Remember the “old” days, when graduating from law school meant that graduates were in demand at law firms, and that a bar admission was the ticket to entry?
Those days appear to be over, or at least, on hiatus.
According to recent ABA statistics, 57 percent of 2013 law school graduates, within nine months of graduation, were employed in a job that requires a bar admission, while about 10 percent of graduates were employed where having a J.D. was an advantage.
The advent of technology has both helped—and hurt—new law graduates. A major factor that has changed the job outlook for young lawyers is the sheer volume of data that is potentially subject to discovery in litigation. But the data revolution, spurred on by changes in federal procedure allowing electronic discovery, has been the catalyst for a new wave of jobs in the e-discovery field.
“Technology has had an impact; it has taken away some jobs, but when it takes away it also gives,” said Daniel Reed, CEO of UnitedLex, a company engaged in litigation preparation, cyber security and intellectual property. “The biggest driver is the amount of data that gets produced. We have so much information that is being generated, so how do you manage it? A case can involve a million documents. If you don’t understand how to manage that data in a very effective way, you’re at a disadvantage,” commented Reed.
UnitedLex employs more than 1400 attorneys, anywhere from one to seven years out of law school. While some continue to veer away from traditional law firm or in-house environments, many others utilize their experience at UnitedLex as a jumping off point, making themselves more attractive to law firms and corporate legal departments.
“Even 10 years ago, you didn’t have to be that fluent in a range of technology; now you do. If you can’t advise on all elements of it, you’ll do clients a huge disservice, so being educated on this, on data management, is essential to finding competent counsel,” said Reed.
However, that’s where law schools are not satisfying a strong need, according to Reed. He added that that the curriculum at many law schools today are not keeping up with changes in today’s legal practice, particularly with the advent of technology as it relates to many aspects of the practice of law.
Rather than spitting out law school graduates who are ill-prepared for technology trends in litigation, perhaps it is time for the law profession to begin training its lawyers “residency-style,” similar to the training received by new medical school graduates, suggests Reed. “UnitedLex is heavily investing in this area as part of its commitment to the strengthening of the legal ecosystem.
After working as a partner in LeClairRyan’s discovery solutions practice, Daryl Shetterly is now the Director of the Discovery Analytics and Review Services group at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, managing a department that handles, among other things, large-scale discovery projects. Unlike some law students, Shetterly went to law school to become an entrepreneur. “What interested me about law was the management side,” said Shetterly. When he was first practicing law he got a taste of managing the people, process and technology involved with e-discovery, and a new phase of his career was borne. He describes the primary challenge of e-discovery as “…the problem of how we handle discovery in the context of ever-increasing data volumes.”
Shetterly said that an important milestone that affected the legal profession, including the jobs available to new graduates, was when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended in 2006 to include the e-discovery amendments.
“I think technology may take away some legal jobs but there are a host of jobs being created, jobs like mine being created to use technology to solve legal problems. We use that technology to sift through data in ways not possible just a few years ago,” he said.
Dera Nevin started law school in the midst of a good economy, but by the time she graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law in 2001, the economy had experienced a downturn. Nevertheless, because she was heavily involved in document review and management, the expertise she developed made her an asset to her firm, and she recognized that this was a marketable skill. Now, she is a prominent e-discovery attorney and consultant. “It was a career I grew into first by accident and then by choice,” she said.
Like Shetterly and Reed, Nevin also agrees that advances in technology have both contributed to the depletion of jobs for graduates while providing new opportunities.
“Legal knowledge is becoming much more widely available, being processed faster, and as a result, the jobs are changing. We don’t need people sitting around in libraries searching through books; we need people who can very quickly deal with the consequences of that information,” she said.
“Document review attorneys are in demand now but the demand will gradually decrease. Overall, demand for associates in larger firms is down,” she added.
On the brighter side, however, law firms have created such job titles as National Discovery Counsel, which are advisory/strategic in nature, advising clients on e-discovery issues. In addition, there may be more jobs for staff attorneys, particularly those not on the partnership track, who can be involved in “…evidence review, classification, and marshaling. Attorneys may also be in non-legal roles, either in charge of groups, such as document review or the e-discovery operations team, or serve as project managers for large e-discovery files,” said Nevin.
She added that more roles will also be created in-house in order to reduce the overall cost of legal services, including discovery attorneys, serving as contact points with outside counsel and managing e-discovery internally.
“In other related sectors, there will be more jobs for lawyers in content creation and project management,” she said.
While the field of e-discovery is a viable option for recent law graduates is it a trend that will only continue to expand as technology continues to advance? Some say yes, though Nevin predicts a downward surge with 15-20 years, assuming technology continues to advance in such a way as to make the culling of documents easier and earlier in the discovery process.