As technology and client expectations evolve, so too are the skill sets needed by lawyers. It’s a common adage repeated by legal educators and legal tech advocates in the U.S., but recently it’s also being heard across the Atlantic.
In parts of the U.K., law firm clients are demanding their counsel use technology to address their matters. In turn, a growing number of universities in England and Wales are creating legal technology courses for their students.
Alan East, chair of the England-based Law Society’s education and training committee, said he’s beginning to see legal technology take hold in U.K. law schools.
He noted that for students who attend prestigious law firms, who are often eyed by Magic Circle firms who invest in and support legal tech like Allen & Overy, legal tech experience can be a competitive advantage over their peers. On the other hand, for students at less prestigious law schools, a legal tech education can prepare them “for the legal rigors of the future.”
A Reed Smith announcement in April regarding a partnership with the University of Exeter Law School for a new four-year LLB program is an indicator of the growing demand for new approaches to legal education.
Starting in 2020-2021, five University of Exeter Law School students can take part in the LLB program. While the bulk of the program will be spent learning core law requirements, such as contract and criminal law, students will also spend one year at Reed Smith. There, students will split their time between two Reed Smith practice groups and work with the firm’s attorneys on legal matters and use technology to address clients’ needs.
“[They are] looking at legal issues and the technology available to law firms that’s changing by the day and really taking the time to explore what technology will be appropriate for the legal matter they must address,” said Reed Smith chief knowledge officer Lucy Dillon.
To be sure, Reed Smith’s London office has previously worked with a local law school through its traditional Queen Mary LLB Law in Practice program, but Dillon noted the new course places an emphasis on innovation and leveraging technology to solve clients’ challenges and legal services delivery requests.
“We want to make sure our junior lawyers arrive with an understanding that technology is going to change how they work and not to be frightened about it,” Dillon said.
The LLB program is far from the only legal tech course offered in the U.K. Luke Mason, vice chair of the Association of Law Teachers, said many law schools are offering small programs regarding legal tech. But he added that such courses are about “much more of the phenomenon of the technology and not the skill of law tech.”
However, Mason noted Exeter “seems to be the beginning of something new.” He added it appears the university is “actually looking at it as a separate skill to be a lawyer of the future.” He also noted BPP University offers a similar approach, while the University of Wales’ LLM in legal technology poses an “interesting” and unique law school curriculum.
At the University of Wales, students can learn how to create legal solutions with artificial intelligence, blockchain and other advanced technology while earning a legal degree.