Law school doesn’t work anymore, naysayers claim. America is overrun by lawyers — roughly six per each new job, according to The Lawyer Bubble. (Yes, there is a “lawyer bubble.”) Suffolk Law School isn’t ready to succumb to the statistics, however.
“A lot of people would agree that legal education today looks a lot like it did decades ago,” professor Andy Perlman told BostInno. “Yet, the delivery of law services looks very different today than it did even 10 to 15 years ago.”
To ensure the university was producing the most knowledgeable, adaptable graduates in the field, Suffolk launched the Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation in April, and placed Perlman at the helm as director.
With six newly-conferred candidates vying for each position, Perlman understands the job market is tight. Only the competitive graduates with a technological advantage will survive, which is why the Law School launched a new Legal Technology and Innovation concentration this week. The program now stands alongside more traditional concentrations, such as Intellectual Property and International Law.
“If we can train up our graduates in this new skillset and knowledge base, we make them more attractive to traditional employers,” Perlman claimed. He added that a majority of Suffolk Law School graduates end up at small- to medium-sized firms — ones that recognize the need to innovate, but might not necessarily have the budget to hire an IT department.
The new concentration features specialized courses on different legal technologies and innovations, including automated document assembly, legal project management, knowledge management and virtual lawyering.
Perlman touted technology’s ability to make a lawyer more efficient, and lauded LegalZoom, an online legal document preparation service for estate planning, trademarks, wills and corporations. The tool lowers costs, because it’s quickly automating processes for users. And LegalZoom is producing such quality legal documents, Forbes called it one of the “10 Best Digital Tools for Entrepreneurs in 2012.”
The Law School is now tasking students with developing tools of their own. One course, “Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines,” taught by Marc Lauritsen, forces students to create software that would help them practice law. The Institute on Law Practice Technology & Innovation has already created a mobile web app that enables lawyers to find Massachusetts legal resources more easily, as well as applied for — and won — an opportunity to use Google Glass in the classroom.
“Faculty members also need to keep up with the speed of how technology is changing,” Perlman urged.
Because, at the end of the day, it’s all about being adaptable, which is what Perlman wants every Suffolk Law School graduate to become.
“We used to imagine that lawyers could be trained up in a particular skillset or knowledge,” Perlman said. “Today, the marketplace is changing just so quickly, they need to be able to renew their skills, learn new skills … and go into new areas that never existed when they were in law school.”
Perlman acknowledged that, historically, law schools haven’t done a good job of being flexible, focusing solely on teaching students how to think about and analyze the law. Because institutions had still been so popular, though, they never evolved. Now, law school applications are hitting a 30-year low, which is necessitating change.
As Pearlman noted in a release announcing Suffolk Law School’s new concentration:
We have to get students thinking about how to deliver legal services more efficiently and how to create new niches in the legal industry. Law schools typically do not offer this kind of instruction, but legal education needs to respond to new realities.
And the reality is, legal education needs to evolve.
Image via Suffolk Law School