New association aims to help legal academics teach technology

Unger: Students need to be aware of the impact of technology on their careers

A new association has been launched to help legal academics teach law students about innovation and the role of technology in legal services.

Andy Unger, co-founder of the International Future of Law Association (IFLA), said that students needed to be prepared for “jobs of the future, not the past”.

He went on: “Lawyers don’t need to be able to code, but they need to be able to talk to and work alongside people who code. A lot of them will be working in multi-disciplinary teams.”

Mr Unger, head of the law division at London South Bank University (LSBU), said ILFA was for lecturers and researchers, and provided an opportunity for people to network, find researchers and pick up ideas for their classes.

He said it would be particularly useful to anyone who had not taught law and technology before, or was working on their own at a university.

Mr Unger, formerly a legal aid solicitor, said IFLA already had over 80 members, 50 of whom were based in the UK, with the rest spread over six continents, in countries ranging from the USA and Australia to Brazil, Nigeria, Egypt and India.

Membership is currently free and Mr Unger said this would continue for another 12-18 months before being reviewed by the members.

He said the decision to set up IFLA was made at Ambleside in the Lake District, where he was attending a conference with Dr Rόnán Kennedy, lecturer at the University of Galway, and Professor Dan Hunter, dean of the Dickson Poon law school at King’s College London.

“We thought it would be useful to have an association for lecturers and teachers around the world interested in teaching law and technology.

“I am sure lots of people are taking account of technology in their disciplines, whether that is regulation, privacy or IP rights.

“If you’re trying to teach something wider about the skills you need as a lawyer or the impact of technology on legal services, it’s hard to know where to start.

“The association can help people with suggestions on how to develop new courses or teach in a different way.”

Mr Unger said IFLA’s first event, last month, was a webinar given by Rebecca Williams, professor of public law and criminal law at Oxford University.

Mr Unger said the association wanted students to be aware of the impact of technology on their careers, with online courts and dispute resolution making it increasingly relevant.

He started teaching law and technology five years ago, after attending an event in which the artificial intelligence tool CaseCrunch, developed by a group of former Cambridge law students, was shown to be more accurate than lawyers at predicting case outcomes.

“It made me aware that the things we had talked about for years were actually happening.”

A course on law and technology, in which law students and computer science students work together to build tools, is an option in the final year of the LSBU degree, with contract automation recently added to the first year of the course.

“We’ve crossed the event horizon. It’s unarguable that technology impacts lots of different aspects of law and legal services.

“So we should teach it and be part of the process of deciding whether the changes are good or bad, or could be better.”

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