Updated: Mar 27, 2020
I'm grateful to have been invited to speak at at event hosted by the Law Society of Scotland on law and technology on 9 October 2019. At the conference, we heard from practitioners, vendors, and educators about changes to law and legal practice.
I spoke on a panel with Kerry Trewern, the Director of the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow and Giuseppe Pia, a Trainee Solicitor at Burness Paull LLP. David Lee, the conference chair, moderated the panel discussion on legal education.
Giuseppe provided some great insight into how trainee solicitors learn on the job in a practice that prioritises innovation and forward thinking, and Kerry gave some excellent suggestions and ideas for how to foster in students an desire to learn on subjects that may be closer to science and maths than liberal arts.
What surprised me was the questions coming from the audience. We had a few legal professionals who came to law from a computer science background who suggested that new role/profession emerge which should bridge the gap between the lawyers and technologists. And, we had another attendee who came to law from a mechanical and engineering background who echoed my own belief that much of private law is a lot like computer code! What is a contract but a program?
Contracts use words like must, or shall, or if, else, or else if. Computer code can look a lot like a contract!
Anyway, this fellow also raised the distinction between a computer scientist and software engineer. He said that when lawyers deal with a technical issue, they believe that they can sit down with engineers for a couple days and learn all they need to know in order to finish working on the matter. However, when you suggest to lawyers they spend two days teaching laypeople all they would need to now to sort out a legal matter, the lawyers respond that such a task would be impossible!
This prescient observation underscored how often we, in the legal profession, presume that other skills, disciplines, and fields will reveal to us their secrets with a little exposure or coaxing. As we move to a more interconnected world, people will begin more widely to recognize that such distinctions—though perhaps suited for a 20th-century way of doing business—no longer remain fit for purpose.
We will need tech-savvy lawyers to advise policy-makers on technical matters related to privacy, encryption, autonomous vehicles, telecommunications, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. Lawyers will need to know more than how to use word processing applications or the dreaded spreadsheet. They'll need a basic knowledge, but, more importantly, a working understanding of the increasingly technical things at play in business and society, and law schools will need to tailor their offerings to make sure that students graduate with more than just contract, tort, public and administrative law, property, corporate, trusts, estates, and criminal law.