The future holds a great deal of uncertainty for lawyers. What does the future look like for the practice of law, and how should attorneys prepare for it? Will lawyers be replaced by robots?
In this month’s roundtable, our panel of legal professionals and a law student offer their insights about the future of law practice and share their advice about how lawyers can best prepare and prosper.
Nicholas Gaffney (NG) is a veteran public relations practitioner in San Francisco and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board.
|Ginny Allen (GA) is a lawyer, former law firm marketing director, and consultant. She is the founder of ThisBusinessOfLaw.com, which provides lawyers with information and resources on how to use the internet to build thriving practices. She frequently speaks to attorneys on topics related to digital business strategy, marketing, ethics, and professional branding.|
|Philip Crowley (PC) is a New York/New Jersey-admitted solo practitioner with over 40 years of experience in the practice of law. He recently retired from a Fortune 500 company’s in-house legal department. During his 32 years of in-house practice, Philip was highly involved with the selection and implementation of automation tools for lawyers. Since retiring from in-house practice and setting up his own law practice, Law Office of Philip P. Crowley LLC, Philip has become a director and officer of a “software-as-a-service” company that provides in-house counsel with tools to vet, analyze and reduce outside counsel fees. The tools are based on artificial intelligence technology.|
|Benjamin Dynkin (BD) is a third-year law student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He is an analyst at Law & Forensics LLC. He is the editor-in-chief of the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the managing editor of the Journal of Law and Cyber Warfare. He is also a student member of the New York City Bar Association’s Litigation Committee.|
|Radiance Harris (RH) is the founder and managing attorney of Radiance IP Law, which is an exclusively flat-fee law practice based in the Washington, DC area. She provides outside general counsel services to start-ups and emerging companies with an emphasis on trademark law, copyright law, advertising law, and business and commercial contracts. Before starting her own practice, Radiance worked at DLA Piper and Kelly IP representing Fortune 500 companies.|
|Lindsey Houk (LH) is a partner at Waple & Houk, PLLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. Focusing her practice in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, she has been practicing law for over six years and is the firm’s primary family law attorney. Whether through negotiations leading to a settlement or proceeding to litigation, her approach includes preparation and an execution of comprehensive legal strategies.|
|Sean Lynch (SL) is an intellectual property attorney based out of Los Angeles. He has a background in mechanical engineering with a BS from Georgia Tech and an MS from UCLA. Sean earned his JD from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is licensed to practice in California, and he is also registered as a patent attorney before the USPTO.|
|Jim Montes (JM) is assistant dean for the Office of Career & Professional Development at Touro Law Center. Before joining Touro Law Center Mr. Montes was a partner at the global law firm Nixon Peabody LLP, based in Manhattan. He counsels both law students and graduates and maintains and establishes relationships with legal employers. His legal experience is enhanced by more than 20 years as a senior executive in the banking industry prior to becoming an attorney. He is a member of the Long Island Hispanic Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Town Of Islip Distinguished Service Award (2015) and Networking Magazine’s prestigious David Award (2014) for achievements not only as a business leader but also for his community work. He was also recognized as a Touro Law Center’s Public Interest Attorney of the Year in 2010.|
|Ari Kaplan (AK), a leading industry analyst, is the author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace, and the principal researcher for a variety of widely distributed benchmarking reports. He is the founder of the Lawcountability® business development platform and has been the keynote speaker for events in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and throughout the U.S.|
|Jon Olson (JO) is senior vice president and general counsel for Blackbaud. Jon is responsible for Blackbaud’s legal activities, including negotiating transactions, managing corporate governance activities and legal compliance. Before joining the company, he was an attorney with Alcatel-Lucent. Prior to joining Alcatel-Lucent, Jon was employed in legal positions with MCI, Unisys and in private practice. He received his BS from Georgetown University, JD from Dickinson School of Law and MBA from Seton Hall University. Jon is a member of the MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) Hollings Cancer Center Citizens Advisory Council and is on the board of the Charleston Regional Alliance for The Arts.|
NG: What do you think the law practice of the future will look like?
GA: The legal profession is in the early stages of digital transformation. Brian Solis is one of my favorite thought leaders in this area. He coined the term “digital Darwinism” which boils down to one cautionary message—“adapt or die.”
And adapt lawyers must. Lawyers of the future who will still be practicing law as we think of it today, meaning trading time for dollars, will be doing so because they are experts with deep subject matter knowledge and experience applying that knowledge to assist a specific group of clients.
In addition to these subject matter experts, new roles will emerge for lawyers with diversified skill sets that address changing consumer expectations. These skills may include knowledge management, data analysis, and process development, among others.
PC: For large firms, we’ll see more fixed-fee pricing based on “best practices” developed by each firm. For small firms, there will be more collaboration with outside third parties to mimic—and in some cases exceed—the capabilities of larger firms. Solo practitioners will also learn to be more collaborative with other solos and other service providers
BD: As a law student, one of the clearest messages every lawyer tells us is that the practice of law has fundamentally changed, particularly with respect to how law firms provide their services to clients. While there may always be a demand for traditionally structured law firms, law firms are, and will continue to adapt to the new demands of clients and the new realities of the practice environment. Law firms must focus on maximizing results and efficiency and minimizing costs in order to most effectively satisfy their clients. From harnessing new technologies, to minimizing costs through alternate workspace arrangements and law firm structures, and expanding a firm’s online presence through social media and other avenues of client engagement and management, the practice of law is rapidly changing and as the pace of technological innovation accelerates the legal world will have to continue evolving to keep up.
RH: The law practice of the future will be more virtual and technology-driven with alternative billing arrangements. The traditional big law firm model with hourly billing has become archaic. Clients (and most attorneys) would prefer flat fees and value-based pricing models, but the high overhead costs of maintaining a traditional law firm makes it challenging to implement.
LH: The future law practice will be an ever-changing entity that will require skills far beyond the knowledge of the law. Even today, law firms operate and function in a drastically different manner than in years past. Lawyers who have been practicing for decades are learning that the “old way” is no longer sufficient, due to the rapid adoption of new technology.
Previously, you could experience great success if you worked hard, understood the law and advocated for your clients. Moving forward, lawyers will need to have marketing and PR savvy to confirm they are a legitimate and capable attorney. I mean, if you can’t be found with a quick Google search today, you may not have a law practice tomorrow.
SL: We are already seeing it in smaller, younger practices: the law practice of the future will be cloud-based, it will facilitate remote work, many—if not all—of its repetitive tasks will be automated, and its overhead will be low.
This facilitates a few things. First, it makes it easier for attorneys to live in lower cost of living areas while still doing all the work that needs to be done for their firm. Maintaining a low overhead by, for example, not even maintaining a physical office also helps keep costs down for clients.
I also think that more and more firms that traditionally cling to the billable hour model will be shifting to fixed-fee billing practices or alternatively fading away. While some types of work, like litigation, are going to stick to billable hours, many other tasks are better suited to fixed-fee billing. In the age of mass commoditization of services, clients want to know what they are budgeting for and what they are getting when they pay for something. The last thing a client wants to see is something unexpected on their invoice.
JM: The practice of law in the future will need to change and that change is being demanded by clients and technology. During my years in practice clients continuously demanded better, quicker service for less money. This economic reality meant that firms had to adapt and find ways to lower costs but maintain the quality of their services. Some of these savings could be achieved through non-traditional sources like contract attorneys that can be used “as needed” and not increase overhead by hiring full-time attorneys if a project will only last several months. In addition, technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal field seems to have promising expectations for helping lawyers become more efficient. We are not talking about robots replacing a lawyer, but adding another tool in the lawyer’s tool belt to make the lawyer more responsive, efficient and less costly.
JO: It is said that nothing gets older faster than someone’s vision of the future, so I will base my assumptions on the trends I see occurring now.
First, as for every profession, advances in technology will serve to commoditize the more routine aspects of the legal profession. We’ve seen this occur in legal research, in e-discovery, electronic filing, and in trial software, and it will continue at an ever-increasing pace in other areas of the law. In particular, I see commercial contracting as an area long overdue for astute application of technology, perhaps in the form of an increasing reliance on e-commerce.
Second, I believe that alternative legal business structures will arise, that is to say entities that provide both legal and non-legal expertise. The UK and Australia are experimenting with these models and I expect them to spread over the next 20 years.
Third, as new generations enter the workforce, work-life balance will become a key factor in recruiting and retaining talent. I should say work-life integration, because the practice of law will always require long hours, so to the extent that firms and law departments can accommodate the whole of the employee and not merely view them as a unit of production, they will have a competitive advantage in the battle for talent.
Fourth, despite what appears today to be a trend toward closed borders and restricted trade, in the long run a more globalized economy is likely to prevail. Consequently, linguistic and cultural fluency will be huge pluses in the law practice of the future.
AK: We are beginning to experience the future of legal practice already, with fewer lawyers maintaining ties to a physical office, more professionals interacting with clients remotely or via a mobile device, and many demonstrating an increasing level of comfort with the expectation of near instant responsiveness.
NG: How would you advise lawyers to prepare for this future?
GA: A lawyer should either develop a niche practice or diversify his skill set, as mentioned above. However, that is not enough. The lawyer must also understand how to use online tools to 1) demonstrate authority in that lawyer’s chosen field, and 2) build trusted business relationships with the people who need those services.
Getting in front of potential clients in person will become more difficult because we are all busier than ever. Attention is a valuable currency. Understanding your target client’s journey from when they begin researching a potential issue, to deciding to hire an attorney, to comparing a short list of possible attorneys to hire can all happen without even having to pick up a phone.
As a result, lawyers must understand how to leverage the internet to find, attract and engage with prospective clients, referral sources, and influencers, like reporters, conference planners, and trade associations.
PC: I suggest that lawyers focus on how technology can make their operations more cost effective. Many routine tasks will have to be “unit priced.” Firms that find ways to deliver those routine tasks cost effectively will flourish.
BD: To be an effective lawyer, you need to spend time actively staying abreast of developments in your particular area of the law. In today’s legal market, lawyers must spend time actively developing and improving the business side of their firms. To draw from a slightly different area of practice, we can look to Justice Don Willett’s Twitter efforts to see how lawyers can prepare for the future. Justice Willett ran for election to the Supreme Court of Texas in 2006. Rather than running a traditional judicial campaign where a majority of the electorate would not know his name, Justice Willett chose to engage the public through social media, and quickly rose to be one of the most visible judicial figures in the United States.
RH: Lawyers should embrace technology in their law practice and be open to remote or non-traditional working arrangements. These two areas alone will improve efficiency, create a lower overhead, and streamline their practice in a way that saves them time and money, which then translates to cost savings for the client as well.
LH: Lawyers need to know how to market themselves in the digital age—a capability which has substantial impact on law practice and client referrals. While you can certainly hire an expert to assist you in this area, you really need to have a working understanding of how this process works to reap the benefits and keep operational costs low.
That said, I am still a firm believer in the power of your reputation and community connections, because the reality is that it’s expensive to market your firm. Between the costs of management and services, expenses add up quickly.
My partner, who has well over a decade of experience, likes to remind me that the practice of law is all about finding balance. So, while technology will continue to change the day-to-day landscape of our job responsibilities, my best advice to other attorneys would be to take it in stride and work to find a little balance in their daily operations.
SL: Preparing for the future involves investment in technological infrastructure. If you’re running your firm on an excel spreadsheet, it’s time to seriously reexamine what you’re doing because there are ten other firms providing the same service in a fraction of the time its taking you. It’s time to throw out your home-grown practice management solutions and enter the 21st century. You need something that is cloud-based so your attorneys can quickly and easily work from wherever they are, and you need something that automates and simplifies all the administrative work that can so quickly bog a small firm down.
JM: Lawyers need to embrace technology and understand that the changes will not be the demise of the legal world as they know it, but a way to take advantage of the latest methods available in becoming efficient. Here at Touro Law Center we are introducing more technology-based courses, including E-Discovery, Expert Legal Systems and 21st Century Lawyering.
JO: With respect to the aforementioned trends, lawyers should stay current on relevant technology (easier said than done, I’m still figuring out hashtags), become conversant in international legal trends, and above all else, to incorporate system thinking and a cross-disciplinary approach to the provision of legal services. By that I mean that legal counsel cannot be viewed in a vacuum, but rather must be delivered in context to what a client is intending to achieve, their particular risk profile, business strategy and even personal style.
AK: My research has shown that clients respond to those professionals who focus on re-imagining how they use existing technology to make their efforts more efficient. By stepping back to re-evaluate their current workflow, leverage technology to provide clients with greater access to their expertise, and demonstrate a holistic familiarity with business issues in additional to legal concerns, lawyers and legal teams can powerfully position themselves for the future.
NG: What will change about client service, based on their current expectations?
GA: Changes will be focused on two leading client expectations: transparency and accessibility.
Clients will continue to demand increasing levels of transparency from attorneys in the form of understanding the process the attorney will use to solve the client’s problem and the related costs associated with those services.
Today’s consumer also expects accessibility—to information, and to their attorney. We will see more attorneys meeting this need through content publishing, online client portal development, and unique approaches to client service like virtual office hours in the evening.
PC: Pricing of legal services will have to be more predictable. Clients will expect unprecedented access to their lawyers.
BD: As a student, I will defer to my distinguished panelists on this matter. However I believe that as competition increases in the field and technology continues increasing the efficiency of legal practice, an unwavering commitment to dedicated excellence in client service will further increase in importance.
RH: Clients already expect their lawyers to be responsive, efficient, and proficient. I do not foresee those expectations changing in the future, and they should not change. With law firms moving towards more virtual and technology-driven practices, lawyers will be in an even better position to meet their clients’ expectations and needs. Imagine these scenarios as common-place practices: a client can access their attorney-client file, billing statements and case status updates through a secure online portal; a client can prepare for a deposition with their lawyer through a program like Skype without having to travel to the lawyer’s office; or a lawyer can take an online CLE and use their electronic course notes to prepare a legal update to their clients through a secure online portal. In all of these instances, the lawyer is not only demonstrating his/her ability to meet their clients’ expectations and needs, but the lawyer is also doing so with low overhead and from anywhere in the world. It’s a win-win situation!
LH: In today’s world, another lawyer is just one Google search away. This heightens the pressure to understand clients’ specific needs and deliver excellent results, and I expect that this pressure will continue to increase with time.
Technology also gives clients the expectation of prompt, if not immediate, responsiveness. Tolerance for delayed communication is low, if not nonexistent, which is an issue that I don’t see improving in the future.
SL: As I mentioned above, clients want predictability. They want to look at a menu, point to the thing they want, and then pay that amount of money to receive that service or work product. Law firms that can provide that are law firms that will be thriving into the future. Law firm that still tell clients, for example, “Well, we think it will cost about $8,000, but it could be more, or it could be less,” are the firms that will be disappearing in the coming years.
JM: Clients will continue to demand delivery of excellent service at affordable prices. The days of clients allowing junior associates to bill them for hours of work while they learn to be lawyers is gone. We have seen some clients balk at having junior associates work on their matters and some clients have even stated that they do not want junior attorneys working on their matters. It may be that lawyers and firms will have to absorb the cost of training their new attorneys.
JO: Lawyers, being the brilliant analytical minds that they are, delight in legal theory and nuance. These are positive traits. However, successful lawyers must remember to bring theory down from rarified heights and make their counsel practical and actionable.
Likewise, legal advice must be tailored to the unique business strategies of the client. Risks that would make one client blanche may be right in the wheelhouse of another client.
Use of technology to deliver legal services, such as through intranets, are another plus. Knowledge management systems can also be used to archive information to allow for rapid retrieval and dissemination.
In short, clients expect real-time, concise, practical advice tailored to the client’s unique business strategy and risk profile, and delivered in a technologically savvy method.
AK: Many legal professionals recognize how important it is to combine their knowledge of the law with a deep understanding of the business concerns of their clients, but it is an emphasis on personalizing one’s approach to help the lawyer stand out and the client feel as if he/she/it is receiving a customized experience that is changing client service. Social media, for example, is providing lawyers with insight into the personal side of their clients, which is organically enriching their professional relationships.
NG: What functions currently performed by lawyers will be replaced with technology?
GA: It’s easy to speculate a variety of scenarios. I think the important point is that lawyers who want to move ahead of their competition are identifying these functions now, and evolving their offerings as a result.
“Putting Products into Services” from the September 2016 edition of the Harvard Business Review is one of the most helpful articles I’ve read recently on these issues. The article provides guidance to lawyers on how to automate aspects of their offerings, thus freeing them up for more sophisticated work. This approach can free lawyers from the time for dollars trap and the provides the opportunity to increase revenue and scale their practices without hiring additional people.
PC: Much routine work will be handled by automated expert systems. So, the giving of basic compliance advice in several specialty areas—e.g. employment law, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, securities law—will be done at the first level by these systems. The systems will route more complex questions to the right lawyer or legal resource.
BD: The practice of law will always have a deeply human element. Decisions must be made, issued weighed, and solutions considered. With that being said, the practice of law is likely to be made a far more efficient process in all elements of an attorney’s practice. A plethora of tools are available that can fundamentally change the way a lawyer practices, and more importantly, allow that lawyer to deliver a better and more inexpensive product to the client. From management software that streamlines things like office administration and billing, to advanced e-discovery that make even the most behemoth discovery doable for small firms. With that being said, one of the greatest tools that will be available to lawyers will be increased abilities to interact with and research the law. Between natural language searches, and machine learning, lawyers will be able to unravel complex precedents quickly and efficiently.
RH: From my perspective, if a lawyer function could be replaced by technology, then it is not truly a lawyer function. In fact, if technology can do it, anyone can do it whether or not they have a law degree or bar membership. So I do not anticipate that traditional lawyer functions such as research, opinion letters, motions/briefs, or even meaningful document review could be replaced with technology. Conversely, technology could certainly make it easier for lawyers to focus on traditional lawyer functions. For example, in my law practice, I use a trademark filing and docketing app which replaces the need for a full-time docketing specialist or paralegal. I also use an appointment-setting app which replaces the need for a full-time secretary to schedule appointments and manage my calendar.
LH: So much of what we do today has already been replaced with technology. I saw a coffee mug the other day that read, “Please do not confuse your Google search with my law degree.” While it’s certainly an entertaining thought, the reality is that many clients use the Internet as a research tool and factor this into their decision-making.
I doubt we will ever be completely replaced by computers, but I predict more and more clients will opt to represent themselves, basing their decisions and actions on what a Google search can provide to them.
SL: I think a lot of document review work has already shifted dramatically. Instead of requiring a team of 10 attorneys to pour over hundreds of thousands of documents, a single attorney using the right software can easily move through the same volume of documents in a fraction of the time. The key here, as with all other aspects of running a modern practice, is to use the right tools to get the job done. Good e-discovery software is extremely powerful and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Outside of that, I think a lot of work done by attorneys is likely to remain with attorneys, but paralegal and administrative work is quickly disappearing. Things like docketing, reporting deadlines to clients, monitoring deadlines, and the like are easily accomplished by an attorney with the right software.
JM: I do not believe that technology will totally replace any functions currently performed by attorneys. I do believe that technology will assist the attorney in performing tasks more efficiently. Ross is a great example of what I believe the future holds. Using AI in the law will allow lawyers to quickly scan and digest the most relevant topics and cases in a particular field. In addition, the use of AI to scan, read and stay current on changes in the law and case results will only make lawyers using technology better equipped at advising and representing their clients.
JO: In my career, I’ve seen substantial downsizing of administrative support personnel, largely due to the adoption of laptops, voice mail and billing software. Ironically, at least some of this technology has shifted work to lawyers, for instance, I am far more adept at typing and word processing than I ever thought I’d be when I graduated from law school. That aside, I think document review, analysis of outside counsel bills, and litigation support will become increasing automated. I also predict increasing adoption of voice recognition technology. Over time, especially if computing power continues to increase in accordance with Moore’s Law, I suppose most everything lawyers do is capable of being automated, except, I also believe that law is really the study of the physics of human dynamics. I doubt that human aspect of the profession will be taken over by robots anytime soon.
AK: While technology is not necessarily replacing lawyers, it is helping to automate key tasks related to following up, recognizing important elements in a contract or a case file, and procuring relevant information. In the near future, most lawyers will have an ‘Alexa’ in their law offices (similar to Amazon’s Echo) that will instantaneously find standard details, take basic actions, and add a significant level of efficiency to a law practice.
NG: What does the future hold for smaller firms and solo practitioners?
GA: I think it’s an exciting time for solo and small-firm attorneys. Their agility and their ability to experiment with new approaches to the practice of law gives them a competitive edge over larger firms.
The rise and acceptance of the “gig economy” across all industries will translate into increased and varied opportunities for solo lawyers willing to break away traditional practice ideals.
I also think we will see some solos and small-firm lawyers turn to online platforms as their sole means of client generation. This year LinkedIn launched its ProFinder service, which provides approved attorneys (and other service providers) the opportunity to submit proposals to potential clients who are looking for their services. LinkedIn’s launch of their online marketplace bolsters the credibility of Avvo, UpCounsel, and others platforms that some lawyers have been quick to dismiss
PC: See my answer above. Smaller firms and solos will have to learn how to collaborate more intensively. With less bureaucracy than larger firms, they have the opportunity—and the need—to be more nimble, quick and creative than their larger competitors. This relates to work process, pricing and billing.
BD: With all of these developments, law firms and lawyers are likely to become more atomistic as they become more specialized, and will be able to achieve meaningful economies of scale without many attorneys. Small firms and solo practitioners will likely continue to increase in number.
RH: In my opinion, the future for smaller firms and solo practitioners is quite bright. Clients are not as impressed with fancy office space or lavish dinners as they may have been pre-recession because they understand that they are essentially paying for it through high lawyer hourly rates. Former big law firm attorneys (like myself) are now starting smaller firms or solo practices, which are more appealing to clients because they can now access the same caliber attorneys in a more intimate setting at a fraction of the cost. While smaller firms and solo practitioners may not have the extensive resources or global footprint as bigger law firms may have, lawyers at smaller firms or with solo practices are often more resourceful in identifying ways to handle matters which yield the same outcome.
LH: If a lawyer at a small firm doesn’t take the time to know enough to be dangerous in the various aspects of business operations, it will have detrimental effects on the firm’s overall growth. As a partner in a small firm, I know firsthand how important it is to have your hands in every aspect of the business, and I make it a priority to be involved in everything, from the marketing and advertising to the staffing and billing.
In the future, it will no longer be acceptable to simply practice law and rely solely on your connections for referrals. You’ll need to build a brand that markets you when you’re not out marketing yourself because that brand is what follows you and ultimately drives your business.
My advice: be prepared for the time commitment and responsibility the future holds for you as a solo practitioner or small firm partner. Be willing to make an investment in your brand and find reliable experts who can help you build your online presence. Technology will continue to offer more and more opportunities for small firms and solo practitioners, but they’ll have to be willing to put in the work on the front-end to reap the benefits.
SL: There has never been a better time to be a small firm or a solo practitioner. One of the biggest advantages is the ability to implement new policies or new technologies quickly and with minimal headaches. Especially for new firms and new solos—they have the unique opportunity to grow a practice entirely within a modern ecosystem that was not available to firms that have been around for even five or more years.
Solos and small firms that can leverage technology to build a smarter, more adaptable practice will likely be able to capture the millennial generation of clients that are now coming into their own with startups and small businesses that need legal services. To cater to your audience, you must understand your audience.
JM: With the advent of the technology, smaller firms will be in a much better position to compete with and provide the services that larger firms have traditionally provided. Physical libraries will not be necessary and AI will help smaller firms and solo practitioners cull through large volumes of material and put them in a position to focus on the relevant issues more quickly. In addition, the use of contract attorneys who can assist when needed by a firm, but not require the firm to carry all of the costs required by a full-time employee, will provide specific expertise and manpower when needed. There are many talented and experienced lawyers who may not want the traditional big-firm life, but want to have a more balanced life in terms of hours and responsibilities. Combined, these changes should help smaller and solo practices provide a more efficient and a wider range of services that clients may have only been able to get utilizing larger firms.
JO: I believe that technology holds great promise for smaller firms by allowing them to “punch above their weight” and by giving them the tools to emulate much larger firms at competitive prices. I think these are exciting times for smaller firms who can provide complete legal solutions to their clients.
AK: The challenges for smaller firms and solo practitioners is that while technology is unlikely to impact the efforts associated with taking a company public or litigating a class action lawsuit, it has great potential to eliminate the need for basic wills, simple court appearances, and routine administrative matters. In response, solo and small firm practitioners are likely to enhance the level of counseling and guidance they provide in collaborating on these items.
NG: What should law schools do to train future lawyers?
GA: In addition to training students to “think like lawyers,” law schools must train students to think like business people. This means updating curricula to incorporate business courses, including accounting and finance, sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship. They should provide students the opportunity to gain practical experience via non-traditional extracurricular activities like externships with start-up incubators and invite successful business leaders from industries outside of law to be guest lecturers.
Issue spotting and advocacy were important skills in the traditional lawyer’s toolbox because of their role as gatekeepers to legal information and the legal process. Today, a resourceful consumer can, to a large degree, identify his or her legal issue, and is interested in finding a solution outside the expensive and cumbersome legal system. Law schools must equip tomorrow’s lawyers to be solution-oriented, client-focused, creative thinkers.
PC: They should help future lawyers gain an appreciation for efficiency and cost effectiveness. Not every matter is a “bet the franchise” case or bllion-dollar acquisition. Learning to scale the effort to the real world impact of a matter would help young lawyers become more valued team members. In addition, law schools can help future lawyers understand the importance of communicating with clients to understand their real-world needs and how to integrate that into their work plan. Perfection on Tuesday is no substitute for a “good enough” answer on Monday when the deadline is Monday.
BD: Law students are expected more and more to contribute out of the gate. While no law school can give a student the experience necessary to be a fully functioning lawyer during their time in school, law schools can teach students skills that can be used immediately. Skills such as legal research, business development, and practice management can give law students the ability to asset to an employer, or to have tools to confidently start their own practice on day one of their career.
RH: Law schools should offer courses on how to operate a law firm, including the practical, financial and client service aspects of running a practice. These courses are generally only available through your local bar association once you have passed the bar. It would be helpful to know what is required to operate a law firm before graduating from law school, rather than figuring it out along the way through a “trial by fire” scenario. Topics may include, for example, how to create a business plan, the key elements of an engagement letter, how to choose your niche, and how to decide between different billing arrangements such as contingency fees, hourly rates or flat fees. Understandably, while not everyone wants to work at or start a law firm, such skills may also be useful for corporate or government attorneys.
LH: Law schools need to offer courses in marketing, covering topics such as search engine optimization and blogging. Lawyers tend to be eloquent writers, but it will continue to be necessary for us to be able to create short, dynamic content to stay relevant. Most importantly, law schools need to ensure their students are connected to their communities and with mentors who are invested in their future success.
SL: Law schools can do a much better job of helping law students understand what actually is involved in the practice of law. Learning case law is akin to being shown the keys to a car, but not being allowed to start it. Law schools tend to view case law as the end-all be-all of legal education, but, for example, it would be much more useful to teach students how to draft a complaint, how to put together a proof of service, how to answer the complaint, strategies for discovery requests, and so on.
Law schools can also help students to better understand the business considerations associated with bringing in clients. What is a law firm’s overhead? What should a billable rate be set to? What are the different types of attorney positions (of counsel, associate, service partner, equity partner)? It’s important for students to really understand the ins and outs of the profession before they are thrust headlong into it.
JM: As noted above, Touro Law Center has incorporated courses into the curriculum that address the technology that will be available to our students and provide resources that were unavailable just 5-10 years ago. It is important for our students and graduates to understand these quickly evolving changes and how they will affect their practice in the future. Also, Touro Law Center strives to produce students who are “practice ready” when they graduate. This is accomplished by enhancing foundational legal doctrinal courses with experiential learning as an integral part of the curriculum. We have programs beginning in our students’ first year of law school that provide meaningful, hands-on experiences. This begins with first-year law students participating in our Court Immersion Program, allowing them to visit, observe and interact with members of the bench. Students are then given the opportunity to interact with and represent real clients in uncontested divorce in their second semester of law school. Throughout their second and third year, students are required to continue developing practical skills through participation in at least one of our twelve clinical programs. The Law Center also encourages students to participate in externships with local law firms, government agencies and public interest organizations. This type of approach allows our students to not only learn the foundations of law, but trains them to navigate the legal system and interact with actual clients.
JO: The single most valuable effort that law schools can do to train lawyers is to enhance their clinical programs. This will give young lawyers-to-be deep hands-on knowledge of how to translate legal theory into practice. Both the words practice and practical derive from the Greek praktikos—meaning “concerned with action,” and intelligent, thoughtful action is the key to success.
AK: Law schools should continue to emphasize that students who develop their networks early and take the time to speak with practitioners, especially alumni, are likely to gain a competitive advantage.