Author – Dr. Paulius Astromskis
This pilot research provides a systematic review of Law & Tech master programs in selected European Union (EU) universities. The systematic multi-stage sampling process completed the list of 38 Law & Tech master programs, offered by 35 leading universities in 11 high-tech EU member states, for extraction and grouping of almost 600 subjects offered in these programs. This analysis exposed the frequency of subject appearance in the sample of programs, followed by the choice of 16 most frequent subjects using the rule of thumb for a hypothetical Law & Tech master program. Moreover, this analysis revealed the need of inquiry into (i) the alternative practices of technology related skills infusion into the law curriculum; and (ii) variables that impact the choices of Law & Tech program’s structure and curriculum. Following these conclusions, universities in the Netherlands were purposively selected for content analysis of their Law & Tech program’s descriptions. Such inquiry enabled categorization of arguments that supports radical inclusion of technology’s domain into law’s curriculum, thus completing the list of key variables for further research on Future of Legal Education.
Keywords: Technology Law, Legal Technologies, Law & Tech, LegalTech, Legal Education
Klaus Schwab eloquently warns that technological revolution will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. Indeed, in its scale, scope, and complexity, the technological transformations are unlike anything humankind has experienced before. It is already clear, that technology is a permanent structural change, leading to unprecedented legal challenges. The concepts of property, personality and transactions change fundamentally due to the rapid (r)evolution of technologies. The 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 machine-to-human and machine-to-machine environment.
In addition, development of legal technologies (LegalTech), powered with artificial intelligence, has already caused and continues to drive market shocks to the legal profession. Ribstein (2010) argued that these challenges would result in the death of big law business model. Boston Consulting Group and Bucerius (2016) suggest 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 (2015) also argue that the introduction of AI means that fewer people will be required to do lower skilled, routine work, thus resulting in technological unemployment of lawyers. Kerikmae (2018) agrees that the business model of many law firms will be facing 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 procession and thus may be performed by means of legal technology. Clearly, lawyers with higher education are and will be continuously replaced by cheaper and faster technological solutions.
Therefore, developments of law and legal practice demand for a new generation of lawyers with interdisciplinary legal training, tech-related skills and knowledge; and for the new generation hybrid professions – legal technologists, legal project managers, just a few to mention. However, a lot of legal studies are still organized according to the conservative model. Usually it requires a lot of space for classical law studies, leaving relatively little space for the studies (as an integral part) of certain other fields – philosophy, information technology, economics, and others. Such law school’s curriculum provides students with the theoretical base they need to pass the bar; however, nowadays law schools can make the most of the significant changes roiling the legal industry — a tighter job market, emerging technologies and the increasing use of legal process outsourcers — by turning them into opportunities to make law students better lawyers.
Boston Consulting Group and Bucerius (2016) have also noted that law schools can further serve the profession by teaching business, project management, and general tech skills. To do so, schools may need to expand the mandatory curriculum beyond fields of substantive law by offering an additional course introducing case-management processes and legal technology. More specific legal-tech skills (such as database management, statistics, analytics, and digital communications) can be taught in electives and clinics throughout the course of the law degree. Executive-education programs can further foster ongoing learning by focusing on holistic legal project management, as well as on legal-tech literacy.
The American Bar Association (2014, 2016) agrees that law schools should offer more technology training, experiential learning, and the development of practice-related competencies. The Law Society of England and Wales (2018) adds that characteristics such as an entrepreneurial spirit, curiosity, creativity and strategic thinking skills could assume far more significance in the education and recruitment of future lawyers. It was also noted in the FLIP report (2017) that in a changing environment, the skills and areas of knowledge likely to be of increasing importance for the graduate of the future include: technology; practice-related skills (e.g. collaboration, advocacy/negotiation skills); business skills/basic accounting and finance; project management; international and cross-border law; interdisciplinary experience; resilience, flexibility and ability to adapt to change. Walter (2017) also identified six ways, how law schools may be able to improve curriculum to prepare law students for today’s practice environment the best: to include more diverse experiential learning; to prepare students for transactional practice; to focus on the business side of law; to expose students to legal processes and case management requirements; to emphasize interpersonal and advocacy skills; and to require proficiency with legal technologies.
In sum, the evidence on the need of tech-literate lawyers in a tech-dependent world is overwhelming. However, as Koo (2007) concluded, a large majority of lawyers perceive critical gaps between what they are taught in law schools and the skills they need in the workplace, and appropriate technologies are not being used to help close this gap. Canick (2014) also notes, that despite the profound changes, legal education has never considered technological proficiency to be a key outcome. 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 program; and other form an important interdisciplinary research agenda of legal education’s future. However, within this research field, there is a lack of systematic research on the real-life practices and curriculum of Law & Tech studies offered by the leading EU universities.
Recognizing these novel challenges, the “Future of Legal Education” research project has been initiated at Vytautas Magnus University. The purpose of that research is to develop a conceptual model of legal education, integrating Law & Tech related skills into legal curriculum, to prepare future generation of lawyers for a future practice environment. Under the methodological framework of this main research, two interlinked pilot researches were constructed to refine research questions and to test data accessibility and quality for the main research on the future of legal education.
This (first) pilot aims (i) to review systematically the Law & Tech master programs in selected EU universities and (ii) to provide content analysis of the Law & Tech curriculum in selected single EU state. The systematic review in a specific area is important for identifying of research questions, as well as for justifying the future research in the said area. The content analysis is used herein for analyzing and making inferences from text and other forms of qualitative information. Such synthesis will expose general response of the leading law schools to the technological challenges of legal profession and the practices of infusing technological context throughout the curriculum.
The second pilot research (reported in separate upcoming paper) is aimed to inquiry into the demand of technology-related skills and knowledge by law practitioners and high-tech industries. Presumably, the results from both pilot researches will enable refining research questions and testing data accessibility for the main research: to identify technology-related skill gaps in legal education and to model the optimal architecture of Law & Tech study program.
Therefore, the objective of this pilot (limited scope) research is to explore systematically the existing Law & Tech master programs that are offered by the leading universities in high-tech EU member states for the purposes of refining “Future of Legal Education” research questions and testing data accessibility.
Accordingly, the following key research questions were addressed: what subjects are offered within Law & Tech master programs by the leading universities in high-tech EU member states? What variables impacting the structure and content choices should be analyzed for the purposes of modeling the optimal Law & Tech program?