D’Amore, associate dean at Cornell Tech, it is law firms themselves who face the risk of redundancy if they fail to get up to speed with technology. “Within 10 years, there will be two kinds of lawyers and law firms: those who understand legal technology and have incorporated it into their practices, and those who have been driven out of business,” says the professor.
He adds the hallmark of a top digital lawyer is not a technology or programming background, but an openness to innovation, an understanding of how to identify a problem and frame a solution, and a willingness to learn and adapt. “Firms increasingly will need lawyers trained in skills like product management and design thinking,” says D’Amore.
He runs Cornell Tech’s LL.M. in Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship program, which provides students with the specialized skills to support and lead tech companies in the increasingly complex and dynamic digital economy.
D’Amore insists the necessary skills aren’t found in traditional legal instruction. “An interdisciplinary context is needed — not to learn how to code, but to gain comfort with the tools and techniques so that lawyers will recognize opportunities to effectively deploy tech solutions,” he says.
“The digital lawyer will understand how to disrupt existing practices with new ideas and new approaches.”