Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Typing Class in Law School

I took typing in high school.  Do they even offer that anymore?  Sure there is a high need for all folks to know how to enter text into a device but it is not based on the “F” and “J” keys of a standard keyboard anymore.  Today we use everything from gestures to speech to alpha-numeric keys.  The rules of grammar and punctuation have changed as well.  The need to learn typing as we did 20 years ago is simply not there.  So why are law schools teaching the equivalent of typing 101 in an age when so much is changing in the legal profession?

Law schools have been getting a lot of press lately – mostly negative as a result of a horrible job market for lawyers.  Recently there has been a storyline that has been getting some positive reaction and we could not be more frustrated.  In the face of a declining traditional lawyer job market some schools reaction has been to lower class admissions.  What? Huh?  Come again.  So as job market weakens the educational institutional bedrock of the legal profession’s response is to retract, wait it out, and otherwise do nothing?  That is a sure fire way to perpetuate the commercial myth that lawyers lack imagination and certainly any business acumen.  Come on – we are a bunch of smart people (so we say) – we cannot do any better than hiding in our shells?

Sure reducing the number of law graduates may decrease – a good thing as traditional legal jobs are decreasing too.  And yes it shows (sort of) law schools willingness to give up some of their profit/revenue.  But seriously, this is as creative and as proactive the legal education community can be?  The problem is not a lack of jobs, it is that law schools are attempting to prepares law students for jobs that are decreasing overall – traditional law firm jobs.  They are doing this while NOT changing their curriculum to prepare law students for the new normal.  There are a bevy of skill/focuses law schools could be introducing into their status quo curriculum that would better prepare students for new types of legal jobs – heck this could even lead to an increase in enrollment.  Who would of thunk it?  A new business line or even, dare I say it, model.

Law schools unfortunately are so afraid to jettison the “holy grail” image of a lawyer they promulgate to prospective students – you now the one, a power suit, mahogany corner office and top tier clients – that they simply are paralyzed to take sincere action to correct a failing education platform.  But here is the thing, law schools are not the problem and should not be demonized – because they are also the answer.  They are the first “touch” a future lawyer gets of the profession.  They have the unique opportunity to set expectations and help define lifetime professional goals.  Thus they should not be lowering expectations or saying the equivalent of “Hmm yeah we guess it is tough out there – let’s just send less of you out into the job market and hope for the best.”  What they should be acting on is the fact that the profession is changing and they are going to address this head on by preparing students for a new market.  One where traditional law jobs are not as available, where the very nature of legal work is changing, where needs of clients and clients themselves are changing, where realities like LPOs and Rocket Lawyers are here to stay.  Where value has trumped the billable hour.  

Just like how we use gestures, texting jargon, alpha-numeric pads, speech-to-text, etc. today to communicate, law schools should look to teach all the different and new ways there are to practice law and deliver legal services.  If not that, then what are student’s paying for?  Typewriters in law professor’s offices?  God I hope not.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Tiny Bubbles (Law is Transforming)

Recently I spoke at TyMetrix’s Executive Advisory Summit - a meeting of key clients, industry leaders and TyMetrix executives.  We spent two days examining and sharing experiences of how legal services are being re-imagined, delivered and yes, staying the same.  My remarks focused on the topic of legal transformation and the role that project management may be playing in changing the way legal services are delivered.  

The key takeaway for me was the growing awareness of data within the profession.  This would be an obvious takeaway given the sponsor is a leading legal data analytics company but that was not it.  There was little talk of their product at all actually.  Rather, the legal operations leaders who were in attendance spoke about the power of using their own data to help create transparency into their operations.  “Transparency” . . . a scary word for law firms indeed.  And these legal ops people were getting it – transparency that is – into how they spend their money and how their legal departments manage time, resources, etc.   There was a divide within the room however.  One group of in-house folks could be called activists – teaching, instructing and forcing their outside counsel to comply with their procedures and process.  The other group was using their process and data only for their own internal purposes, allowing outside counsel to continue doing what they have been.   

Now I have railed on about both data and the absolute need for in-house to take a more active role in changing law firm behavior in previous posts so I will not step into those waters again here.  The good thing is that I do not have to.  Change is here and growing.  I do not have to convince anyone that the way law is practiced is changing and will do so more.  It is happening.  Slowly and invisible to those that choose to hide their eyes but it is unavoidable.  The more the industry awakens the more rapidly the change will happen.  Data is being used now more than ever by legal departments and that is a good thing.  I do not care right now that some are using it to change others' behaviors, while others just their own.  They are using it and that is good enough . . . for now anyway.

I do not have to stand and stare at the pot of water on the stove as I wait for it to boil.  I see the tiny bubbles here and there and know that it is only a matter of time until it becomes a rolling boil.