As long schools work to attract the best and the brightest law students and prepare them for the rigors of a career in the law, they’re taking a closer look at how they train students to use technology. It’s not just enough to teach future lawyers about case law and rules of evidence.
Instead, technology skills are practical skills. Many technology products and software applications are routine in today’s legal world and even specific to the profession. If they’re going to be competent lawyers, students must master technology in order to competently represent their clients.
Does tech incompetence amount to legal malpractice?
The American Bar Association and Georgetown Law School both agree that not being able to use basic technology to a client’s advantage can amount to malpractice. Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct says that lawyers have a duty to provide competent representation to their clients.
The comments to the rule go on to say that competent representation means knowing and using the technology that’s available. Knowing that state bar associations are cracking down on tech skills, law schools are doing their part to keep up.
Technology that lawyers use
A lawyer may need to incorporate a wide variety of applications into their practice. Some of these applications help them interact with the courts and others help them manage their business. Here are some of the technology skills and online applications that law students need to master:
A lawyer might prefer to dictate their letters and court documents rather than type them by themselves. However, that can create inflated bills because two people have to spend time preparing a document instead of one. It’s important that lawyers know how to create their own documents using a word processing program.
Today, all law schools require typed papers and exams, so students learn word processing skills as part of their general curriculum.
Online court filing systems
Today, it’s common for courts to accept documents electronically. For some courts, it might be the only way to file. Lawyers have to know how to use online filing in order to meet deadlines and get things done. Students may learn these skills in a clinical experience or at an internship.
Online search engines
Today, law books are all but obsolete. Instead, lawyers do their research online. Lawyers need to know how to research unique issues of law. They should know the major legal search sites, and they should know how to use general search engines to find information fast. Many of these online search databases offer free access to law students to help them get up to speed.
To produce competent lawyers, law schools must also make sure students can use the following technology:
- Cell phones
- Billing software
- Practice management software
- Internal software for government offices like courts and district attorneys offices
- Courtroom technology like media players and projectors
How law schools incorporate these skills
Law schools are incorporating technology deliberately. Instead of having students crack the books to write their briefs, they’re using online searches instead. Law schools expect students to receive information via email. When students complete internships in their area of interest, they learn even more software programs and tech skills.
Today, all law school exams are typed. A lawyer who can’t use basic word processing just can’t graduate. Many schools have classes and programs to help students learn practice technology as they learn to represent clients in an efficient and competent manner.