Five thing law schools should teach their students today (but they don't)
Fundamentally we are still training our future lawyers to become legal scholars. Given the fact that most if not all of that knowledge will be available to everyone via Artificial Intelligence soon, this must be completely the wrong way to go. So here comes my list of the five things law schools should teach, but don’t:
1. Drafting skills One of the core capabilities of a lawyer whether it be today or in the past is having the ability to draft an agreement, a law, general terms and conditions, or any other legal document from scratch. It is surprising that even the drafting of something as simple and elementary as a Non-Disclosure Agreement is never taught or practiced in law school. I really find this a shocking omission. And hopefully most of you would agree. As a consequence as a practicing lawyer we are dependent on and addicted to templates. We keep reusing old stuff that we adapt a bit here and there, without asking ourselves if it wouldn’t be better to start from scratch. The same is true when it comes to new laws. By adding on to existing laws we all too often create our own mess
2. Negotiation skills. What clients want from lawyers is their ability to negotiate on the client’s behalf. Most lawyers have to negotiate all the time. Lawyers have to negotiate a deal, a contract, a settlement, and so on. Legal issues rarely are about being right, they are about convincing others that your client has a valid point of view. The vast majority of disputes never come to court but are settled instead. The vast majority of contracts are a matter of give and take. The ability to negotiate and the ability to come up with a negotiating strategy is at the core of a lawyers profession. One cannot be a good and effective lawyer without being a good negotiator. The process of negotiating has been subject to academic studies for over a decade, so it is the more surprising that this is not yet part of the law school curriculum.
3. Project Management Lawyers typically are not very good in time management and project management. For a scholar working as an academic this might not be much of an issue, but if you are in private practice it is. On the most basic level every lawyer must have the ability to plan each matter in advance and keep track of multiple matters for different clients at the same time. Anyone who has ever worked within a law firm knows this is an issue. All too often associates have to work late or in the weekend, not due to the sheer volume of work, but only as a consequence of poor planning. This is as annoying as it is inefficient, but it is quite harmless (or even beneficial) when it comes to the financial results. The hours are still paid for by the client. Things get more serious as it comes to Alternative Fee Arrangements. Even the most experienced lawyers tend to hugely underestimate how long it will take to perform a certain task. Due to increasing pressure on legal fees, law firms have to become highly efficient in the way they manage a case. Law school need to teach future lawyers how to break down a case in smaller steps and how to assign people and time to each of these blocks, while keeping track as the case develops.
4. Business skills and economics Being a lawyer is very different from being an academic. As a lawyer you are running a business or you are part of a business. Lawyers need to understand the fundamentals of business economics in order to run a profitable business. They need to understand profit and loss, revenue and cost, cashflow and so on. With today’s competitive climate, pressure on legal fees and the potential need for investment in IT is more important than ever before that every lawyer in the private sector has good understanding of running a business. This is equally true for sole practitioners as it is for anyone at a big law firm. We have all experienced that most associates promoted to partner have no idea how to run a profitable practice.
5. Creativity Lawyers are still trained to apply the law and avoid all potential risks. Clients on the other hand are mainly interested in solutions: road maps, not road blocks. As the knowledge of the law becomes easier accessible to our clients, our added value will be defined by our ability to come up with new and creative solutions. Creativity is not some mystical gift, it is a state of mind that can be thought and trained. It is the way in which you approach problems and obstacles. It is important that law schools make this part of the educational process. Progress can only be made by pushing the boundaries. Young people cannot learn this early enough.
So what about technology you might ask? There is no denying that technology will change part of the legal profession. Many of the boring tasks like e-discovery, legal research and document management are already done by computers. Artificial Intelligence will end the monopoly on knowledge of the law. Lawyers should embrace these developments as they will take away the boring stuff enabling us to focus on the things that really matter. There is no need for lawyers to understand this technology, like there is no need for a pilot to understand the jet engine.