We can talk all we want about trends: more and more law schools are embracing the need to introduce technical skills to their curriculum. But what do those programs look like in action?
Whether it’s a mature, battle-tested course that’s been in place for years or a new one just beginning to take off, faculty are getting creative with the ways they teach legal technology, data analysis, and e-discovery to their students. To get some insight into just how these lessons are playing out, we connected with Janice Hollman and a few of our Relativity Academic Partners. Check out these examples from the spectrum of modern academic offerings for tomorrow’s attorneys.
One Course or Many?
Jeff Salling, an adjunct professor at The John Marshall Law School, has been leading the school’s e-discovery course for three years. It’s been in place for seven.
“We were an earlier adopter of this subject than most,” he explained. “This is an important issue for our students, no matter what area of law they practice in. Everything is going to touch on these concepts.”
Jeff’s program focuses on a single, comprehensive course that offers students an opportunity to understand the whole spectrum of e-discovery. “We talk about case law, Sedona, data security, and information governance, and we get into Relativity to say ‘Here’s what these projects actually look like, and here’s what you’re expected to do as a reviewer, associate, or even a partner.’
“I have one goal,” says Jeff. “To inspire students to think outside the box and consider what they can bring to a firm, whether they’re working with five attorneys or 500.”
The result is that every John Marshall student can get a taste of end-to-end e-discovery concepts.
Meanwhile, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law’s Brian Ray, professor of law and director of the Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection Center, is building a larger-scale program within an optional cybersecurity and data privacy concentration.
A co-founder of the Cleveland e-Discovery Roundtable, Brian was itching to bring in-depth offerings on e-discovery and cybersecurity subjects to Cleveland-Marshall students.
“Even the practicing attorneys in our area recognized that this is an area most lawyers and judges don’t understand, and there was a need for structured conversation and advice,” Brian noted. “When one student who was also a full-time IT professional pointed out the security pitfalls in new technology affecting election law in a colleague’s class, my colleague and I decided to put a formal academic offering together. A grant came along for e-discovery program development, and we ultimately combined IG [information governance] and e-discovery, which led to our founding of the Center for Cybersecurity and Privacy Protection.”
Since launching the center with an annual conference in 2016, Brian and his colleagues have been building an array of technology-related courses. Covering everything from HIPAA and compliance issues to data security analysis, students pursuing Cleveland-Marshall’s cybersecurity and data privacy concentration will be able to select from nearly a dozen highly specialized courses in the coming years.
This means students with a special interest in a legal technology career path will have a wealth of in-depth knowledge before they leave the classroom.
Coordination Between Faculty
As with any other subject, it makes sense for one or two passionate instructors to take the reins on a technology offering. Still, buy-in and support from other faculty can be crucial in giving students a comprehensive learning experience that prepares them for the real world.
For Brian, there’s a sense of shared responsibility among faculty: “Inside and outside of law school, we all agree this is becoming core. The ABA is coming close to stating these expectations, and several states already have, so we’re trying to create solutions and proactive opportunities for students to get on top of this before they graduate.”
As part of Cleveland-Marshall’s program, Brian and his colleagues are developing modular course content that can help other faculty integrate technology concepts into their syllabi without requiring them to take a crash course. This means they’ll be able to participate in that shared responsibility and learn something for themselves, while giving students a chance to learn from the most experienced minds at the school.
Jeff, meanwhile, has seen a trickle effect happening at John Marshall thanks to shared enthusiasm among professors. Students are getting a wide range of exposure to how technology touches on the modern practice of law, with or without taking a formal e-discovery course on the matter.
“Generally, other faculty are excited that we’re being forward-thinking about bringing these concepts into the curriculum,” Jeff said. “I’ve even heard from students that other professors are incorporating the discussion of technology into their classes, including courses on civil procedure and several other areas of law.”
Experiential and Theoretical Learning
When asked if hands-on or conceptual learning was more important in an e-discovery course, Jeff was eager to emphasize the necessity of both.
“In law school, students will be trained on analyzing case law, and so that’s how they’re accustomed to learning. But they’re still people, and everyone learns differently, whether they respond to auditory and visual demonstrations, or to concepts and theory. And then there are those who need hardcore facts,” he explained. “In my class, we go into case law to help students directly relate the material to legal practice. I also believe that getting into the theories and concepts is going to help them have a big impact on their professional environment when they get out.”
Ultimately, exposure to core concepts—like the e-discovery reference model and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure—set an important foundation for students to understand and strategize on e-discovery in the professional realm. But hands-on experience gives them valuable practice with the tools and technology in use among today’s law firms, litigation support providers, and corporate legal teams.
“On the ethics side, you’ve got to be reasonably competent in current technology and pay specific attention to how you’re protecting client data,” Brian explained. “You can’t just assume clients are taking care of it; there are too many ways to get around that. As a lawyer, you need to understand on a basic level what the core tools are and how they work.”
Aside from the core competency consideration, Jeff notes that exposure to modern legal technology also touches on another imperative issue among legal professionals.
“Something that really resonates is talking about work-life balance. If you understand these processes and tools and can work with them effectively, then you can go home and watch your daughter’s basketball game, and that’s so important. Why waste time on paper or inefficient reviews and miss those things?”
For a generation of students who are adamant about prioritizing their passions at work and at home, this can make the difference between a simple job and a rewarding career.
Sam Bock is a member of the marketing communications team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.