Law schools “trapped in the 1970s”, Susskind says

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16 June 2017


Susskind: little regard for technology

Many law schools are teaching law “as it was in the 1970s”, Professor Richard Susskind, IT adviser to the Lord Chancellor, has said.

Professor Susskind said there was “little regard” for technology or artificial intelligence (AI), leaving law graduates “not just ill-prepared for legal work as it is today, but very ill-prepared for how it will be tomorrow”.

The academic went on: “What are we training our young lawyers in very large numbers to become? Are we expecting them to be traditional, bespoke, face-to-face advisers who charge by the hour?

“Or should we be producing lawyers who are flexible, team-based, technological, sophisticated and commercially astute – hybrid individuals who can transcend traditional boundaries?

“I don’t think the 2020s will be a decade of unemployment, as some doom and gloom merchants would have us believe; I think it will be a decade of redeployment.”

Professor Susskind, speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum earlier this week, said humans would still be involved in legal services, but in different legal services, with a “whole bundle of new jobs”, such as legal technologist, legal data scientist or legal project manager.

He said that more and more of the work that used to be done by traditional lawyers would be delivered by systems, and the only question was who developed them.

“It will be hybrid lawyers who develop these online systems, these document management systems, and so we need to bring through a whole new set of individuals who are trained not just in law but technology too.

“The sad truth is that many law graduates in the UK are not just ill-prepared for legal work as it is today, but are very ill-prepared for how it will be tomorrow.”

Professor Susskind said he was struck by the fact there were 18 to 20 law schools in the USA with courses devoted either to legal technology or the future of legal services, while in this country, not one law school had this kind of course.

The professor called for law students to have the option to study current and future trends in legal services. “There’s a discipline here – the future of legal services. There’s material to study.

“The second thing is that these young people should learn some new skills, whether it is project management, knowledge engineering or risk management. We should be offering options to learn 21st century legal skills.”

The professor said the way law was taught, with lectures and tutorials, was very much as it was in the 1970s or 1980s and relied on 20th Century methods.

“We should be rethinking how we teach and not just what we teach. Legal services are transforming at an ever-increasing rate, so legal education must transform itself at least as fast, if not faster.”

Joanne Gubbay, head of learning and development at City firm Slaughter and May, said although there had been “a lot of talk about AI”, its impact so far had been “fairly limited”.

Ms Gubbay said the firm’s own AI product, Luminance, did “a lot of the grunt work” on due diligence in the “initial sifting of data”, but there was “still a massive job to do in analysing it”.

She went on: “Lawyers need to understand technology, but they need to understand it properly.

“Most millennials are familiar with single-purpose applications like Facebook, but our technology is far more sophisticated. This new generation needs to be open to and adaptable to technology.

“At least one law firm out there is teaching its lawyers to code. It’s probably a good idea because we need to get our hands dirty with this technology”.

Ms Gubbay said blockchain and bitcoin were technologies clients were interested in and lawyers must “get our hands dirty” by using.

“It’s an attitude. We don’t know which technologies will emerge in the future but we do know that we need to be open to them.

“Technology complements the legal offering it doesn’t replace it. Lawyers are still required to do the management, the analysis, the identification. There’s still an enormous amount of value lawyers can add. Our jobs aren’t being taken over by computers yet.”

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