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  • By Garrett Dubois

Accelerating Today’s Student to Become Tomorrow’s Lawyer


Suffolk student Garrett Dubois discusses his experience in Suffolk Law’s Accelerator-to-Practice Program. This unique program is an exclusive course of study designed to prepare a select group of law students to practice in a solo or small firm immediately after graduation. Garrett is learning how core principles of technology and innovation can improve delivery of legal services in that setting, and describes his “real world” experiences putting his Accelerator lessons to use.

I entered law school unlike many other law students, with a family and a previous career. When I first applied to schools, I didn’t concern myself with bar exam passage rates, nor did I focus on the ominous annual law school rankings. Instead, I focused on what each individual school could offer to prepare me for the real world -- for real clients and real problems. I didn’t want to enter this career field and still have to learn on the job. I had experienced the other side of the legal field in my work as a police officer, but would that patrol experience translate to the courtroom? What could I offer a prospective legal employer that the rest of my peers couldn’t? I knew that I needed something to help me stand out amongst the rest of the crowd, and in my search, I found that Suffolk’s Accelerator-to-Practice Program was exactly what I was looking for.

Suffolk University Law School’s Accelerator-to-Practice Program is an exclusive course of study designed to prepare a select group of law students to practice in a solo or small firm immediately after graduation. Students are provided with small-group instruction on law practice planning, practice management, and legal technology, combined with the experience of being student attorneys in the third-year clinic, the Accelerator Practice, and spending the first and second summers of law school in an experiential learning environment. This comprehensive three-year course of study, which combines traditional legal instruction with hands-on experience and training in legal technology, with a focus on small firm management, was created to ensure that law students can enter the legal field practice-ready, including being in the position to harness efficient tools to create sustainable legal practices for underserved populations. [1]

Technology in Accelerator

A core principle of the Accelerator Program is not only that students be technologically prepared to operate within the legal landscape, but that they are able to view legal technology as a tool and a solution to their client’s issues. Students are encouraged to think of new and creative ways to solve client problems, and to think outside of the box. Integration of legal technology into a student’s education allows for them to not only anticipate their client’s needs, but to better prepare them for on-the-fly problem solving.

The first major class students take in the second year is a broad-sweeping course on legal technology and how to apply it. “Legal Tech: Small Firm” is a course designed to introduce students to a new legal technology each week, coupled with learning assignments and hands-on education in a small-class setting. For many students, myself included, this is the first classroom instruction in which the professor no longer relies on the Socratic method, but focuses on each student individually, ensuring they are prepared to not only use these new forms of legal technology, but are able to confidently teach others to use them as well.

Assume for example, your client, an individual, requests any “information relevant to the subject matter” in their litigation against a major corporation. Does your client have the thousands of dollars it will cost to review the thousands of pages of documents the corporation provides in response? Can the client afford to risk the corporation flexing its legal muscle and abusing the discovery process?

Many clients, if not most, do not. The Accelerator program prepares a law student to anticipate this as a solo or small firm practitioner, and gives them the tools to solve it. The student is prepared to integrate an immediate solution to a problem, in this case with something such as an AI-based discovery tool. AI-based discovery uses artificial intelligence to comb through thousands of documents in seconds, faster than any law clerk ever could. Instead of individuals sorting through thousands of pages of documents, programs such as Logikcull allow you to upload all of your documents to its cloud-based platform, where its AI indexes and sorts the information into an easily searchable database.

Even those with little knowledge of technology are able to search through vast amounts of information easily, using Logikcull’s search feature. If you can search the internet using Google, you can search documents and data using Logikcull. [2]

Many small firms send discovery data and documents to outside vendors, paying significantly more for others to do what could be done in-house for a low monthly fee. Services like Logikcull, however, provide attorneys with both per-matter and monthly fee options and can help reduce risk with respect to client data’. [3] In the American Bar Association’s 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report, 23% of respondents reported a security breach of their data. [4] According to a 2017 Law Department Operations Survey by a legal insight company, almost 2/3 of legal departments do not use any type of AI-based discovery tool. [5] Keeping work in-house reduces the risk of failing to protect client data, and ensures both the client and the attorney are protected.

After an entire class period comprised of a presentation and hands-on experience indexing and searching for specific files using Logikcull, Accelerator students leave the classroom prepared to apply this technology to their own firms.

Accelerator Lessons in the Real World

Suffolk Law’s “Legal Tech” was my first introduction to the emerging market of legal technology, a portion of the legal field that goes relatively unnoticed. While students and attorneys are well-versed in the Microsoft Office suite, specific instances of legal technology are still relatively obscure. Even when the technology is readily available, and attorneys are aware of it, there is a resistance to its implementation. Through my summer placement with Accelerator-to-Practice Program, I saw this disinclination toward the use of legal technology first hand.

I spent my first summer as a law student at a small real estate firm outside of Boston, where four attorneys all shared one single central computer drive. This setup is not uncommon, where each attorney’s computer is linked to a central hard drive located within the office space. Each attorney can save files to this drive to share with others, while retaining individual files and information on their own computer.

With real estate closings across Massachusetts, the attorneys were in and out of the office often. Their IT technology firm had provided them with a central server and remote access, but had not prepared the system (or the attorneys) for what to do in the event this drive was inaccessible, or there was an interruption in their remote connection (which was not uncommon).

My experience through the Accelerator program gave me the ability to envision the ways that new technologies could make the office more efficient, thereby saving money and time for the firm and its clients. Every time the office lost its remote connection, IT consultants billed them to travel to the office and reset their equipment, and clients became more and more frustrated at being turned away on the phone. Remote connection issues, among the other hiccups in running a firm, cost money to the client and the attorney, both in lost business opportunity, and the actual cost of repair and consultancy.

In anticipation of these issues, a firm could protect itself and its clients through the use of a cloud-based backup, like those found in the Clio or MyCase suites, which we learned about and had a chance to use in the Legal Tech: Small Firm course. [6]

Cloud-based practice management software like Clio is designed to provide attorneys with access to their client files 24/7, both through their computers and their phones or tablets, along with secure messaging and billing systems. Using a convenient web link, attorneys can conduct business even when they are away from their office, keeping productivity high and costs down. Cutting the downtime of an office can significantly impact its efficiency, and can provide attorneys with the ability to take on more clients, and with them, more profit.

It is no secret that small and solo practitioners are resistant to change and concerned with the overhead costs of doing business, but the integration of legal technologies can streamline legal work, allowing lawyers to take on more clients in the same amount of time. [7] I quickly became aware of the advantages Suffolk University Law School was providing me through the exposure and experience with different legal technologies. Seeing legal tech for what it could be by learning about it in class, and seeing what it currently was by working in the field at this particular practice emphasized to me the power that legal technology has to provide real solutions to keep small or solo firms profitable and engaged with clients.

Accelerating Forward

Classes in legal technology and law practice management and summer positions with law firms are designed for students to obtain the baseline skills needed to operate a successful law practice, so that we may then apply them within the third year of school in Suffolk’s Accelerator Practice. [8]

The Accelerator Practice, one of 10 Clinical Programs at Suffolk, is a fee-generating law practice fully managed by student attorneys and clinical staff, where low or average-income clients can obtain legal services from student attorneys and their supervisors, and the students apply skills they’ve learned in the classroom to actual clients. Students are expected to work with clinical faculty as they will in any other practice, all the while maintaining the education-focus of the Accelerator program. The Accelerator Practice primarily represents clients in Housing Discrimination and Consumer Protection cases, partnering with the Suffolk University Housing Discrimination Testing Program. [9] Students approach tasks and issues head on and develop their own solutions to problems. The clinical faculty supervise students in their practice, and provide them with individualized feedback, developing the attorney mindset even further.

The hands-on experience the Accelerator Practice provides is unlike any other I’ve come across as a law student. Student attorneys are encouraged to introduce technologies or solutions in a narrow focus.

For example, if a client is concerned with their living situation but scheduling makes a home visit difficult, the student is encouraged to seek alternate efficient and convenient solutions, such as conducting a meeting through Skype or FaceTime. I chose to work in the Accelerator Practice in my second summer instead of with a local law firm so that I could begin working directly with clients as soon as possible. I’ve been tasked with drafting documents, conducting research, and advising clients directly about their case. Within the first week of being in the Practice, our clinical attorney involved me in the process with ease, and expected me to apply the skills I’d learned to our current clients. While most students only sit through a class on negotiation and mediation, my first major task in the Practice was to attend a housing discrimination mediation with our client, and to counsel her before and after the session.

I started law school resigned to the idea of sitting in a corner desk somewhere copying and pasting contracts together, and have now changed my entire track towards a focus on client advocacy, protecting the rights of those who would otherwise be disadvantaged. I know that regardless as to where my legal career takes me, I’m prepared to develop with the legal technology field, not against it. Being able to enter a law firm and streamline a client’s representation will be beneficial both to me and my future employer. I look forward to being able to take the wealth of information that the Accelerator-to-Practice Program has offered me and to use it toward a greater benefit.

Notes

[1] https://www.suffolk.edu/law/academics-clinics/clinics-experiential-opportunities/accelerator-to-practice-program

[2] https://www.logikcull.com/features

[3] https://www.logikcull.com/public/files/Michelle-Jordan-Case-Study-1-page.pdf

[4] https://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_practice/publications/techreport/ABATECHREPORT2018/2018Cybersecurity/

[5] http://blicksteingroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/LDO-Survey-Supplement-2017.pdf

[6] https://www.clio.com/practice-types/solo-lawyer-software/; https://www.mycase.com/

[7] https://www.law.com/legaltechnews/2019/07/09/a-small-firm-trying-to-gain-new-clients-try-legal-tech/

[8] https://www.suffolk.edu/law/academics-clinics/clinics-experiential-opportunities/clinics/accelerator-practice

[9] https://www.suffolk.edu/law/academics-clinics/clinics-experiential-opportunities/housing-discrimination-testing-program

About the Author

Garrett Dubois is SJC Rule 3:03 Student Attorney & Legal Innovation and Technology Fellow at Suffolk University Law School's Accelerator Practice

#GarrettDubois #NeedtoRead #AllUpdates

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