keep reading to find out about the law schools embracing innovation and tech, and what the predictions are surrounding lawyers needing to learn code for the future…
For a long time, law firms traditionally recruited trainees from Oxford and Cambridge, a pool which Russell Group universities managed to filter into as time went on. But, as the legal industry changes, so does law firm recruitment, with more and more firms recruiting from a much broader range of universities, looking for an increasingly diverse intake. As the legal industry becomes more focused on innovation and technology, law firms are increasingly looking for candidates with relevant skills, and I was lucky enough to hear about different universities focusing on creating an innovative legal education at the Legal Cheek Legal Education and Training Conference.
Nottingham Trent University and its own university law firm
One of the most interesting parts of the conference was hearing about how Nottingham Trent has its own university law firm. Its Legal Advice Centre acquired its ABS licence in 2015, officiating its emergence as a fully regulated law firm. It has 9 full time staff along with 4 solicitors, and all its caseworkers and legal assistants are either current or former students. Students are able to work there during any part of their studies, either on a voluntary basis or as an assessed module. With more and more law firms asking for legal work experience to have been undertaken, and with the new SQE framework that will focus heavily on practical experience, NTU is ahead in providing a well-established opportunity for students to get real legal work experience during their time at university. They have the chance to learn about conflicts of interest, confidentiality, ethics, data protection, regulation and have first hand experience in litigation and advocacy. Furthermore, as it is a largely student led service, it can provide low cost affordable fee charging for clients making legal aid more accessible. The income is often reinvested into Nottingham, as they help advise smaller businesses and charities that may not otherwise manage to stay afloat. The Legal Advice Centre also hopes to focus on developing parts of it for the future, including digitalisation and the incorporation of more legal tech. As a result, graduates will be fully prepared for the changing scene of law and legal work.
Northumbria is also a university advocating for more practical legal skills, offering a 4 year MLaw (Exempting) Degree, which means that graduates are exempt from taking the LPC (it is unclear at the moment how this will translate into the SQE).
This works by the university having an in house clinic that is compulsory for all law students at Northumbria. The clinic is made up of approximately 350 students working between 10-15 hours a week at the clinic. As the clinic tests a wide range of skills, it is assessed holistically based on the student’s research, advocacy and coursework. The university also launched a solicitor apprenticeship programme in 2018 with a consortium of local employers which means that students can apply straight after sixth form to complete the SQE1/2 and apply to the Board of Solicitors within six years.
One of the standouts at the conference was hearing about the university that is paving the way for Legal Tech: London South Bank University (LSBU).
LSBU discussed the fact that new lawyers and trainees need to be prepared to compete in a world where city firms are calculating how many fewer trainees and NQs they need if technology can do the work faster. As a result, more students need to know about technology, how to use it, and how to design it in order to make their law firms to both improve and transform the legal industry.
LSBU has designed modules that involve serving clinics and working on access to justice, as well as combining parallel modules in computer science and law, bringing the two together with group projects. These help the law students to design ideas based on what they know about the law with the help of computer scientists who can actually develop the prototypes for such tools.
The future for LSBU looks bright with the university also wanting to create a 3 year SQE course that offers more practical opportunity than the conventional LLB.
This was probably the biggest question on people’s minds at the conference. Should firms be recruiting more from STEM subjects? Are graduates with 0 experience with coding going to become unattractive to employers? Should all lawyers be learning to code?
The answer from NeotaLogic, an AI automation development platform, is no. They provide themselves in producing ‘no-code’ innovations through their easy to use tools and platforms. As a result, lawyers don’t necessarily need to be able to code; what is more important is that they are able to be creative and open to the different ways tech could be designed to make the law business better, and even create new ways of doing things. So, if the thought of Python (the code, not the snake) scares you, then don’t worry,p. As technology and AI is streamlined, so too are the ways in which it can be designed, as NeotaLogic is proving, code-free is one of the ways currently being used and that offers huge potential moving forward.
Overall, whilst now may seem a disconcerting time to be a lawyer in it is actually a very exciting period of transformation, innovation, a chance for creativity that was once largely stifled within the legal industry to be nourished and encouraged.