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The future of tech in legal education

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Ahead of tomorrow’s virtual event, ‘Innovation and the law’, Legal Cheek’s Sophie Yantian caught up with BARBRI’s academic head of UK programmes, Tracy Savage, to discuss how the provider is using tech within its new SQE prep course and the skills lawyers of the future need to succeed

Tracy Savage, academic head of UK programmes at BARBRI

Innovation and tech is becoming increasingly important within the legal sector and it is clear from talking to Tracy Savage, academic head of UK programmes at BARBRI, that this is no exception for legal education providers. In fact, tech and innovation play a core part in BARBRI’s new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) course which launches next month.

BARBRI’s SQE offering uses tech to deliver a more personalised course. Savage tells me about the algorithm used to ensure that students stay on top of their workload and complete the most important tasks first. “The system flexes with each individual learner. If on occasion a student is not able to work the daily suggested amount of time, then when they next login they will be presented with the tasks to do in order of importance,” she explains.

In addition, BARBRI is using its 50 years of experience in prepping students for the US bar exam by analysing data about the study habits of successful students, including the number of hours they put in and their learning methods, and then harnessing tech to make use of this data. Savage elaborates: “The system is learning every day and constantly evolving. We can look at students who have performed well in exams and see what they did. This means we can use this data to give students the best chance to pass.”

A clear advantage of this shake-up in legal education is the flexibility offered by these types of courses; with the option to study over a 10, 20 or 40-week period with BARBRI. Savage explains: “You can choose which course fits your timescale and other commitments, whether that’s working part-time or full-time.”

Not only does the structure of the course offer choices but the introduction of qualifying work experience (QWE) also allows more flexibility than the traditional training contract. “Time spent working as a paralegal can count towards QWE. In addition, more employers may offer QWE than were prepared to offer training contracts in the past,” says Savage.

“Generally, traditional training contracts have been more widely offered in commercial firms, so it’s been harder for people who are interested in the social justice side of things, to qualify for example,” Savage continues. And so, QWE can open doors for those interested in different areas of the profession.

It also removes the stress that can be felt by aspiring lawyers to secure a training contract during their studies. “Applying for training contracts and completing assessment centres can take away a student’s focus from their studies,” says Savage. “QWE takes the pressure off.”

The flexibility afforded by the upcoming SQE is not limited to students; it extends to law firms. They are able to supplement SQE courses with bespoke material because there is no set curriculum beyond the requirement that students are prepared to pass the centrally set assessments. “Going forward, law firms will have the opportunity to decide how they would like to nurture and develop the talent of their staff in the best way for that firm’s particular clients and work-base,” Savage explains.

Find out more about SQE prep courses with BARBRI

When it comes to the skills needed for aspiring lawyers to navigate the new-age of agile working ushered in by COVID-19, Savage stresses the importance of resilience and confidence. “It can be difficult for those new to the working world, particularly when working remotely, to recognise when you need help and, more importantly, to have the confidence to ask for it.”

Not only are resilience and confidence key, but with the move to remote working Savage highlights the need for new joiners to take advantage of opportunities to build relationships with peers and supervisors.

And what about tech skills and coding know-how amidst the undeniable increasing influence of tech in the legal sector? Savage offers balanced insight: “If coding is what interests you then that’s great, and something to pursue, but not everyone needs to be a coder. Most importantly, be adaptable and make sure you can use the tools that are available to you.”

With law firms continuing to implement artificial intelligence (AI) tools to increase lawyer efficiency, Savage reminds students not to overlook the importance of ‘human touch’. For example, building relationships with clients remains a vital part of a solicitor’s role, a role that cannot be replaced by AI. Likewise, taking part in negotiations and explaining concepts — both legal and tech concepts — will still be required of lawyers.

Tracy Savage will be speaking at ‘Innovation and the law — with BARBRI, BCLP, Irwin Mitchell and Elevate’, a virtual student event taking place tomorrow (Tuesday 8 December). You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.

Find out more about SQE prep courses with BARBRI

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