Why Digital Lawyering Matters to Law Students

The growth of new technologies in the workplace is leading to significant change within the legal profession.

As a result, the term ‘digital lawyering’, commonly used to mean the incorporation of these new technologies into legal practice, is becoming used far more frequently.

Below Emma Jones, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Sheffield, explains the importance for law students to have an insight into what this means both for the profession and for themselves.

Changes to the legal profession

For students who want to enter into legal practice, it is important that they are aware of the changes these technologies are bringing to the roles that are available. For example, if thinking of specialising in wills and probate it is important to be aware that automated document assembly using decision-trees or similar systems is taking the place of much of the physical will drafting that used to be required.

Such changes also mean that the types of legal services clients are looking for will continue to evolve. It may be clients will seek to unbundle the legal services they use, for example a company may buy-in assistance with certain elements of a matter whilst handling other matters in-house. Law firms are likely to put increasing pressure on their employees to provide clients with high quality, personalised client care, to ensure they can attract and retain sufficient clients to remain profitable.

Of course, the growth of technology also opens up new opportunities and areas of law, with clients requiring advice and assistance on regulations governing the use of technology and associated issues such as privacy and intellectual property protection. The shape of the legal profession itself is also changing, with roles such as that of a legal knowledge engineer, facilitating the development of legal tech tools, becoming more frequently advertised. This provides lawyers with opportunities to learn new skills, collaborate with people from different backgrounds and potentially innovate in their provision of legal services.

The growth of technology also opens up new opportunities and areas of law, with clients requiring advice and assistance on regulations governing the use of technology and associated issues such as privacy and intellectual property protection.

Even for those in more traditional legal roles, the shift to digital lawyering is likely to make a difference in day-to-day practice. Clients are likely to expect speedy responses to email, rather than waiting for a letter in the post, legal research will be conducted online, support staff roles are likely to change as voice recognition software supplants the use of Dictaphones, online systems for case management, time recording and billing are becoming common. New ways of communication mean that flexible and home working becomes easier and more efficient, but also potentially places more demands on lawyers to offer 24/7 availability to their firm and/or clients.

The challenges and opportunities of technology

For those students who aren’t seeking a legal career, it is still important to be aware of the impact of technology on society. Whatever profession or industry you enter, it is likely that technology will significantly influence its development over the next few decades. Understanding the ways in which work and technology interact and influence each other will help you to evaluate what the implications are likely to be within your own chosen career.

In addition, studying digital lawyering is a great way to develop your critical thinking skills. It offers a great case study for considering ethical, cultural and professional issues and expanding your understanding of the relationship between law and society. Examples such as potential breaches of client confidentiality on social media and issues caused by the storage of legal files on the Cloud raise interesting and contemporary issues to explore and debate.

Understanding digital lawyering

Although the predictions of commentators such as Richard Susskind, which seem to herald the end of the legal profession as we know it, have not yet come to pass, digital lawyering is now a reality for many within the legal profession. The extent of this ranges from firms using online case management systems, such as Clio, to the creation of a new departments and centres for law tech innovation, such as Fuse by Allen & Overy.

As a law student, and a prospective legal professional, you are unlikely to need to know how to code or have an in-depth understanding of the workings of a computer. However, you will need an awareness and understanding of the role and impact of technology within the legal sector. Developing such an insight will assist you with your critical thinking and provide you with a valuable talking point with potential employees. It will also allow you to reflect on your own existing skillset, what new skills you may need to develop, and how you can best equip yourself for work in the digital age.

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