Future of Legal Education: do Law Schools have the Right to be Conservative?

Authors – Dr. Aušrinė Pasvenskienė, Dr. Paulius Astromskis

This article explores how emerging technologies should shape legal studies, recognizing that the new technological era requires a new generation of tech-savvy lawyers who possess specific technology-related skills and knowledge. Analysis of the future of work through the lens of the International Labor Organization Centenary Declaration, followed by an analysis of the right to education, led to the formation of a theoretical justification of the legal duty to adapt the legal education curriculum to a technology-driven future. This article also exposes the existing state of the legal education curriculum with a systematic analysis of the existing Law & Tech master’s programs at leading universities worldwide. This research demonstrates that relatively few (9.8%) leading world universities offer specialized Law & Tech master’s programs. This clear underdevelopment of the Law & Tech curriculum suggests that deeply embedded conservatism in legal education might be violating the rights of future lawyers – the right to work and the right to education, in particular.

Keywords:  Right to work, right to education, legal education, Law & Tech, LegalTech


More than 50 years ago, Isaac Asimov predicted, with the punctilio of accuracy, that robots would be neither common, nor very good in 2014, but they would exist. Indeed, artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics are not science fiction anymore, as they are present in households and workplaces throughout the world. As Klaus Schwab eloquently warned, the technological revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Indeed, in its scale, scope, and complexity, the technological transformation is unlike anything humankind has experienced before. It is already obvious that technology is a permanent, structural change, leading to unprecedented legal challenges.

On one hand, the legal issues surrounding technological advancements might be analyzed through the lens of Frank H. Easterbrook’s “law of the horse,” assuming “that the best way to learn the law applicable to specialized endeavors is to study general rules,” thus neglecting the need for new specific regulations and fostering the application of historically evolved and deeply embedded legal principles and thus adapted rules. However, legal systems tailored to regulate the “horse” issues and real-world behavior already cannot cope with the novel challenges of technological innovations, demographic shifts, environmental and climate change, and globalization, among many others. Thus, concurring with Lawrence Lessig’s commentaries, the potential of the horse law to regulate the most sophisticated technologies seems to be overestimated. Therefore, assumedly, existing legal systems and rules, originally intended and designed for human-to-human (in personam) and human-to-machine (in rem) processes, cannot work well in a novel machine-to-human and machine-to-machine environment. Accordingly, this new era requires a new generation of tech-savvy lawyers who possess specific, technology-related skills and knowledge.

Moreover, the rapid development of legal technologies (LegalTech), powered with AI, has already caused and continues to drive market shocks to the legal profession. Ribstein argued that these challenges would result in the death of the big law business model. Boston Consulting Group and Bucerius suggested that the business of law will require fewer general support staff members, junior lawyers, and generalists—and more legal technicians and project managers. Susskind and Susskind also argued that the introduction of AI means that fewer people will be required to do less skilled, routine work, thus resulting in technological unemployment of lawyers. Kerikmae agreed that the business model of many law firms will face a considerable paradigm change since the work provided by law firms in the form of billable hours, in fact, largely consists of services that do not require superior legal education, but involve mere data processing, and thus they may be performed by means of legal technology. Clearly there is a high risk that lawyers with higher education are and will be continuously replaced by cheaper and faster technological solutions.

To turn the risks of developments in law and legal practice to opportunities, there is a growing demand for a new generation of lawyers with interdisciplinary Law & Tech training, and for the new generation hybrid professions—legal technologists and legal project managers, to name just a few. Having said this, the future of the legal profession requires rethinking the form and content of legal education. The unpredictable, but certainly significant, impact that new technologies will have on law and society raises the question to what extent new technologies should be integrated into legal studies and whether higher education institutions, or even the state, incur an obligation to digitize the legal curriculum. Therefore, issues of identification of the gaps in current legal education, methods of infusion of technology-related outcomes throughout the curriculum, exposure of the best practices and optimal architecture of Law & Tech study programs, among others form an important interdisciplinary research agenda for the future of legal education and the legal profession. However, within this research field, there is a lack of both legal reasoning to support such changes and systematic research on the state of the curriculums of Law & Tech studies offered by the leading universities.

Recognizing these challenges, in this article, we contribute to the scientific discussion on how emerging technologies should shape legal studies. For this purpose, our general aim herein is to formulate a theoretical justification for the legal duty to adapt the legal education curriculum to a technology-driven future and to expose the existing state of the legal education curriculums in the world’s best universities.

Accordingly, first part of this article addresses the policy and legal requirements for the content of education, arguing that there is a legal duty to change legal studies curriculums through the lens of the future of work, in general, and the right to education, in specific. The second part addresses the methodological issues of the systematic review of Law & Tech master’s programs in the world’s best universities, providing a description of the materials, methods, and results of such an inquiry. The third part of this article provides a discussion on the state of the legal education curriculum and its compatibility with future of work and right to education arguments. This article concludes with the warning that deeply embedded conservatism in legal education might be violating the rights of future lawyers, and accordingly, it provides a call for immediate action.

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