Forget the Future, Let’s Bring the Present Into Legal Education

I’m writing this post from (at the moment) sunny Winnipeg where I am attending the Canadian Association of Law Libraries annual conference. But I’m not going to talk about that today. Instead, what I want to focus on is Simon Canick‘s* recent article, “Infusing Technology Skills into the Law School Curriculum.” [1] I’ve been mentioning this article to many of my CALL colleagues and I think you can imagine why the title caught my attention.

When you look at the average law or university student you might find it odd that a question about technology skills is raised at all. Most are continuously tethered to the network through their smart phones. Many prefer laptops, rather than pen and paper, to record lecture notes in the classroom. After all, these folks have been brought up on technology; this is the so-called “digital native” generation.

So, if you ask a professor to consider adding technology skills as a component of their teaching, it’s not surprising to learn many might feel this unnecessary given their students apparent facility with their gadgets. However, Canick notes, these “abilities are oriented towards their personal, social and educational needs, and may not be well-matched with professional skills needed in the practice of law,” and he adds that “their understanding of technology is shallow.”

Another factor, raised in Canick’s opening remarks, is that “legal education has never considered technological proficiency to be a key outcome.” So why include it now? I find that someone might even pose this question fascinating. At a time when technological change and innovation are so heavily influencing the practice of law, the practice of teaching law has somehow managed to ignore the potential effects technology might have on the legal profession.

Canick observes:

“Technology may be transforming legal practice, but that transformation has hardly changed the way law professors teach. Many are change-averse, and use the methods that their own professors employed a generation before. Doctrinal courses often feature lectures, Socratic dialogue, and final exams. In many classes, technology (to the extent it is used at all) appears in the form of PowerPoint presentations and syllabi posted to TWEN or some other course management system.”

He suggests that the following key technologies would do well to find their way into the law school curriculum:

  • E-discovery
  • Presentation Skills
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Marketing/Web Design/Social Media
  • Hardware/Software/Mobile
  • Legal Research
  • Document/Case/Practice Management

For each of these topics he provides valuable context and suggestions for incorporating these technological competencies into the curriculum suggesting that this will “afford students an opportunity to practice with tools of the trade.”

Canick‘s concluding remarks in many ways reinforce comments that Mitch Kowalski made in this morning’s plenary talk.

“For lawyers, effective use of technology means new clients, stronger work product, and more efficient use of time; for law students it means better job prospects and a smoother transition into practice. Truly, technology is transforming the practice of law, so much so that the ABA now views understanding the benefits and risks of technology as an attorney competency. Under these circumstances, law schools should train students to understand, select, and use key technologies.”

Simon Canick has provided another well-reasoned and highly readable article**, that includes considerable research detail to support his observations and recommendations. Anyone involved with legal education will certainly benefit from this article as will anyone practising law in the fast moving and technological environment that we find ourselves negotiating.

* Associate Dean, Information Resources and Associate Professor of Law at William Mitchell College of Law
** See also, for example, his “Library Services for the Self-Interested Law School: Enhancing the Visibility of Faculty Scholarship

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