Receiving a Digital Legal Education

This past week I attended a mini-conference at Harvard Law sponsored by the Berkman Center’s Law Lab.  The purpose of the conference was to discuss ways that law schools and others interested in educating legal professionals can create a curriculum that provides the practitioner with the necessary tools to practice in an increasingly digital world.

The first part of the conference focused on case studies where law professors or educators had created courses or programs that successfully taught students how to use technology in the practice of law, including topics such as cloud computing, the ethics and security risks of using the Internet, document assembly, online case management, etc.  The second part of the conference was a discussion about how to integrate digital lawyering into a law school curriculum so that future legal professionals will have the necessary education to serve their clients using technology.

While some law schools may teach separate courses related to elawyering concepts, the consensus from the group was that these concepts need to be integrated into current courses or as a separate, required course for law school graduation.  Realistically, any legal professional starting out today would be negligent to enter the practice without understanding how technology will play a role in his or her interactions with clients, other professionals and the justice system.  I was surprised to learn from some of the conference attendees that their students, while younger and perhaps more used to using technology to communicate on a daily basis, seem to be less concerned with privacy issues and less aware of the security risks involved in sending confidential information over the Internet unencrypted.

While I’m sure there are different levels of technology awareness within a law school student body, our clients deserve the assurance that when they select a professional for their legal needs, they receive one who knows how to navigate technology.  This education is necessary whether the attorney is delivering legal services online through a virtual law practice or just using online practice management tools that may compromise the confidentiality of the client’s personal information.  Avoiding the use of technology in practice management is not a realistic option anymore.  Therefore, it has to be something that is provided to lawyers before they dive into practice, whether private practice or within a law firm where they may be expected to follow a firm’s policy for the use of the technology.

Below are a few examples of courses or programs that are successfully working to provide a digital education.  Some of them have links to resources for the course or to online publications by the educator.  Major karma goes out to the professors and individuals who make their materials public for the benefit of those of us who did not receive a digital education during our time in law school.

I’m happy to say that the following examples are just skimming the surface of what seems to be a long overdue evolution in legal education. Thankfully several of the advancements are multidisciplinary with a strong emphasis on innovation in delivery of legal services through entrepreneurship.  No matter how far removed you may be from your law school days, the quality of digital education available for current students impacts our entire profession and is worth our support.

  • The Berkman Center’s Law Lab – Check out the Digital LLC project and Cloud Law.
  • Prof. Clark Cunningham, Georgia State University – Uses Clio to introduce students to cloud-based practice management.
  • International Forum on Teaching Legal Ethics and Professionalism – open to explore or register and post content, teaching materials, etc. (in beta)
  • Prof. Paul Maharg,University of Northumbria Law School – Check out the slideshare presentations.   In this open source learning and teaching environment, law students enter a virtual world to conduct simulated legal transactions.
  • Prof. Brian Donnelly, Columbia University – Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic
  • Prof. Ronald Staudt, University of Chicago-Kent School of Law – Justice and Technology Practicum
  • Prof. Oliver Goodenough, Vermont Law School – Digital Drafting course. Video or audio of the Berkman Center’s session with John Clippinger and Oliver Goodenough on Cloud Law, Finance 3.0, and Digital Institutions.

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