online learningWhat will law firms of the future look like? For new graduates and students looking to enter the industry, the answer to this question will have a serious impact on their future. For educators too, the pandemic has led to changes in teaching with a greater emphasis on agility and continuous learning.

 

This year, classes looked different, with Zoom lessons replacing lecture halls, and internships going online.

Lutz-Christian Wolff, dean of the Faculty of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, tells ALB that overall students have been positive about the shift toward online classes.

“A lot of work has gone into this, but it worked very well. Some colleagues say in particular courses, the online mode is much better,” he says, citing drafting classes as one example.

But while in some cases the online version may be an improvement, Wolff says face-to-face teaching is unlikely to disappear.

“I think in the future we will see hybrid modes – online teaching, plus face-to-face teaching,” he adds, noting in-person teaching is still important in order to achieve deep learning.

But while the pandemic has shaken up teaching, what it might mean longer-term for legal education is the big question for educators. Wolff says that when it comes to legaltech, the pandemic has proved to be an accelerant.

Another skill that Wolff believes is growing more important is legal entrepreneurship.

“Fifty percent of lawyers’ work is not legal work. It’s about business development, client management, office management, project management, accounting, and that is something which is at the moment – to a large extent – neglected. So I think legal entrepreneur-ship, businesses development, is some-thing that is also becoming increasingly important,” he says.

Likewise, Simon Chesterman, dean of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore (NUS) predicts that law firms of the future will require a range of people with legal skills, “in particular, combining those skills with technological and business sensibilities.”

And he suggests such developments require “a radical rethink of the purpose, content, and method” when it comes to the curriculum.

“NUS Law is working to attract and develop more students with STEM backgrounds through new pathways linking law and computer science, a new JD that we’re launching in August 2021, and a possible new JD/MBA,” says Chesterman. “We’ve also expanded the number of IT electives in recent years and launched a new Centre for Technology, Robotics, AI & the Law (TRAIL), which involves students as well as faculty,” he adds.

Wolff says it isn’t just for universities to adapt to new industry demands and changes. Students too need to under-stand the legal profession is changing and prioritizing legal technology, he says.

“They have to adapt – law schools have to adapt but students also have to adapt. They need to understand that this is something that is extremely important,” he adds.

But as the role of technology is emphasized, inevitably there have been questions about automation and what this means for graduate job opportunities.

“There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not lawyers will have work in the future, or whether everything will be done by machine,” says Wolff bluntly, offering the example of due diligence following a business acquisition. “In the past you threw in an army of lawyers, 20, 30, 50 people were checking all the files. A lot of this work is nowadays done by AI, so you don’t need lawyers for this”.

But this doesn’t mean there’s no work for lawyers, says Wolff, saying instead this will shift to more sophisticated work, with AI taking over “the more routine work.”

In Singapore, Chesterman says curricula are evolving to reflect the industry changes that graduates encounter.

“Pedagogy and the wider curriculum (embracing hard and soft skills) are now under review. In addition to the law of technology, we are expanding student exposure to the technology of law including through partnerships with tech companies and law firms,” he says.

Wolff also notes that the changing legal work, and new technologies emerging are moving so fast it takes constant work to stay up to date when it comes to technologies.

“With everything moving so fast, you need to keep yourself updated on a regular basis. It’s not like you study something today and that will last for the next 10 years, the world is not like that any longer,” he says.

“Law schools need to adapt and react for the benefit of their students, so the magic word now days is agility. You need to have a proactive, agile approach, in order to address those new developments,” Wolff adds.

Chesterman agrees that the rapid pace of the industry requires an ongoing commitment to learning.

“Though career placement for NUS Law graduates remains strong, the university as a whole has embraced lifelong learning — acknowledging the reality that a four-year degree cannot possibly prepare an individual for a life-time of work,” he says.

 

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