• By Mauricio Duarte

Education in the Era of Legal Tech


The legal industry is the midst of a major disruption. Thus, educators have the responsibility to prepare law students for the rapidly changing job market and show them new ways of practicing law. Actually, the role of an educator in the era of legal technologies (or “legal tech”) is just as important as the role of the actual lawyer.

I have the pleasure to be teaching (a) Lawyering Skills I & II; and, (b) Use of Technology Resources at Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City. During the recent Legal Hackers Summit for Latin America held in Panama City, I was afforded the opportunity to discuss some of my opinions and lessons as an educator. After the Summit, some esteemed colleagues suggested to put those lessons in paper.

In order to guide this article, certain premises must be introduced. First, practicing law does not equate spending long hours behind a shiny wooden desk in an office overflowing with paper.

Second, legal technology is now an integral part of everyday legal practice. As mentioned in previous articles [1], technology is no longer a luxury, it’s becoming a necessity for the legal industry. Third, law students need to understand the disruptive technologies that form the basis of today’s legal tech ecosystem. Fourth, the opinions and lessons in this article are strictly personal. Now, with these premises introduced, let’s proceed.

1. Empathy and Discipline.

Law students are aware that there are technologies that underlie all kinds of innovations. From the use of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to the automation of APA citations using Zotero, law students are, in many occasions, more tech-savvy than their educators which is great. This brings me to the first lesson. Educators must exercise empathy. That means, understanding their students, their technological understanding and, most importantly, the generational context in which they are positioned. Most of your students were born between 1995 and 2002, which automatically makes the from the so-called “Generation-Z”.

According to a recent study from Deloitte [2], the “Gen-Z” is the first generation that: (a) has never known a world without the worldwide web; (b) has never used a phone with a cord; and, (c) has no idea what floppy disks are. Furthermore, the Gen-Z is: (a) tech-dependent; (b) open to new adventures; (c) focused on authenticity; and, (d) driven by financial stability. We do not have to fall for the myths and stereotypes, but we must be aware of them.

Gen Z is brought up with the current technology, they are digital-centric, meaning technology is a component of their personality. As educators, we must embrace the use of technology in our classrooms. Long gone are the days in which we must prohibit the use of technology in the classroom. We have to acknowledge that is nearly impossible for students to ignore their smartphone or even their Apple Watch. Even for me, staying away from my smartphone is hard (except when the battery has died, or I am in a meeting). I remember when my professors used to prohibit the use of smartphones, tablets and other type of electronic devices, except computers for note-taking purposes.

If we want to educate students about legal tech, we must live by example. We cannot prohibit the use of technology. Just as legal tech, technology is a tool that can enhance our potential. Furthermore, the correct use of legal tech comes with discipline, exercising pragmatism to the situations that require the use of technology. Although technology can automate certain actions, we have to understand that legal tech can reach its full potential if it is used by a disciplined attorney.

Discipline does not mean using legal tech for everything, even if the use of legal tech comes at a greater cost than doing it manually. Discipline comes from the understanding that legal tech is not necessarily suited for all type of situations. The same discipline has to the taught in our classroom. We must give students the opportunity to have their own discretion and learn when technology should be used.

For example, you could tell your students openly that if they are interested in the new filter: “What type of Disney character are you?” on Instagram, they can explore it freely at their home for several reasons: (a) they will be more comfortable making funny faces in their room; (b) they can stay in their cozy pijamas; and, (c) they won’t have to commute for long hours to be in class. At the same time, you can tell them that they can also do it in class, at the expense of missing content which can be valuable in the professional growth. In the end, is a decision in which they must exercise pragmatism and prudence.

I would love to say that none of my students use “Whatsapp” of “Facebook” in class. Some of them do. However, by understanding their environment, most of my students usually pay close attention to the material in class. This is not a recipe, but rather a lesson. By exercising empathy with our students, we can teach about the discipline that is needed to use legal tech.

2. Emotional intelligence for a human profession.

Nearly every aspect of the day-to-day legal practice is now affected by automation in one way or another. However, a lawyer in the era of legal tech is not characterized by simply knowing digitalization, blockchain in the legal services, data analytics, and cybersecurity. A great lawyer in the era of legal tech exercises emotional intelligence when dealing with clients. At is core, legal advice remains a human profession.

It is usual to hear the misconception that a lawyer must focus, predominantly, on the law. However, in an era of New-Law [3] and legal tech, lawyers are becoming more person-centered, and not exclusively law-centered. In the words of Dan DeFoe [4], Owner and Lead Consultant at legal organizational development group Adlitem Solutions: “When lawyers become more person-centered, and not exclusively problem-centered, the lawyer/client relationship can blossom and improve.”

When lawyers exercise emotional intelligence with their clients a better service can be provided. The competitive advantage lawyers still have over legal tech is the emotional intelligence that can be exercised in certain situations. For example, legal tech is not (yet) suited to advice a heartbroken client for a divorce. For instance, Laura Dern won an Academy Award for her role as a divorce attorney in “Marriage Story”. She characterized how a lawyer can focus on the law but, at the same time, exercise emotional intelligence with their client and help them navigate a conflict. Maybe, in some ways, lawyers that exercise emotional intelligence with their clients deserve an award.

The need for emotional intelligence in the legal profession can be conveyed to students. By exercising empathy, impulse control, humility, assertiveness, tolerance and flexibility, students can learn that emotional intelligence is key in an era of overwhelming automation and digitalization. For example, you could explode in rage if a student is caught using Facebook in class. However, by exercising emotional intelligence, that action can be used to teach a valuable lesson.

You can show your students how Facebook is related, in some way or another to the material. Alternatively, you could use the time to ask your students how they are feeling and how you can make the class more appealing. That does not mean that an educator should give in to every simple request. Being assertive as an educator does not mean being mad, feared or unapproachable. On the contrary, a good educator should exercise emotional intelligence and recognize that there is always room for improvement.

An educator in the legal profession is not a mere broadcaster of the law. An educator can teach and exemplify the need of emotional intelligence in the profession. In my experience, students appreciate when they receive advice to overcome adversity, manage stress and provide them with other tools to be resilient. That does not make educators experts in emotional intelligence, but simply human. In the end, in an era of automation, human emotions will remain unautomated.

3. Innovation in law is not a synonym of legal tech.

Too often lawyers tend to equate innovation, collaboration and creativity in law with legal tech. However, they are not the same. In a legal market where clients are demanding increased efficiency, lower costs, process optimization and accessible services, we must teach our students that innovation can be implemented without the use of legal tech.

Legal tech can certainly help to innovate, but some of the most impactful innovations in law are the result of a service transformation in disguise. Even if clients would love for their lawyers to create new technologies, what the client really wants, technology or not, is abetter way to provide legal services.

Educators have to enlighten students that innovation in law is not a synonym of legal tech.

Furthermore, educators must teach students that innovation, collaboration and creativity are strong components for a successful career in the era of legal tech. Rarely lawyers are taught how to innovate. In the words of the magnificent Michele DeStefano: “[i]nnovation should be a required key discipline in legal education and training for both practicing and aspiring lawyers. The bonus is that in learning how to innovate, lawyers not only develop into the type of service providers clients desire, but they also develop as leaders.”

To date, much of the learning for innovation has been happening on the job as the market evolves. However, clients and employers will greatly value graduates who already possess training and knowledge for innovation in the legal market. However, before teaching about innovation, educators must innovate as well. This call for innovation relates to the methodologies educators use to teach their students.

4. Is not the course, is the methodology?

If you are familiar with the system in civil-law countries, law school usually takes 5-6 years.

As a student in this system, you take courses such as History, Roman Law (and in case you are wondering, yes, from actual ancient Rome) and other introductory courses. As a student, you struggle to find the real need to take these courses. Some have gone to the extreme to ask for the eradication of such introductory courses from the academic program.

On the other hand, in a common-law system you go into law school after obtaining your undergraduate degree, in which you have taken different courses. For instance, a first-year law student (“1L”) will take classes such as Contracts, Constitutional Law, Tort Law, Property Law or other similar specific courses. However, even in that system, students struggle to visualize when they will get to the “real” classes of law. By “real”, they mean to more complex topics such as Mergers and Acquisitions, Corporations, Business Finance, Criminal Law. In the end, students just want to “feel” like Harvey Specter in Suits.

Regardless if you are a student from a civil-law system of a common-law system, the struggle is the same. Students do not enjoy a lecture in which educator talks non-stop with the use of a white-colored PowerPoint. Although students can formulate questions and interrupt the educator, most courses still use a passive lecture system. Legal pedagogy has historically focused on the notion that the educator has the knowledge and the student must listen.

Some schools incorporate Socratic dialogues as a part of their methodology to teach students. However, in the words of Robin Boyle [5]: “the Socratic approach to case method teaching is premised upon the assumption that law students are actively engaged while a dialogue proceeds between a single student and a professor. This may be true for a handful of students who have learning-style strengths in auditory learning. But most students do not learn well this way (…)”

Most of the courses remain unaltered in the methodology in which the content is taught. Therefore, educators must be innovative and implement "active learning" strategies to teach students. Just as Gerald Hess [6] suggests: "[a]ctive learning promotes higher level thinking (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) and develops skills, both of which are prominent goals of most adult education, including law school.”

An active learning methodology requires the student to participate in the learning process, rather than passively receive information from the educator. There are immense alternatives and options for active learning methodologies such as writing, discussion, peer teaching, research, internships, and community experiences. However, in my experience, students appreciate when we can relate their learning experience with real cases.

For instance, the final exam in my Lawyering Skills course could have been a written final exam. However, by understanding the context and surrounding of my students I made a different activity. First, they had to watch “The Great Hack” on Netflix, a movie that tackles the scandals surrounding Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Donald Trump and the elections in the United States.

Afterwards, students had to read a specific case regarding data protection from the Guatemalan Constitutional Court. Finally, students had to present a legal brief and simulate a hearing, using the facts from the movie but applying the rules from the Constitutional Court. There are more details attached to the exercise. However, this active methodology gave the student and actual approach to real life situations, letting them exercise some creativity.

In the end, just like lawyers, educators must innovate and find methodologies that are appealing to our students. Sometimes it will take some trial and error, but every innovation comes with courage, lack of fear, and the acceptance of possible mistakes. Active methodologies should help the student enthusiastically think about the case instead of just reading it. Rather than eliminating courses that have value, educators must incorporate active learning methodologies. If this sounds hard, it is. However, active learning in the era of legal tech is not unattainable.

In the era of legal tech, a lawyer is not well regarded depending on its note-taking abilities. Technology has even disrupted the note-taking process. Consequently, a great lawyer in the legal tech era is characterized by understanding concepts and learning how to apply them in real life situations.

5. Inspire, motivate, energize.

Finally, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is the need to inspire, motivate and energize your students. Unfortunately, is not as easy as it sounds. A successful educator invests time, effort and energy to keep their students motivated. Certain hacks I have learned to motivate and inspire my students are the following:

  • Make your classes memorable: Always bring something special or peculiar to class. It could be as simple as a “dad-joke” or a visually appealing presentation. Make your students remember you by how different your class was.

  • Draw Connections to Real Life: Use real life experiences and show them how a concept or a topic could be used in their day to day as lawyers.

  • Energy and enthusiasm: Give students opportunities to interact with each other, have fun and learn at the same time. Deliver the content, showing why you are interested in the material.

  • Exemplify your passion for teaching: What keeps students motivated is a motivated educator. If you have a passion for teaching and it shows, your students are propense to show a passion for learning in your class.

  • Let students be responsible for their learning process: Let students choose their interest and create active projects that interest them. Furthermore, assess their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways, not only using tests.

  • Believe in them: Do not underestimate the abilities, knowledge and capabilities of your students. In an era of accessible information, your students might surprise you. Believe in your students and, in most occasions, it will exceed your expectations.

  • Have honest conversations: Let your classroom be an open floor to discuss their likes, dislikes and ways to improve the teaching process. Just as the lawyer exists for the client, the educator exists for the student. Educators must adapt to their students, not the other way around teaching process. Just as the lawyer exists for the client, the educator exists for the student. Educators must adapt to their students, not the other way around.

Conclusion

Legal pedagogy needs to evolve rapidly and adapt to the real-life expectations from students. Technology has disrupted the classroom and the legal market. Hence, the legal profession is no longer immune to technological disruption.

Educators must teach students the appropriate use of technology, a tool which will ultimately change the way lawyers practice law. Opportunities to innovate as educators are abundant. We just need to understand our students, their needs and the generational context in which they are living. Furthermore, educators must provide students with the tools to connect, grow and innovate not only with class content, but also with each other, the world around them and the legal market.

I can see a future in which educators will encourage innovation and creativity, preparing students for the new reality of practicing law. In the end, the future of legal education in an era of legal technologies will rely in encouraging soft skills and other human elements of the lawyer that cannot be automated.

Notes

[1] Duarte, M. (2018, November 22). High Technology Arbitration. Retrieved from https://www.legalbusinessworld.com/single-post/2018/11/22/High-Technology-Arbitration

[2] Deloitte, Welcome to Generation Z. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/consumer-business/welcome-to-gen-z.pdf

[3] NewLaw, a term coined in 2013 byEric Chin, refers to process or alternative to provide legal services and is a significant different approach that what has been traditionally employed.

[4] Defoe, D. (2013, February 15) Emotional Intelligence, Lawyers, and Empathy–Using The Power of Listening With Care to Build Better Professional Relationships and Satisfy Clients. Retrieved from https://www.psycholawlogy.com/2012/11/25/emotional-intelligence-lawyers-and-empathyusing-the-power-of-listening-with-care-to-build-better-professional-relationships-and-satisfy-clients/

[5] Boyle, R. (2008). Employing Active-Learning Techniques and Metacognition in Law School: Shifting Energy from Professor to Student. St. John's University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series.

[6] Hess, G. (2002). Heads and Hearts: The Teaching and Learning Environment in Law School, 52 J. LEGAL EDUC. 75, 102

About the Author

Mauricio Duarte is an International Associate in A2J Tech Store with a J.D. from Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City and an LLM degree in U.S. Law from the University of St.Thomas (Minnesota). Mr. Duartes serves as a Professor for Universidad Francisco Marroquín teaching: a) Lawyering Skills I & II; and, b) Networking & Technology Resources. Furthermore, he is an active coach for International Arbitration Moot Court Competitions.

Mr. Duarte has been an active proponent of the use of technology in the legal industry and is a member of the TAG Alliances Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Specialty Group Member. Recently Mr. Duarte became a Fellow for the the Kleros Decentralized Justice Fellowship (Law & Society), while launching the Legal Hackers Podcast (In Spanish).

#MauricioDuarte #NeedtoRead #AllUpdates

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