Blockchain is dramatically affecting key elements of the traditional way that law has been practiced. Clearly, it will have a massive impact on how the next generation of lawyers will practice law. But how ready is that generation for the changes they face? What are law schools doing to prepare them?
The good news
A recent study identified at least 38 U.S. law schools that offer programs or courses that explore technology as it pertains to law. In addition, some of the more technology-mindful schools also offer extracurricular opportunities that expand students’ understanding of emerging technologies.
Other institutions offer useful training in the convergence of the two disciplines, as well. MIT, although it does not have a law school, offers courses and extracurricular activities that explore the effect that blockchain and other technologies exert on the legal profession.
Training in these technologies is not limited to the U.S., either. Such opportunities exist around the world. Institutions in Canada, Cyprus and South Africa, to name just three countries, regularly hold training on blockchain and related technologies designed to help lawyers fulfill their duty to remain professionally competent.
The bad news
Although it’s encouraging to see that at least 38 law schools include technology-related courses in their curricula, it means that nearly 200 recognized law schools do not. Furthermore, according to the survey, some law schools offer nothing more than one basic overview course on “Technology and Law” – hardly enough to prepare students for the brave new world they will face.
Some of the 38 law schools offer even less. Among the courses considered in the survey to focus on technology were ones on how to make effective use of Microsoft Word, Excel, PDFs and off-the-shelf case management software. That’s a pretty low bar for a school purported as tech savvy.
In addition, while the extracurricular activities offered by some law schools are valuable, treating them as extras sends a dangerous message. It suggests that technologies currently disrupting traditional law practice are nothing more than minor specialties for future lawyers whose interests run in that direction rather than essential elements of what all lawyers will face in their careers.
Assessing the situation
The fact that technology education in law schools is growing is an encouraging – and much-needed – trend. It is incumbent on law schools that have not yet gotten onboard to recognize that these technologies are rapidly bringing massive changes to the practice of law and will keep evolving in new and unexpected ways.
Law schools are in a perfect position to help shape the direction of technologies driving the future of law. The interest that students at MIT have shown in exploring how blockchain and other technologies will impact the legal profession shows that technologists want to collaborate with those whose professions their technologies affect. And collaborative communities like Integra Academic Alliance are actively working to involve all stakeholders in driving these technologies forward.
Technology education has come a long way in law schools, but it still has farther to go. As emerging technologies grow, so do the opportunities for law schools to be not just a reactive force—or worse, idle bystander—toward technological innovation, but an active force in pushing it forward. And, as they do, law schools will ensure that their graduates are prepared for the new age of blockchain and other technologies that will form the foundation for practicing law in the coming decades.