ABA Journal, Ahead of the Curve: Law Schools Emphasize Tech Skills, But Is The Job Market Ready?:
The data is similarly fuzzy when it comes to measuring the success of law school technology programs—at least when it comes to getting a job after graduating law school. The promise of these programs is twofold: Students will be prepared for a rapidly changing job market and the school will be differentiated from its many competitors. Indeed, it’s easy to find press releases and marketing materials advertising law school technology programs that prepare students for the changing practice of law. Twenty-four law schools responded to an ABA Journal inquiry about when they launched technology programs, 12 of which started programs in the past eight years. Of those 12 schools, nine were outside of U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 law schools. Some schools with post-2011 programs were located in states with more than five law schools, as well as cities with several competing law schools, where differentiation with technology offerings could help attract more students. That includes New York’s Cornell Law School, Chicago’s Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Boston’s Suffolk University Law School and the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law.
But some recent graduates—as well as attorneys with hiring responsibilities—say that there are few tech jobs for new lawyers, largely because the profession isn’t ready for this new cadre of tech-savvy grads.
“Why are people doing this? It has a lot to do with the fact that law school applications dropped by 40 percent after 2009,” says David Wilkins, a Harvard Law School professor and a member of the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Education. “What legal technology is actually going to be used for, versus the hype, is something that we’re just beginning to figure out. So it’s very difficult to figure out what you will be training people for.” Wilkins, director of Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, believes there will be a job market for lawyers who have project and process management training. “But nobody has figured out what the market is yet.”
Law schools outside the U.S. News top 20 often ask about starting legal technology programs, says Ben Kennedy, a Washington, D.C., consultant who focuses on strategic planning for colleges and universities. He adds that provosts may be more likely to fund legal tech programs than something more traditional, like bar preparation courses.
“The link between bar passage and increasing net-tuition revenue is more indirect, and it may look to a provost like a rankings play,” Kennedy says. According to him, part of the reason there’s been a drop in LSAT test takers is because of automation. Attorney fee increases came with the BigLaw hiring frenzy in the early 2000s, and corporate clients pushed back. At the same time, new technology made automation possible for some tasks traditionally done by young lawyers.
Stephen Poor, chair emeritus of Seyfarth Shaw, argues that this change has led to a gulf between academic programs and employers. “The law schools have struggled to understand what the skill sets are that they need to provide, the market has struggled to understand the skill sets they need,” Poor says. “Everyone’s trying to figure it out—and no one’s got it figured out at this point.” ...
[T]he number of law school legal technology programs has grown significantly over the past decade.
Chicago-Kent is one of 40 law schools included in the Law School Innovation Index created by Daniel W. Linna Jr. while he was a professor of law in residence at Michigan State University College of Law and director of its Center for Legal Services Innovation. The index tracks things like legal-service delivery innovation, and law and technology courses, but not job outcomes for students who participate in the classes and programs. Linna says that is something schools are beginning to measure, but he also finds that employment outcome reporting requirements for ABA-accredited law schools don’t recognize the value of some JD-preferred positions.
And he asserts that someone who can get a big-firm job paying $190,000 annually is not an “average” law student.
“For most students at a lower-ranked school, they may be comparing an entry-level lawyer job paying around $50,000 to a nontraditional legal job, such as a legal solutions architect, that pays much more,” adds Linna, now a visiting law professor at Northwestern University. “So, in that instance, what’s the basis to conclude that the nontraditional job, which would today be classified as ‘JD advantage,’ is less than the JD-required job?”
The JD-advantage job reporting is the challenge in employment data collecting, says Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education. The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar does not collect salary information, he says, and Linna’s point about potential salary differences between JD-required and JD-advantage jobs is true for various industries, not just legal technology.
“A job as a consultant at a big New York City investment bank, that’s a JD-advantage job, and it may pay more than a first-year associate job,” Currier says.
According to an annual National Association for Law Placement study, 13.9 percent of the jobs for the class of 2017 were in business and industry. Out of that group, 7.2 percent of the positions were in the “technology/e-commerce” category, and 2.7 percent were with law-related technology companies. The study also examined salaries and found that the salary average for class members working in what’s described as “legal/law-related technology” companies was $61,666—however, one-third of respondents made $50,000 or less, and only 10.4 percent made over $80,000. The average salary for people in technology or e-commerce companies that were not law-related was $94,408. ...
Law schools that have strong technology programs can encourage students to use their learning for problem-solving, and the programs can put students in situations where they must be flexible, creative and resilient while working in teams, says Alli Gerkman, senior director of the University of Denver’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. That’s valuable from a professional standpoint, she adds, but it’s unclear what the programs mean for employment outcomes because few schools share the information for graduates who come through the programs.
“I have not seen much measurement, and they haven’t been more specific in regards to jobs. Are they hoping to have students have more access to jobs, or to better jobs?” she asks. “I fear that many of these programs, while maybe they have done a good job in terms of creating solid learning environments for students, they have not done as good of a job in figuring out what employers who hire new lawyers are looking for.” ...
Dan Katz, a Chicago-Kent law professor who directs its Law Lab, says that the school hasn’t tracked employment numbers yet but plans to for an 18-credit certificate in legal innovation and technology introduced in fall 2017. The program currently has 15 students who will take analytics, project management courses and a hands-on practicum component.
“We may be sowing seeds that don’t bloom until some period in the future,” he says.
At the moment, Katz believes that the unique offerings of his program will allow strong students to “short circuit” the top law schools in the job market. He compares it to law schools that invested in strong intellectual property programs to provide their students a leg up.
While he’s doing his part, he says that the industry cheerleaders of these programs are going to have to step up if they want them to succeed.
“We need the labor market to reward the institutions that have decided to go forward with this,” he says. “If you want to see these types of things at law schools, you have to vote with your wallet.”