Five ways law students can engage with tech to best prepare for legal practice

Consider the bigger picture, says BPP University Law School head of LPC programmes Jane Houston

A recent tech-themed Employability Week organised by BPP University Law School featured a ‘Legal Tech Hackathon’ in which groups of Legal Practice Course (LPC) students worked collaboratively to create an innovative technical solution to a real-life legal problem, in conjunction with BPP’s Pro Bono Centre. BPP’s LPC chief Jane Houston believes such initiatives are an important preparation for legal practice. Here she shares her views about how law students should be engaging with technology to boost their employability.

1. Become a hi-tech lawyer

Current LPC students are happy to embrace technology in their personal lives — staying connected 24/7 through social media. Students are less good at using business software and they should make a concerted effort to improve their IT skills, to make themselves more useful and self-sufficient when they join the workforce.

More than this, LPC students should be thinking about how technology and law interact. What technology is currently available that can help lawyers to complete routine jobs more efficiently, thereby giving lawyers more time to consider the challenging and engaging legal issues? This creative and entrepreneurial thinking is where young lawyers entering the legal profession can add value to the firm — tech solutions will help to change the way in which legal services are delivered — driving efficiencies and therefore cost savings demanded by clients seeking ‘value for money’ legal advice.

2. Become commercially aware about cyber security

Cyber security is another area into which law students would be well-advised to gain some insight as part of their wider commercial awareness. As connectivity to the internet becomes widespread in all aspects of business and life, data security and online privacy is a major concern. There is already a movement taking place to boost defences to hacking, particularly for law firms, whose trade revolves around handling highly sensitive data. This isn’t to say students need to be cyber crime experts, but it’s an important theme to follow.

3. Develop the skills that robots will never be able to replicate

One of the downsides of the rise of technology, particularly messaging apps, is the changing way in which we communicate with each other. Right now, the strength of lawyers is their intellectual and analytical skills but also their emotional intelligence — the ability to gauge a client’s reaction and tailor the legal advice accordingly. Indeed, this will continue to be the case for future lawyers. Law students should therefore ensure that they develop excellent people skills as this will always be central to legal practice, and will probably come to be valued to an ever greater extent as routine tasks are commoditised and automated more and more.

4. Seize every opportunity

At our recent Employability Week, various legal tech experts from private practice and legal tech companies came into our Law School to talk about current challenges in the legal sector and how law firms are tackling these challenges. LexisNexis® sponsored our Employability Week and demonstrated its document automation software. The Chief Commercial Officer from Kira Systems gave a demonstration of Kira’s AI software — which was followed by a workshop in which our students were able to experiment with Kira’s machine learning technology. We’re keen to continue building relationships with tech-forward thinking companies to help us better prepare young lawyers for legal practice. Law students should take every opportunity available to them to build knowledge and experience in technology, to complement their legal knowledge.

5. Keep an eye on the future and keep an open mind

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has just completed a period of consultation for changes to legal education and training over the coming years, with a new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) set to replace LPC exams. Whilst the proposed changes bring challenges this is also an opportunity for vocational legal education to be innovative and to reflect more closely the changing legal market. We are currently working with a Legal Tech Advisor and looking to appoint a Head of Innovation Technology to help us incorporate technology into our programmes for the future.

Current LPC students should consider that in a few years’ time, students studying for a possible SQE, will be studying a very different programme, which will equip these students with the necessary skills for the modern legal world. As technology takes a hold on legal services, law firms will also be going through a period of rapid change and new jobs are emerging, such as ‘Legal Knowledge Engineer’ and ‘Legal Technologist’. Whilst change can be unsettling, law students should keep an open mind and see this as an exciting opportunity to help change the way in which legal services are delivered in the future.

Jane Houston is head of LPC programmes at BPP University Law School

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