Blog/Podcast: 4 Ways Law Students Are Embracing Innovation & Technology—And Why Law Firms Should Be Paying Attention

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The practice of law is changing, and law schools are changing with it. Schools are increasingly incorporating technology and innovation into their curriculum, with Suffolk University being a leading example.

Gabriel Teninbaum, professor of legal writing and director of Suffolk’s Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology, takes great care to ensure that his students are well prepared to adapt to the changing industry. He joined the Law Firm Marketing Catalyst podcast to talk about the courses he teaches and explain how the next generation of law students will solve legal problems in totally new ways. Here are four things to expect from today’s emerging lawyers:

  1. They’re knowledgeable about emerging tech. Many law schools are teaching students the importance of technology and innovation early on in their studies—particularly at Suffolk, where these conversations start at orientation. The earlier students are introduced to legal tech, the more interested in it they become, and the easier it is for them to see the value of it. The result is a generation of young lawyers who embrace technology and know how to use it effectively in any area of the law they go into.

Students coming out of law school today have an understanding of legal tools on the market, such as document assembly tools and expert systems. They know about data analytics. They’re familiar with new business models for the delivery of legal services and they know how to apply principles such as design thinking to solve legal problems. Firms must recognize the value of these skills and give associates the opportunity to run with them.

  1. They know how to flex their creative muscles to solve problems. At least at Suffolk, technology and innovation courses look much different from traditional law school classes. Instead of using the Socratic method, these classes encourage students to follow their passions and flex creative muscles that they don’t often get to use.

For example, if Gabriel is teaching students how to do document assembly, he might ask them to partner with a legal aid clinic and build a real tool that the organization can use, rather than just talk about it in a classroom. In Civil Procedure, students are challenged to create an automatic expert system that allows anyone to perform Erie doctrine analysis. These assignments not only teach students how to think differently about legal problems, but also how to solve them more efficiently.

The result? A pool of young lawyers who approach legal practice in an entirely new way. These lawyers are prepared to solve their clients’ problems with never-before-seen strategies and push the industry into the 21st century.

  1. They’re not taking traditional career paths. Many students are pursuing career paths that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Numerous Suffolk grads are working at legal tech start-ups or innovation and tech teams at Am Law 200 firms. Even students who go on to become associates tend to build their practices on a foundation of innovation. One of Gabriel’s students negotiated a completely new role at a firm, where she bills 1,500 hours a year toward traditional legal work and 500 hours toward legal innovation work, such as process mapping and document assembly system creation. It’s a win for everyone involved because the associate gets to work on what she loves, and the firm benefits hugely from her efforts.If firms want to attract this kind of young talent, they need to be open to new possibilities. The best and brightest associates are looking for opportunities that allow them to be creative and think deeply about their work processes. That can’t always happen in a traditional associate role. Instead, consider how your firm might allow young lawyers more flexibility to innovate.
  2. They appreciate working with people who embrace tech, too. There’s no reason to leave all the innovation to the younger generation. Now that technology is more accessible than ever, anyone can learn how to apply new tools and thought processes to their work.Whether you’re a managing partner, a legal marketer or other non-JD staff, there are lots of ways to get up to date on the latest innovations. Suffolk offers an online Legal Innovation and Technology certificate, which takes the best of the school’s JD program and makes it available to practicing legal professionals. There are also tons of free resources on YouTube.

No matter how you brush up on your tech knowledge, the most important thing you can do is put it into action. Push yourself to stop thinking about things and start doing them, even if that means making a few mistakes along the way. Your efforts will be deeply appreciated by young lawyers and it will make your working relationship with them even stronger.

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