Tech competency needs to be taught in law school, associate dean says
An easy way to teach law students technology is incorporating it into existing classes, according to April Dawson, the associate dean of academic affairs and pedagogical enrichment at North Carolina Central University School of Law.
She spoke Thursday at the ABA Techshow 2021 in a discussion titled “Law of Technology vs. Law Practice Technology Courses.”
“We want to make sure our graduates are practice-ready,” Dawson said, mentioning a recent Twitter conversation about using the “track changes” function in Microsoft Word. The question was why few lawyers use it, and the answer was that the metadata may not be scrubbed from the documents.
“These types of conversations—it’s great it takes place on Twitter, but they should take place in law school. We don’t want our graduates to find out the metadata was not scrubbed on something they sent opposing counsel,” Dawson said.
She broke technology courses into two areas: law practice technology and the law of technology. Law practice technology centers on things like software that “allow lawyers to do their jobs more efficiently.”
“The law of technology is a more substantive area, where lawyers would do a deep dive and develop expertise in a particular area,” Dawson added, mentioning data analytics.
Few law professors are experts in technology, according to Dawson, and the best approach might be finding someone outside the law school or a law librarian to help teach a topic.
“If you are teaching contracts and don’t know anything about blockchain—who does?—there are people out there you could call up who would be happy to spend some time with your students,” Dawson said.
Follow along with the ABA Journal’s coverage of the ABA Techshow 2021 here.
Over the summer, Dawson taught a legal technology leadership class and had Kimberly Y. Bennett, a Georgia trademark lawyer who serves on this year’s Techshow planning board, as a guest speaker. She presented through Zoom.
Dawson’s law school is associated with a historically Black university, and in this course all of the students were Black women like Bennett and Dawson.
“It was mind-blowing to talk to someone in that space who looked exactly like them,” Dawson said.
Even when law schools go back to in-person courses, law practice technology can be taught online, Dawson said. If administrators are unsure about what the classes should focus on, they can consult with attorney regulation agencies, which she says will have a good sense about what lawyers should know.
“When we think about what lawyers are responsible for, there are minimum levels of competency, including technological competency. Some states, including North Carolina, require lawyers to take a number of technology courses, and this requirement is just going to increase,” she said.
Also, she suggested that law school administrators attend the ABA Techshow.
“One can’t really understand if they remain in the law school ivory tower what is going on in the legal profession and in the legal technology space. The ABA Techshow is the perfect place to start gaining that understanding,” Dawson said.