Oxford University lays out blueprint for training future lawyers in the tech age

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By Legal Cheek on

Skills gaps must be filled to meet client demand for tech-enhanced legal services, say academics

A group of University of Oxford academics have set out their bold new vision for the tech-savvy lawyer of the future in a new working paper, the initial findings of which were exclusively revealed at Legal Cheek‘s LegalEdCon 2020.

In her keynote address last week, watched by over 600 delegates, virtually, Professor Rebecca Williams and her colleagues, Václav Janeček and Professor Ewart Keep, revealed the findings of a new research project focused on the interplay between technology and legal education.

Williams identified five core skills and knowledge gaps that need to be filled if lawyers want to provide a more tech-focused offering to their clients.

These include: an understanding of how computer science works, including its strengths and weakness; a comprehension of data science and databases, and an ability to view the legal world as a data rich resource; the capacity to to be creative when approaching problems, as well as the ability to appreciate the client’s interests (or commercial awareness); and finally, digital ethics and the law of artificial intelligence.

As part of the research, Oxford University ran an experimental 16-week masters course in law and computer science which showed that a multi-disciplinary approach to legal education is feasible and brings results.

Legal Cheek has reported on a number of lawtech tie-ups in the past, including Norton Rose Fulbright‘s collaboration with the University of York’s computer science department, and the University of Manchester’s tech teaching project in conjunction with Freshfields and DWF.

And what about the big lawtech question: do lawyers need to know how to code? No, according to Williams. But they should understand the principles of coding if they want to provide tech-focused legal services well.

The research also showed that legal education and critical, normative understanding of the law is still considered the core of what future lawyers are expected to master — regardless of the changes brought about by digital technology or new regulations for the legal profession.

You can read the working paper in full here.

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