The career paths and prospects for young lawyers are markedly different than recent generations. A law degree was once a passport to a stable, predictable, and financially secure career. Most lawyers began their careers with little or no student debt and entered a marketplace where on-the-job training and mentorship were provided. The situation is different today from the day a student enrolls in law school. The cost of legal education has risen approximately 400% during the past quarter century, leaving many grads with six-figure student loans to pay off. Worse still, law schools do not expose them to marketplace conditions that demand they be ‘practice ready’ and equipped with skills beyond a knowledge of doctrinal law. The Grateful Dead comes to mind– ‘Well the first days are the hardest days, don’t you worry any more….’ [Read more…]
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the regulatory body that oversees the legal profession in England and Wales, has enacted a major overhaul of legal training and solicitor licensure to take effect in 2020. Gone is the requirement solicitors must acquire a law degree for practice. In its place is a competency-based examination offering different paths to becoming a solicitor. The exam will not spell the end of traditional legal education in the UK—no doubt many aspiring solicitors will opt for some form of traditional legal study. But the exam’s emphasis on competency based learning and its experiential requirements will undoubtedly serve to update outdated legal curricula, reduce law student debt, and better serve the public by ensuring new entrants to the profession have core competency and a modicum of practical experience. If this sounds like medical training, it does to me, too.
Mark Cohen, founder and CEO of Legal Mosaic, talks with Lee Pacchia about legal education and the legal marketplace. Cohen notes “You can’t consider law schools without considering the legal market place.” He explains the interplay between the two and the need for greater collaboration between the Academy and the private sector.
Harvard Law School has announced that it will be digitizing its vast collection of U.S. case law and making it available free online. Ravel Law, a commercial research and legal analytics company is partnering with Harvard and funding the substantial cost of converting the collection from print to electronic format. The project is called “Free the Law.”
In an article appearing in the October 28, 2015 edition of The New York Times, Erik Eckholm writes:
“Now, in a digital age sacrifice intended to serve grand intentions, the Harvard librarians are slicing off the spines of all but the rarest volumes and feeding some 40 million pages through a high speed scanner. They are taking this once unthinkable step to create a complete, searchable database of American case law that will be offered free on the Internet, allowing instant retrieval of vital records that usually must be paid for.”
“Free the Law” has significant implications for the legal vertical and beyond.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines scholarship as: “the serious study of an academic subject and the knowledge and methods involved.” If we accept this definition and apply it to “legal scholarship,” there is a disconnect. Law professors are the profession’s self-designated “scholars.” But many of them have never practiced law. So how can they be deemed to have an understanding of “the knowledge and methods” of practice? And with little or no practice experience and an unfamiliarity with trends in the marketplace, how is their scholarship relevant to the tectonic shift in legal delivery?
This begs the question: why do law school professors have a stranglehold on legal scholarship? What about leading practitioners who help shape the law? And what about legal entrepreneurs who are reengineering the structures and methods by which legal services are being delivered?
And why are legal thought leaders not deemed to be engaged in legal scholarship when they explain-sometimes demystify-the legal ecosystem to law students, lawyers, and the general public? Why are these individuals, many of whom have drawn their scholarship from first-hand experience-not secondary sources-not considered legal scholars by the Academy? After all, was it not lawyers who decreed that hearsay is generally inadmissible? So much of what passes for legal scholarship is hearsay because so little of it has been derived from first-hand experience? [Read more…]
Lawyers parse words and define terms. So why do they so often use “legal practice” and “legal delivery” interchangeably when the terms have such different meanings and implications? This distinction is especially important in the context of the tectonic shift occurring in the legal vertical. The practice of law is very different than the delivery of law. This is more than a semantic distinction.
The Practice of Law Has not changed all that Much
The practice of law has not changed much since I became a lawyer a few decades ago (Jimmy Carter was President and the Pittsburgh Pirates won the World Series). Trial, corporate, and the other practice areas are pretty much as they were then as are the Rules of Evidence, Professional Responsibility, and other core precepts that govern lawyers and guide their practice. Yes, international practice has become more prevalent and practice areas like IP have taken on heightened prominence, but choice of law, forum non conveniens, and all those other things lawyers struggled to master for the Bar exam have changed little over the years.
Some will say, “but what about technology?” Certainly, technology is now a part of legal life-just as it is in virtually every other facet of our existence. Technology is no longer a vertical; it has become a horizontal. And this certainly applies to its impact upon law. But it is not so much the practice of law that it affects-what lawyers do and how they do it. Rather, technology has profoundly changed the delivery of legal services- how and by what structure those services are best rendered and by whom. Technology has been a key factor in creating a legal supply chain in a vertical where, until relatively recently, law firms were the sole outsourced legal service providers.
Electronic discovery has exponentially increased the volume of data-and ironic that technology generally drives costs down and promotes efficiency except with law firms. At the same time, privilege, relevance, and other legal precepts governing the production and evidentiary value of that data have scarcely changed. What is different is client unwillingness to pay BigLaw rates for high volume, low value work such as document review. [Read more…]