Solicitor super-exam is golden opportunity for law schools to make their students more techy, legal education expert says

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By Natalie Kaminski on

Future lawyers ‘must be able to effectively use technology’

Legal academic Roger Smith has urged law schools to do more to prepare students for big changes that wait ahead in a recently penned article.

As we move further into the digital age, the legal sector is increasingly toying with the idea of absorbing new technology into practice. Smith says that UK law schools have been slow to respond to these trends.

But Smith — former head of human rights and law reform organisation JUSTICE — had a light-bulb idea: the regulator’s plan to scrap the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC) is an opportunity for law schools to get in on the tech game. He says:

In [the GDL and LPC’s] place will come the return of nationally set tests — the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations Stages 1 and 2. It is vital that both reflect the degree of change driven by technology in the legal profession.

In Smith’s view, the reality is that students are leaving law schools ill-prepared for modern legal practice. The current education system is outdated and has been left untouched for decades, he says. Meanwhile, the world has moved on, and a conversation covering “the impact of technology on the training of lawyers” is long overdue.

How exactly the new SQE should plan to do more to incorporate technology into its syllabus is left unclear. Should law students learn to code or, at the other end, should they just brush up on their GCSE ICT skills?

To try answer this, Smith — currently a visiting professor at London South Bank University — borrows some ideas from a paper drafted by the Cambridge students behind the robo-lawyer ‘LawBot X’. He highlights the need for law schools to “adopt specific courses, which will build technological knowledge” and to develop legal skills by “integrating technology-consciousness across the curriculum”. Ultimately, law students “must be able to effectively use technology”.

Smith is not alone in voicing these concerns; earlier this year we spoke to legal technology expert Richard Susskind about the lack of tech modules, such as data science, offered to law students by education institutions. He warns:

I do want people to be very clear this is a different era we’re moving into, and not complacently think ‘if I float through my law degree I’m automatically employable’.

But perhaps things aren’t as critical as Smith’s article seems to suggest. Indeed the piece has prompted a reaction from UCL academic Richard Moorhead. He says:

Law schools should do more, but I think that Roger’s post is limited in the sense that it does not demonstrate much awareness (if any) of what is actually happening in this country around teaching law students about law, innovation technology. That’s disappointing…

While it may be the case that extra tech-savvy modules can be squeezed into a three-year LLB, the same can’t be said for the nine-month GDL course, where there’s barely time to cram in the seven core foundational areas of law. Students report the LPC is similarly intensive and unlikely to lend itself easily to the incorporation of tech modules.

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