How will tomorrow’s lawyer compete with technology?

From FOI Alyson Carrel:

In the article Machines v. Lawyers, Northwestern Law Professor John McGinnis argues that the advancement of technology and ability of machines to complete more complicated tasks is the blame for our recent decline in law school admissions. He says that while many blame the recession, “the plight of legal education and of the attorney workplace is also a harbinger of a looming transformation in the legal profession.” By replicating the work that lawyers do, he says that technology is changing the market not only with more efficient practices, but effectively shrinking the need for new lawyers. His examples include the use of predictive coding in e-discovery, aggregators to do complex case analysis, and the ability to automate will creation and even complex contracts thanks to advances in technology.

So how we do we prepare our students for the changing legal market, to make their skills relevant again and distinguish them from the machines so increasingly used to replicate legal tasks? One idea McGinnis posits is focusing more on problem-solving skills and negotiation. He writes:

To match the wide variety of tasks that lawyers will undertake in a world increasingly defined by machines, law schools will need to differentiate themselves in cost and function. No longer can every school aspire to be a junior varsity Yale. Some schools will ask faculty to teach more, even at the expense of legal scholarship, or use adjuncts who write no scholarship, thereby slashing costs. Many schools will substitute videos for some live instruction. They can then redeploy some professors to focus on improving legal writing and problem-solving skills. Negotiation may get more emphasis, as it contains emotional elements that machines cannot easily replicate.

He’s right and it is encouraging to hear others outside the ADR world say it. We all know technology presents a profound shift in many aspects of society. As legal educators, we discuss how best to teach our students emerging technology –how to teach best practices about could computing and confidentiality, or social networking and professionalism, or how to counsel clients about e-discovery. While a machine can now aggregate great amounts of information in a short period of time to provide better case analyses and more accurate BATNA analysis, we still need great problem-solvers to craft the unique solutions tailored to meet the unique problems of unique individuals.

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