Technology Training for Lawyers

OKCOMPITER.jpgDuring a session at AALS, author James Albus suggested that, within 20 years, laptops would have the cognitive capacities of a first-year associate. As an AI skeptic, I find this hard to believe. But Albus’s claim brought to mind some reflections on the challenges new technology poses to legal educators. What do our students need to know about document management, word processing, and other new software and hardware as they enter practice? Perhaps more importantly, how do we develop critical thinking skills that reduce their vulnerability to displacement via automation?

One of my biggest surprises at the law firm was how much a young litigator’s work depended on a very good working knowledge of Microsoft Word. Everyone used “track changes,” but I had barely heard of it upon arrival. You had to be pretty tech-oriented just to keep your blackberry, laptop, and home computer synched. You also had to be a quick legal researcher–many of the more interesting clients wanted only a few hours spent on a given task. Finally, case management software was extremely important–databases of tens of thousands of documents were not uncommon, and one had to be ready to serve up whatever was needed in a matter of minutes.

Now that I’ve been away a few years, I wonder if technology has advanced to the point where all these tasks are a lot more intuitive–or if growing complexity has just added to the number of technical skills new laywers need. Moreover, does it make sense to presume that all new lawyers need a similar set of skills–or are the capacities of government, large firms, small firms, and NGO’s so different that aspirants to jobs in any of these sectors need different types of skills?

Any thoughts on these issues from readers? Apparently Gene Koo at Harvard’s Berkman Center is partnering with Lexis/Nexis to hold discussions on the issue and produce a white paper. I look forward to seeing their work on the topic.

Photo Credit: Flickr/pbear6150.

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