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5 things law school curriculums are missing today

The legal profession has a long history dating back centuries, which results in many parts of the profession feeling antiquated in today’s world. This is even more true in legal education. Many argue that law school curriculums are not keeping up with modern legal practice, especially in areas of technology.

What are some of the areas where legal curriculums could use a major update?

Where are legal graduates feeling unprepared after graduation?

Below are five primary things missing from law school curriculums today.

#1. Tech competency

One way law schools could modernize their curricula is by incorporating the study of technology into coursework. This should include a focus on law practice technology, such as software that helps attorneys to perform their jobs with more efficiency and ease.

In fact, this focus could extend to various forms of digital technology beyond those focused on the legal industry.

A lack of familiarity with digital technology could hamper an attorney’s work in many ways.

Electronic discovery is one obvious area where the use of technology is critical. However, even more basic considerations can play a part here.

For example, the “track changes” function in Word documents could lead to an attorney sending an edited document to opposing counsel, which inadvertently gives the other side a view into their strategy. If you don’t even know that function exists, you won’t know how to turn it off.

Advanced digital technology will also have an impact on the law itself, and attorneys need to be prepared for this development.

Artificial intelligence and its related technologies, such as ChatGPT, are already having an effect on workflows and business processes in general.

It is likely that many legal professional jobs will be automated in the coming years. When technology can handle tasks like document review, risk assessment, and many of the time-consuming work that generally falls to junior associates and legal support, some people wonder if their job will be relevant at all.

For those attorneys and legal support staff who want to remain useful in the modern era, they should enter the legal profession knowing the ins and outs of the technology, which could either advance their careers or displace them.

#2. Conflict management skills

It is no secret that many attorneys, especially litigators, have to operate in an adversarial climate filled with frequent chances for conflict.

However, many law schools fail to provide enough focus on conflict management skills. These skills could include looking at a situation from the other side’s point of view and considering win-win scenarios. They could also include dealing with various personality types, especially manipulative, deceitful, or highly aggressive people.

The need for conflict management skills goes beyond an attorney’s ability to perform her job well. It also extends to an attorney’s personal health and relationships.

The stress of repeated conflict often leads to depression, burnout, and addiction issues for lawyers.

It is also easy for attorneys to treat their spouses, family members, and friends with the same weak conflict management skills they use at work — causing a breakdown of those relationships as well.

#3. Email etiquette

Email etiquette is another area that law schools could include in the education they provide.

Part of email etiquette is understanding the culture of your work environment, which law schools obviously cannot foresee on behalf of law students. However, issues such as copying individuals on emails, blind copies, and auto-responses can pose issues in a profession where clear communication and confidentiality are both critical.

While it is unlikely email etiquette would be a stand-alone law school course, the basic tenets of email communication could be emphasized in broader “practical” classes and activities, such as law school clinics and practice management courses.

#4. Practice management

A large proportion of law school graduates will end up being either solo practitioners or partners in multi-attorney firms.

While it is a good thing that so many lawyers have entrepreneurial aspirations, it is unfortunate that law school does little to prepare them for this reality.

That’s why law schools should teach some elements of practice management.

The main thrust of this education could focus on how a business works. Courses on accounting, finance, and management could be borrowed from business school curricula to fill these gaps.

Another foundational aspect is how to bring in clients, both through direct marketing to clients and through professional networking.

#5. Consumer needs in the legal industry

This last area is something that has long been considered anathema in legal education — the perspective of the legal industry as a business, not just a profession.

Nonetheless, it is simply inevitable that many attorneys will work in the private sector, where legal clients are also customers. Accordingly, law school should also offer education on consumer needs in the legal industry and how attorneys can meet those needs.

When private sector attorneys-to-be view their future clients as customers, they can work in a more customer-centric way.

This usually means making good use of technology, tying into the need for law school education on tech proficiency.

Technology usage could impact common legal activities, such as legal research, practice management, and court filings. It could also extend to broader technology areas that are already part of many non-legal industries — for example, data analytics and the use of metrics.

In a rapidly changing world and an ever-evolving legal industry, law schools should do their best to keep up with the times. By incorporating some of the items discussed above into their curriculums, they have the opportunity to do just that.

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