It’s clear that the law industry is undergoing a fundamental shift in the way firms work, with AI and machine learning leading the way for workflow and process optimization.
AI is set to change the way law firms handle standard contract formation, M&A due diligence reports, data analysis, and case-outcome prediction. With more and more companies bringing AI into their practice, it looks like AI is ready to innovate the legal education and transform the way law students learn.
Law firms across the world are investing in in-house software solutions and purchasing legal tech startups to ensure they stay on the vanguard of these changes. Just recently, Clifford Chance selected Elevate’s AI platform ContraxSuite to power its data science lab, while earlier this year Slaughter and May launched their first legal tech program to enhance the company’s engagement with emerging legal tech.
The technology is still undergoing development, yet it’s important to note its impact is already being felt across the industry. The jury is still out on what this could mean for future lawyers and trainees —will automation take away valuable billing hours and lower the chances of students acquiring training contracts, or will AI simply remove the tedious elements of most newly qualified practitioners’ day-to-day working lives?
One thing remains certain: law students must actively engage with legal technology during their studies to ensure they are in the best possible position for future developments in their profession.
How are law schools evolving their teaching and training with artificial intelligence?
The legal curriculum is changing
Law schools are now incorporating legal tech modules into their curricula, from big data and legal bots to blockchain and e-commerce. Not only are these topics intellectually engaging for law students, they also allow students to gain a competitive edge when it comes to entering the workforce.
The adoption of tech modules in law schools reflects the need for students to equip themselves with the necessary technical knowledge and awareness for today’s work. Yet infusing tech into legal education goes one step further: it brings law studies into the modern digital economy, where traditional boundaries between industries and territories no longer exist. Companies and law firms operate across continents, jurisdictions, and markets, and modern legal studies should reflect this.
By engaging with tech topics from an early stage in their education, future lawyers can quickly become fluent in the way their potential employers—and clients—work.
Greater cross-department collaboration
A number of universities are offering specific master’s programs in law, tech, and computer science. From the UK and Europe to the US, law departments are designing new courses and programs in tandem with computer science, engineering, and economics departments. Sharing knowledge and expertise is paramount to the success of these courses, and gives students the opportunity to engage with academics from a huge range of backgrounds.
Certain areas of the law are ripe for cross-department collaboration, such as intellectual property law and governance. Elsewhere, more technical areas like biotech and cybersecurity are natural complements to law, with academics paying greater attention to the need for regulation, privacy protection, and ethical discussions to ensure that the law keeps up with these rapidly developing fields.
A new student body?
Given the increasing popularity of AI in law, should students expect to see more and more STEM students in the classroom?
A number of schools are offering access
programs for STEM students, and actively encouraging these individuals to
pursue a legal education. Firms are also turning their attention to STEM departments
when it comes to recruitment. By employing lawyers with STEM backgrounds, firms
can enhance the likelihood of an associate possessing a solid understanding of
a client’s technology, giving the client greater confidence in their legal
advice. It also allows lawyers to engage in more meaningful discussions with
However, non-STEM students need not be discouraged. Lawyers have always come from a huge range of academic and non-academic backgrounds, from languages and literature to economics and politics, and while leveraging an awareness of tech is undoubtedly helpful, students shouldn’t feel disheartened by not possessing a deep technical background.
Some things change… and some stay the same
At its heart, practicing as a lawyer means understanding people. While automation and data analysis are invaluable tools to assist lawyers in their day-to-day work, this technology can only go so far. It remains essential that aspiring lawyers continue to develop the flexibility, creativity, and empathy to explore the nuances of a case and deliver real value to their clients.
Whether interested in pursuing a career in corporate, international, or criminal law, students need a holistic, 360-degree education that enables them to become fully rounded individuals capable of critically analyzing legal issues using a plethora of knowledge and perspectives.
Robots won’t be replacing lawyers any time soon. Instead of looking at AI with concern, future lawyers and law students should stay excited at the prospect of where this new technology could go.
With AI and legal tech only just emerging in terms of application, today’s law students are getting a first-hand view of the evolution of the legal industry. By joining a school that empowers them to get into the driver’s seat of this transformation, law students can expect some exciting developments in both their studies and careers, as well as the industry as a whole.