“law schools too often focus on teaching the next generation of lawyers the most critical skills of the last generation of lawyers.”

September 12th, 2011

Doug Berman keeps up the great posts at the Law School Innovation blog:

Debates about adequate skills instruction have raged for decades within and outside law school.  Less debated, though no less important, is whether law schools are teaching their students the right kinds of lawyering skills.  My own experience as both a law student and a law professor leads me to believe and fear that law schools too often focus on teaching thenext generation of lawyers the most critical skills of the last generation of lawyers.

Those who went to law school around the time I was a student (1990 to 1993) likely recall the debate over whether and how students should be allowed access to computer research sources like Westlaw and Lexis or instead needed to be taught how to “only use the books.”  Savvy students (but very few faculty) at the time appreciated that computer-based research skills we ultimately likely to be much more important to our future than book-based skills.  Nevertheless, back then (and still it seems two decades later), commercial providers like West and Lexis supplied much more (and much more effective) training in computer research than did my law school.

I think profs who ban laptops in classrooms today in 20 years will be seen as profs who didn’t let their students use Westlaw to conduct legal research.

Doug links to an NLJ article titled “The future of the law firm website

In short, a law firm’s Web site will no longer be considered supplemental marketing collateral. Rather, it increasingly will be thought of as a marketing platform that is central to all aspects of a firm’s marketing activity (online and offline). This may seem a radical notion for some firms. However, it is a natural reaction to major changes that have occurred in the business environment.

Web sites already play a vital role in law firm business development. Numerous studies show this. However, I strongly believe that they will become even more important–nearly as important as face-to-face meetings. Why? Because face-to-face meetings will happen less and less.

The legal business has traditionally been locally focused, with clients and the firm often located within 25 miles of one another. That’s changing. The Internet and related technologies have made it much more practical to work long distance. But that’s the least of it: Our culture is also changing. . . .

We’ve all gotten used to managing long-distance “virtual” relationships–especially the under-40 crowd. And as businesspeople have gotten more comfortable with virtual relationships, they have become increasingly willing to hire attorneys outside their immediate geographic area.

In short, we now live in a world in which a client will hire an attorney located hundreds of miles away–as long as that attorney has highly specialized expertise that the client needs. This is forcing a shift in how attorneys think about business development.