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Time to make UK law schools more tech-savvy with new super-exam – expert

Smith says one reason why the American system has made headway in tech is in its structure of the legal sector. Source: Shutterstock

Law schools in the United Kingdom should fuse technology into its curriculum to prepare students for the future of law practice, a legal academic has urged.

In an opinion piece for legal resource site Law, Technology and Access to Justice, Roger Smith, compares the UK qualification system with the one in United States, which Smith says is faster in responding to the trend of tech’s takeover of the legal sector.

One way UK law schools can catch up with their American peers is via the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) plan to scrap the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC).

“In [the GDL and LPC’s] place will come the return of nationally set tests – the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations Stages 1 and 2. It is vital both reflect the degree of change driven by technology in the legal profession,” he wrote.

The former head of human rights and law reform organisation JUSTICE offered some suggestions as to why the American system has made headway while the British has not. One reason lies in the structure of the legal sector across the pond.

“Law is a post-graduate three-year course combining the academic-practice divide so evident in England and Wales. Practice has a much stronger hold on the teaching programme.”

One institution deeply committed in pursuing the use of technology to improve the practice of law is the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Smith says, pointing to its partnership with the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction and innovating online courses on Topics in Digital Law Practice.

For British schools to produce more tech-savvy graduates, they would do well by referring to what legal startup LawBot, which was started by a group of Cambridge University students, has to say on the issue.

In a paper titled “The Black Box Phenomenon: Technological Innovation and Legal Skill”, the group says law schools need to, among others, build specific courses and instill employable skills geared towards a future technologically-conscious legal landscape.

More specifically, the paper said: “It is neither necessary nor expedient to train future lawyers to understand software architectures or their algorithmic semantics”

… [But] They must be able to effectively use technology and understand how to maximise the potential of the systems in place.”

Not everyone agrees with Smith, however. The British system may not be able to handle the incorporation of more tech modules.

Law news site, Legal Cheek notes that the GDL and LPC courses are intensive courses where there is barely enough time for students to take in the seven core foundational areas of law.

University College London (UCL)’s Vice Dean (Research and professor of law, Richard Moorhead says, as quoted by Legal Cheek:

Law schools should do more, but I think that Roger’s post is limited in the sense that it does not demonstrate much awareness (if any) of what is actually happening in this country around teaching law students about law, innovation technology. That’s disappointing…

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