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How Law Schools Should Train Law Students In The New Age

Law is entering a new consumer-driven age.

And that’s why Mark A. Cohen, a contributor at Forbes, argues that legal education needs to shift how it is training lawyers.

“The news is challenging for law schools, most of whom seem impervious to marketplace changes that are reshaping what it means to be a lawyer and how and for whom they will work,” Cohen writes.

Traditionally Thinking Like A Lawyer

Law schools, Cohen argues, have traditionally trained students to “think like a lawyer.”

Curricula is often structured to encompass six main components, according to Cohen: hone critical thinking, teach doctrinal law using the Socratic method, provide “legal writing techniques and fluency in the “language of law,” advance oral advocacy and presentation skills, encourage risk-aversion and mistake avoidance, refine issue identification and “what ifs,” and teach legal ethics.

“Law schools still teach this way even as the marketplace has changed markedly, particularly during the past decade,” Cohen writes.

But Cohen argues that the legal industry is no longer just about “thinking like a lawyer.” Rather, he argues, legal consumers are the drivers of value.

“Law is no longer solely about lawyers; law firms are not the default provider of legal services; legal practice is no longer synonymous with legal delivery; the legal buy/sell balance of power has shifted from lawyers to legal buyers; lawyers do not control both sides of legal buy/sell; and the function and role of most lawyers is changing as digital transformation has made legal consumers—not lawyers—the arbiters of value,” he writes.

Thinking Like A Lawyer Has Changed

The traditional ways law schools teach students to “think like a lawyer” have changed.

Cohen argues that legal knowledge, traditionally, was the only pre-requisite for a legal career. Today, “thinking like a lawyer” or more importantly, being a lawyer, requires more.

“Thinking like a lawyer today means focusing on client objectives, thinking holistically – not simply ‘like a lawyer,’ understanding business, melding legal knowledge with process/project management skills, and having a working knowledge of how technology and data impact the delivery of legal services,” Cohen writes.

Additionally, lawyers today need to be able to work with others who aren’t lawyers.

“Lawyers no longer function in a lawyer-centric environment—now, they routinely collaborate with other legal professionals, paraprofessionals, and machines,” Cohen argues. “Thinking like a lawyer means understanding the client’s business—not simply its “legal” risks. It also means collaborating with others in the legal supply chain, ensuring that the “right” resources are deployed to drive client value, working efficiently, capturing intellectual capital, using data, and advancing client objectives.”

How Law Schools Should Change The Way They Teach

The legal industry is changing in ways many law schools still don’t understand.

According to Deloitte, 39% of all legal jobs will be automated within a decade. That means, lawyers will need to adapt their skillset if they hope to keep up with the pace of automation.

Michael Legg, an associate law professor at the University of New South Wales, argues in a paper that lawyers need to not only understand and employ new technology, but also have a collection of skills that will make them “practice-ready.”

Those skills include: practice skills (interpersonal and professional skills), business skills, project management, internationalization and cross-border practice of law, inter-disciplinary experience, and resilience.

To prepare students for this new age of law, Cohen argues that law schools need to shift how they are training law students.

“All law schools should provide grads with: a command of doctrinal law “basics” including legal ethics; critical thinking; people and collaboration skills; business, tech, and data analytics basics; marketplace awareness; a learning-for-life mentality; and an understanding that law is a profession and a business,” Cohen writes.

Sources: Forbes, Michael Legg, Deloitte