Legal tech in the lecture hall?
For whom the offer is worthwhile - and for whom not
Legal tech has already changed the everyday work of lawyers and legal advisors in the long term. Legal databases have found their way into almost every law firm, and the legal departments of companies are increasingly using legal tech applications to optimise their own workflow.
But how does a lawyer actually know what legal tech can do, how to use it and what to look out for when dealing with new technology? Until now, these questions have only been answered by further training or guidance from experienced colleagues. But now universities are also reacting – and adapting legal education to the new requirements of the industry.
The classic: legal tech training
You don’t learn how to use legal tech in law school. This is especially true for lawyers who took their state exams before legal tech even came along. So after more than five years of study, many graduates find themselves in a job environment that is much more technically advanced than their university education.
So much new technology can be overwhelming. Legal-tech training offers a remedy for this. There are already countless offers for lawyers to inform themselves about the technical innovations in their industry. The offers range from free webinars, podcasts and YouTube videos to courses lasting several days in which certain skills are taught intensively. The last option is currently still the most popular – but free offers are increasingly competing with it.
Courses often come from universities or other teaching institutions. Independent firms also contribute their share to the courses on offer, so that the continuing education landscape for legal tech has a considerable breadth and diversity. This is particularly due to the fact that international offers can also be used, which is rather a rarity in traditional law. For example, the digitalisation of the American legal market is much more advanced, so there are also more training opportunities there.
The newcomer: legal tech as a degree programme
Until now, legal education has been exclusively concerned with purely theoretical training, with the exception of some divergent concepts and combined courses of study (especially with the intended degree “Bachelor of Laws”). This often criticised concept has been supplemented in some places by additional courses or legal tech summer schools. However, legal tech courses have not yet been made compulsory in the curriculum.
This is now changing: for the first time, the University of Passau is offering a Bachelor’s programme in Legal Tech, with a study duration of eight semesters. A Master’s programme with the same orientation will also begin at the University of Regensburg in the 2020/21 winter semester. In the Passau model, students are not only familiarised with the legal basics that are part of a Bachelor of Laws programme, but also acquire knowledge in economics and computer science. The linking of the three disciplines is intended to teach future lawyers not only the application of legal tech, but also the way computer scientists think. These skills will be of great importance, especially if they have to work together with legal departments in the future.
Lawyers who can already look back on a long professional life will hardly be lured back into the lecture hall by the new courses. For them, more entertaining continuing education courses will remain the preferred method of training in legal tech – especially in view of the increasing digitisation of offerings. For prospective lawyers, however, courses like those in Passau and Regensburg can be a serious option: tech-savvy lawyers are already highly valued today. Whether the programmes actually deliver what they promise can, of course, only be judged once the first graduates have arrived in their professional lives. What is certain, however, is that this new form of training has great potential for the digitalisation of the legal system.
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