From a Silicon Valley Perspective: Why Legal Education Needs to Adapt to the 21st Tech-century

Stanford School of Law

François, who graduated from Sciences Po Paris and is currently attending the Paris Bar School, was an intern at CodeX (the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics) in Spring 2016. He fell in love with the Valley spirit and the incredible energy it is possible to find there. Following his rich experience at the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics, he shares his views on why it is time legal education adapt to the 21st tech-century.

Most of legal education systems around the world are still fairly conservative. In this context, elite school Sciences Po Paris has been innovating by piloting for a few years a disruptive project: Sciences Po Paris has been laying the foundation stones of the Sciences Po Law School[1], to focus on more interactive and modern pedagogical methods. But, this American-based way of teaching law is currently facing many challenges in turn and much still needs to be learned from the innovative law research centres on the other side of the Atlantic, especially the cutting-edge legaltech innovation centre in the Silicon Valley. At CodeX[2], researchers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and technologists work side-by-side to advance the frontiers of legal technology[3].

During my time at CodeX, I got the opportunity to be involved in a number of diverse projects, including the Smart Prosecution Project[4] where we crunched huge amounts of data and analysed them, using Machine Learning techniques developed by the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. I took a class on Technological, Economic and Business Forces Transforming the Private Practice of Law[5] at the Stanford Law School. I also shared, at one of the CodeX Weekly Meeting, my experience as an intern @ Legalstart.fr[6] ‒ the French leading provider of online legal services to French SMEs. What I learned from my experiences is that we need to push a business, collaborative, and data-driven mindset into the classrooms.

Today, the curriculum in law schools does not reflect the fact that the next two decades will bring more changes to legal institutions and lawyers than the last two centuries have[7]. The mismatch between law schools’ curriculums and professional expectations might be a huge issue in the following years. While “the legal profession will increasingly require project managers and specialists who can work with legal technology” (Hartung, M.), at the same time, digitalization could soon make almost half of the junior lawyers superfluous[8].

Yet, perspectives offered by law schools have been shadowing for a couple of years, especially in the US, where prospective law schools’ students weigh up the benefits of a legal career with the costs. A report led by the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation[9] shows up that ten months after graduation, only 60 % of graduates in the class of 2014 were employed in long-term, full-time positions where bar passage was required and that law school applications were down 40 percent between 2005 and 2015. In Australia, only 74.1 percent of law undergraduates looking for full-time employment were successful in finding jobs in 2015, compared with 88.4 percent of graduates in 2005. Closer to France, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination may eliminate from late 2020 the requirement of attending a U.K. law school, broadening access to the legal professions[10].

As easy access to the information has been a huge paradigm shift brought by the Internet, law students in turn still need to enter into the 21st century way of dealing with information. While a New Scientist’s article from the 90s demonstrated that only astronauts at NASA had to learn more information in a shorter time than it had to be mastered for the Solicitors Final Examination at that time[11], the refreshed Solicitors Qualifying Exam might also be the opportunity to adapt the legal education to the tech age[12]. The same being true for medical information, once digitization would have made legal information accessible and intelligible to everyone, neither doctors nor lawyers would be the sole gatekeepers of knowledge in medicine and law. In other words, once linear information will start being accessible to everyone, their value will be close to zero. Nowadays, the clue is not only to be able to deal with the object (here the law) but with all the processes having an impact on the object.

That’s why the Stanford Law School concluded partnerships with the Stanford Design School (forming the Legal Design Lab[13]) or the Stanford Computer Science Department (forming the aforementioned CodeX or the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics). The Legal Informatics class[14] at Stanford Law School leans on the management of information as a whole, starting from database design to project management.

There is a real buzz around learning to code for lawyers but coding is just one technical skill among others. If preparing students for being future world-class developers has nothing to do with law schools, there is a lot to learn from the edtech world. At 42, an innovative free-coding school backed by the French entrepreneur Xavier Niel, there are no classes and no professors: it is a peer-to-peer learning based pedagogy[15]. It’s true that law might not be code (as opposed to L. Lessig’s views on this[16]), but the one-way flow of information delivered in most law lectures isn’t close to being an innovative learning process either.

Assuming that Marc Andreessen’s motto is applicable to any field[17] ‒ a non-negligible proportion of legal businesses will become digitized in the mid-term; it is need of the hour for law schools to introduce technology into the classrooms and partner up with legaltech companies and research centres that assist them with their expertise.

 

This article has been written by François Weidler-Bauchez, based on research conducted as an intern with CodeX Stanford and in collaboration with the Legalstart Lab, an initiative launched to promote the French legaltech and explore law and technology issues and challenges.

 

[1] Jamin, C. (2012), La cuisine du droit – L’Ecole de Droit de SciencesPo : une expérimentation française, L.G.D.J.
[2] CodeX / Overview, CodeX, accessible at https://law.stanford.edu/codex-the-stanford-center-for-legal-informatics/
[3] Legal technology as the use of software to facilitate the digitization and automation of legal work processes
[4] Shanahan, N. (2016), The CodeX Smart Prosecution Project, CodeX, accessible at https://law.stanford.edu/2016/02/11/the-codex-smart-prosecution-project/
[5] Yoon, J. (2016), Stanford Law School, accessible at https://law.stanford.edu/courses/technological-economic-and-business-forces-transforming-the-private-practice-of-law/
[6] Legalstart.fr, accessible at https://www.legalstart.fr/
[7] Susskind, R. (2017), Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future – Second Edition, OUP Oxford
[8] Digitalization Could Soon Make Almost Half of Junior Lawyers Superfluous, ELTA, accessible at http://legal-tech-association.eu/report
[9] Pistone, M., & Horn, M. (2016), Disrupting Law School: How disruptive innovation will revolutionize the legal world, Clayton Christensen Institute, accessible at https://www.christenseninstitute.org/publications/disrupting-law-school/
[10] Reidy, T. (2017), What does the new solicitor super-exam mean for trainees?, accessible at The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/may/02/what-does-the-new-solicitor-super-exam-mean-for-trainees
[11] Turner, S. (2016), We Must Redesign Legal Education for Better Tomorrow, LegalTrek, accessible at https://legaltrek.com/blog/2016/10/we-must-redesign-legal-education-for-better-tomorrow/
[12] Training for Tomorrow work streams, Solicitors Regulation Authority, accessible at https://www.sra.org.uk/sra/policy/training-for-tomorrow/work-streams.page#Collection_1
[13] The Legal Design Lab, accessible at http://www.legaltechdesign.com/
[14] Genesereth, M., & Vogl, R. (2017), Stanford Law School, accessible at https://law.stanford.edu/courses/legal-informatics/
[15] 42 US / Peer-To-Peer Learning, 42 US, accessible at https://www.42.us.org/our-philosophy/pedagogical-innovation/peer-to-peer-learning/
[16] Lessig, L. (2000), Code Is Law – On Liberty in Cyberspace, Harvard Magazine, accessible at http://harvardmagazine.com/2000/01/code-is-law-html
[17] Andreessen, M. (2011), Why Software Is Eating The World, The Wall Street Journal, accessible at https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111903480904576512250915629460

5 comments

  • Bonjour et merci pour cette analyse.

    Dans un environnement nécessairement digitalisé, la question n’est en effet plus celle de l’opportunité du changement de mode de formation des prochaines générations d’avocats, mais sûrement celle de la construction concrète d’un programme universitaire cohérent et efficace. Gagner en compétences et connaissances des nouveaux processus de délivrance du droit, comme vous l’écrivez, ne doit pas pour autant se faire au détriment de la technique juridique qui reste le coeur de métier des juristes !

    Il faudra parvenir à un équilibre entre ces pôles, pour former des professionnels 100 % juristes et 100 % agiles.

    Bien cdlt,

    FM

    • Cher Monsieur,

      Je vous remercie pour votre intérêt.

      Au plaisir de poursuivre ces échanges.

      Bien cdlt,
      FWB

  • Hello, François. How are you?
    My name is Lucas Anjos and I’m the Deputy Director of IRIS – Institute for Research on Internet & Society, a think tank based in Brazil. I really liked your analysis regarding legal education and technology, and think it would greatly serve our readers in Portuguese.
    We maintain a blog where we post articles such as yours ( ), and would be happy if you authorize us to translate your article into Portuguese for our blog. Of course, we would attach it to your bio and reference Le Lab Legal Start. It is a good opportunity for our readers to « pop the bubble » and get to know other research centers outside Brazil.
    If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
    Best regards,
    Lucas

  • Hi Lucas,

    Thanks for reaching me out.

    I would be happy with that: the Legalstart team will come back to you soon for further guidance.

    Best regards,
    François

  • […] originalmente publicado aqui, em 10 de Julho de 2017, no blog do Le Lab Legalstart. Tradução autorizada e aprovada pelos […]

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