How Suffolk Law School is Reviving Legal Education
Remember Webcrawler? Excite? Lycos? They were all precursors to Google. And where are they now? Who cares!
Many times, innovation doesn’t originate with the largest organizations. It starts with the upstarts. Realizing they can’t go toe-to-toe with the establishment, they carve out new markets and disrupt old models. Unless the big players accept, adapt, and execute, they simply suffocate under their own weight.
Well, education is no different. Take law schools. For decades, they seemed immune to competition. Everyone needs a lawyer eventually, right? From divorce to delinquency to death, you can’t put your life back together without a lawyer. Even if you lead a charmed life, lawyers control the rules…and have a funny way of keeping themselves relevant.
But now? Well, you can get legal advice from an attorney in India for a fraction of the fee. Need to draft a will or set up an LLC? Go to LegalZoom (or some software package). Fact is, technology is making you more self-reliant. You don’t need some attorney steeped in arcane cases to handle the basics. You only need them when something really big (and really bad) happens. And how many lawyers do we really need for that?
This realization is starting to drive institutions like the Suffolk Law School to innovate themselves. Although Suffolk is only ranked #144 in the latest US News and World Report rankings, it will likely soon be moving up in the measure that really matters: Preparing students for the legal jobs of tomorrow.
That has been the problem of law schools, according to Suffolk law professor Andy Perlman. He sums up the challenge of legal education this way: “A lot of people would agree that legal education today looks a lot like it did decades ago. Yet, the delivery of law services looks very different today than it did even 10 to 15 years ago…We used to imagine that lawyers could be trained up in a particular skill set or knowledge. Today, the marketplace is changing just so quickly, they need to be able to renew their skills, learn new skills … and go into new areas that never existed when they were in law school.”
So how is Suffolk Law School reducing this skill mismatch? For starters, the school launched its Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation this spring, which analyzes how technology is shaping the practice of law. The institute also identifies how this shift provides opportunities. For example, the institute has produced a mobile app to help lawyers find legal resources. It will also be testing Google Glass in the classroom.
The school has also established a new Legal Technology and Innovation concentration, with courses covering legal technologies like, “automated document assembly, legal project management, knowledge management and virtual lawyering.”
So why is this so important: In a word: Jobs. According to Steven J. Harper’s The Lawyer Bubble, there are six lawyers for every new law opening. Often, technical aptitude and an entrepreneurial mindset are key differentiators. To make Suffolk students more competitive in the marketplace, Perlman believes they must “train up our graduates in this new skill set and knowledge base (so) we make them more attractive to traditional employers.” What’s more, this curriculum, according to Perelman, prepares student to adapt to changes in the legal landscape that they cannot yet foresee. In being able to recognize and act on new niches – and make themselves more cost-effective through technology – students stand a better chance of a longer and more lucrative legal careers.
Yes, business is littered with companies who refused to acknowledge change until the very last minute. By then, it is too late. Suffolk Law School is working to get ahead of the curve. And they are turning themselves into a model for others to follow in the process.