How can we reform legal education? Try spotlighting the outcomes
I am happy to be back after an unexpected hiatus because of a summer car accident. The silver lining is that with more time came additional research and conversations about the topic of reshaping our legal profession. Below are some of the responses to my July article, which led me to realize that we must broaden the problem statement, so all lawyers feel some type of ownership. That idea was galvanized by numerous presentations on data-driven law, as well as a guest lecture and a successful proposal for an access-to-justice-through-technology class beginning in January 2019 at my alma mater, Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
Our legal monopoly has failed; we are not serving 80 percent of the known market. In other words, for every five people who know they have a legal problem, we only help one. Yet we arrogantly move forward in many states continuing to build more barriers for people to access legal services. And it starts at law school.
ADD THE METRICS OF LEGAL SERVICES TO LAW SCHOOL
Using data in the workplace is not a fad. Ask the in-house attorneys who show up to leadership meetings with a yellow pad instead of performance metrics. Richard Granat, CEO of LawMediaLabs Inc., commented on Twitter: “The delivery of legal services should be about metrics. But law schools don’t teach metrics. Law schools teach law students how to be Supreme Court clerks and clinics teach how to think like a lawyer. No one teaches metrics. The result is irrelevance.”
Hi Mary The delivery of legal services should be about metrics. But law schools don’t teach metrics. Law schools teach law students how to be Supreme Court clerks and clinics teach how to think like a lawyer. No one teaches metrics. The result is irrelevance.— Richard S. Granat (@rgranat) June 16, 2018
For Patrick Palace, owner of workers’ compensation firm the Palace Law, while mentoring is ideal, in theory, for new lawyers, he fears “it’s the blind leading the blind.”
“What our law students really need is skills for outside the courtroom,” he notes.
And Larry Bridgesmith, adjunct professor and coordinator of the Program on Law & Innovation at Vanderbilt University Law School, adds: “Isn’t it interesting that Millbank sends its first- to fourth-year associates to Harvard Law Exec Ed for intensive training in these skills law school forgot to teach?”
GO BEYOND SUBSTANTIVE LAW
Deans and law school professors cling to the teaching of substantive law while ignoring the business aspect of working or running a firm. It is a disservice to students and their future clients. Attorneys will not continue to work in a vacuum protected by a monopoly because other solutions and providers such as legal technicians will break their stronghold. So instead, students should be treated like customers and given a decent set of skills that are broad enough to encompass the business of delivering legal services outside the courtroom.
I will not emphasis technology competence as a duty because I think the business case for using technology is stronger than any ethical requirement. It’s just smart to enable your practice with appropriate technology and improve the customer experience.
EXPAND PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE TO INCLUDE ADR
I received some interesting feedback around implementing a practical experience for U.S. lawyers. Douglas Amber, a civil mediator from Chicago, said that only the U.S. Supreme Court requires a minimum of three years of work experience for its law clerks. Given his way, he would “create inns of court with real authority.” This model requires practical experience before law graduates can practice.
Tom Martin, an American lawyer who relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, provided another perspective. Tom runs his practice from Canada and is the founder of a legal technology company, LawDroid. He did not pursue the Canadian law designation because of the practical or articling component in his new home province. “As an experienced lawyer with an existing California law practice, I would have to essentially give it all up to article for a Canadian lawyer because articling is a full-time commitment.”
Ontario has addressed that issue by creating a course that can be taken on the practice of law in lieu of articling. That course was created because of the difficulty of sourcing firms to take on graduates, and it includes hands-on training with respect to metrics and business.
At a recent talk, I sat beside Vermont Law School professor Oliver Goodenough, who let me know about how a colleague at Vermont Law believes that alternative dispute resolution should be renamed as dispute resolution. His rationale is so few disputes go to trial that what we call alternatives—negotiation, arbitration and mediation—are actually dispute resolution, and courts are the last alternative, or the ADR. When I was speaking at my local law school about technology and the law, almost every student referenced court-related solutions. I could not get them to think outside the litigation context. Meanwhile, most graduates will never see the inside of a courtroom.
REFRAME THE PROBLEM
My view is that access to justice is the wrong name for the challenge facing the consumers and lawyers. It’s not just about a lack of funding or money; it’s also a failure for attorneys to provide the solutions that clients need, including education to inform their buying process. Indeed, as a Legal Services Corp. report states: Many do not know that they have a legal problem or that an attorney can help them.
This justice gap should be renamed as the access-to-legal-solutions challenge. A major part of the problem is perpetuated by law schools creating lawyers who do not understand how to fit the legal product to the market needs. This product market fit is a business concept.
Thus, we are on the right path with focusing the need for reform on the law schools. However, I believe we also need to accelerate the incremental change efforts across the law and adopt a business mindset. Again, all constructive comments and feedback welcome on Twitter @maryjuetten.
Mary E. Juetten, Esq. CA, CPA, is founder and CEO of Traklight and of counsel for Nimbus Legal. In 2015, Juetten co-founded Evolve Law, an organization for change and technology adoption in the law, which she sold to Above the Law in 2018. She was named to the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center 2016 Women in Legal Tech list and the Fastcase 50 Class of 2016. She is the author of The Business of Legal: The Data-Driven Law Firm and Small Law Firm KPIs: How to Measure Your Way to Greater Profits. She is always looking for success stories where technology has been used to bridge the justice gap, from pro-bono through low-bono to nontraditional legal services delivery.