By: Professor Joe Regalia (UNLV)
For modern lawyers, technology and innovation are vital parts of the job. Indeed, it’s impossible to practice law today without basic technology skills. And to flourish requires much more: tech-savvy that empowers lawyers to respond to our rapidly changing legal world.
A recent Wolters Kluwer survey found that most lawyers lack key technology skills. That also goes for digital-native Millennials whom many of us assume can navigate technology with ease. Nearly three out of every four Millennials said they have don’t have a “very good understanding of the technologies” that impact their practice. Only one-third of the lawyers surveyed believe their organization is prepared to keep pace with technology changes.
Why are lawyers so bad with leveraging technology? The survey found that it’s because lawyers don’t have the skills to use it. So what can we do?
Incorporating Technology and Innovation in Law School
My law professor colleagues and I think that at least part of the solution will come from law schools. Much of the resistance to technology comes from a lack of basic skills and a dose of cultural resistance in the legal field. Law schools are the perfect place to address both.
If technology is baked into the curriculum that law students study from day one, then they will not only have the skills they need when they graduate, but they will also have the mindset of an innovator — a mindset that encourages them to seek out new, effective ways to use technology and a better sense of how to navigate the evolving legal landscape.
With this goal in mind, I developed a pilot project with other like-minded law professors. Our goal: to meaningfully incorporate technology skills training into the first-year law school curriculum. We hoped that by introducing law students to technology and innovation early and often, we would help graduates finally start to close the technology gap.
Ediscovery was our starting point because it is arguably the most developed and integral legal technology out there. Nearly every lawyer must learn how to review and handle digital documents, and technology tools have transformed this process. So this seemed like the best first step.
But then came the hard part. How do you even go about teaching this stuff? The first hurdle was figuring out how to pay for ediscovery software for our students and professors to use. The second was training the professors—some of whom have never even seen ediscovery software in person, much less used it themselves. The third challenge was figuring out how to introduce new law students to this complicated technology, a technology that even lawyers struggle with, and many partners don’t even know how to use.
The pilot group was sensitive to our students’ busy schedules and the huge volume of information they already have to wrangle with in their first year. But we knew these skills were too important to ignore.
Teachable Opportunities with DISCO
Eventually, we found the answer: DISCO, an intuitive but powerful suite of ediscovery tools that is easy to learn and easy to teach. Everything about it is simple and straightforward. As a result, it’s perfect for law students and law professors. No hours of training or special support staff are required. After about thirty minutes of training, even fresh-eyed first-year law students can dive in.
Not only is DISCO so easy to use that our pilot group of professors believed we could teach it to new students, but the company that created it also turned out to be an incredible partner, committed to educating our next generation of lawyers. It agreed to help teach the basics of ediscovery and donated the use of its software and support to our pilot group.
With DISCO’s help, we built out two ediscovery curriculums for first-year coursework. First, we designed a short, two-hour program that is a completely self-contained ediscovery primer for law professors who want to bring technology into their classrooms but lack the time or ability to teach a more robust series of activities. This ediscovery primer introduces law students to the basics of document review: collecting documents, processing them, and reviewing them—the most common skills practicing lawyers need. It also includes simple demonstrations of ediscovery in action, with the professor working with the class to conduct document searches, tag documents, and walk through simple activities that emulate how an attorney might use ediscovery software in practice.
Our second curriculum enables professors to incorporate ediscovery on a larger scale. After the primer on documents and ediscovery, the professors upload documents relevant to an in-class writing exercise onto the DISCO platform, which is as easy as dragging and dropping. Several irrelevant documents are also uploaded as well as privileged samples. This creates a set of documents that simulate what a document collection might look like in a real case.
The students are then given access to the platform and the chance to conduct their own document review. They tag and collect supporting documents to use in their legal writing exercise. In other words, the students get to experience ediscovery firsthand. They learn about all the ways that DISCO and similar tools can help them sift through documents, identify privileged material, and analyze facts to support litigation.
Students and Professors Enthusiastically Embrace Technology
Both of our pilot programs were a huge success. We’ve had over 200 law students participate in at least one DISCO class! The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Participating law professors—even those who have never used ediscovery tools—reported having an easy time demonstrating the platform to students. Almost all of our participating law students uniformly loved the introduction to ediscovery technology. Many noted that their peers did not get this exposure and thought it was a big advantage for them heading into the second year and their first legal jobs.
At the end of the semester, students reported feeling better equipped for practice and more excited to explore the ways technology can help them succeed. Over 85% even asked for more technology training to be incorporated into their classes generally. Overall, students love DISCO, and they enjoy learning about legal technology.
With the success of the first phase of the pilot, the project is expanding and the hope is to encourage even more law professors to incorporate DISCO and other technologies into the classroom. Rather than just introduce technology into a single activity during the semester, we plan to incorporate technology into multiple exercises throughout the year.
How do you teach with or about technology in the law school classroom? Share your good ideas at [email protected], and we might just post them.