New Zealand Law Society - Law education with a growing technological twist

Law education with a growing technological twist

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Legal education providers will have to adapt some key principles of law to the changing technologically driven landscape new lawyers will be exposed to, says New Zealand Law Society journalist Nick Butcher in the latest issue of LawTalk.

Digitised case files, legal applications and software designed to aid lawyers and improve the client experience along with a so-called robot attorney or artificial intelligence are just some of the challenges that new barristers and solicitors will work with when entering the workforce.

The College of Law provides education and training for lawyers from pre-admission to postgraduate law programmes, as well as Online Legal Education courses.

Big challenges ahead for law education

It says the biggest changes in what law students are being taught will be in post graduate study, not in the core bachelor of laws degree.

The Chief Academic Officer, Lewis Patrick, says the primary purpose of the bachelor of laws degree is to educate would be lawyers in the fundamentals of the law, not so much on the practise of law.
"Most undergraduate degrees receive criticism from the profession that they don't do enough to teach practical skills to their students which I think is unfair because a university has limited time and resources and there is a lot to teach in terms of just knowledge of the law."

And Professional Legal Studies – a short post graduate course that aims to give practical legal training to University law graduates - has that corner covered, he says.

But one thing is set to change, he says, in that virtually every undergraduate degree will include an altered module of legal research skills.

"I think over the next few years you'll see that becoming more about legal technology skills," he says. It used to be done with dusty old law books but that has now moved on-line," he says.

Changes to practical side of legal education

Mr Patrick says there'll need to be changes in the post graduate Master of Laws degree.

"I think you'll see a lot more courses in how to use legal applications. Lawyers will also need training in how to actually build legal applications for the firms they work for. They'll need to know how to create information architecture, so that their own clients can access the firm's website and use these tools to find out the information they need."

Mr Patrick says it is in the practical side of law where the differences in post graduate courses will be noticed.

"You'll see a lot more courses and programmes around legal applications and how to use them. As they're rolled out in time," he says.

Technology will ramp up competition between lawyers

Lewis Patrick predicts that because of the arrival of digital technology tools to law, it'll lead to stiff competition between competing lawyers over who can offer the best experience for clients.

"That will include on-line as well as face to face. Lawyers are going to need to know how to present their services and information in on-line ways and they're going to have to learn to collaborate with other professionals to solve a client's problems.

"Up until now the lawyer has done that alone. Increasingly what you'll find is the lawyer will have to collaborate with other professionals to solve the problem so lawyers are going to need training and education in collaborative skills, project management, work flow systems, how to work as part of a team, there'll be a big need to include this in post graduate training." Mr Patrick says.

Comparing the television experience from the black and white 1960s to now, Mr Patrick says the future of law is heading towards a similar evolution.

"TV now includes multiple news channels, movies and applications such as Netflix. Television is still television but the consumer is experiencing it differently 50-years later, but it'll be more like 5-years for how people experience changes in law service delivery," he says.

Lewis Patrick is a member of the International Bar Association and in September he'll travel to Washington to attend the Commoditisation of Legal Practice and the Implications for Legal Education conference.

You can read the full LawTalk story on changes to legal education here.

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