Earlier this week, I moderated a panel for our Career Services Office on careers in law and technology. One of the questions I asked the two speakers was, “What skills do tomorrow’s lawyers need as they head into careers in the legal industry?” It being a talk on the convergence of law and technology, I had expected answers related to technology skills; that’s not what I got at all.
Now naturally, technology did come up throughout the course of the presentation, but not in the way expected. Throughout the talk, the first speaker repeatedly suggested that these young students would all be coming into firms very tech-savvy, because they grew up with technology; tech-savvy is of course a relative term, and any of us who have worked with students know that this is not a generally safe assumption to make – but that’s a subject for another post entirely! The other speaker, in his introductory remarks, spoke of tech skills from an efficiency perspective, such as mastering the Microsoft Office suite – skill deficiencies brought so well to light in the infamous Kia audit of a couple of years ago.
Instead, when asked what skills tomorrow’s lawyers require, both speakers agreed that what students really need are skills in business and management. They spoke of accounting skills, process management, and efficiency, not of legal apps and web design. I hope the students in attendance got as much out of this panel as I did, because I was fascinated. It all makes sense, of course, because the practice of law is a business, but when I was in law school, we pretty much focused on issue-spotting.
Given the title of this post, you might be wondering where all of this is leading. The discussion from this panel has stuck with me this week. As a law student, you spend three years just trying to learn the law. As a law librarian, you spend three years just trying to grab any opportunity you have to teach the students legal research skills. But are research skills in the law enough? As this panel showed me, practicing law is so much more than knowing the law, making your legal argument, and knowing your deadlines. So what research skills might our students be missing?
A few semesters ago, we began a 2-credit (now 3-credit) Advanced Legal Research course. This affords us the opportunity to explore legal research topics much more in-depth than in guest lectures for first-year or advanced courses. Our curriculum covers standard subjects – statutory law, case law, regulatory law, foreign and international law, and a variety of secondary sources. Yet each semester, we seem to learn something new about the research demands of our students that causes us to tweak this curriculum. We have introduced lectures on low and no-cost legal research, apps and “going mobile,” people and public record searching. We have added lectures on multidisciplinary research and business resources. Toto, I have a feeling we’re not just teaching legal research anymore.
As the speakers from this panel showed, the practice of law is not simply the practice of law. With any given case or client, many different worlds of knowledge may be needed. Clearly, we cannot teach them everything. As I said earlier, most of the time we’re just hoping they’ll master cases and statutes! So what, if anything, are we to teach them outside of legal research? That is the question I would love to answer: What are lawyers actually researching? Practitioner surveys on legal research (like the ones found here and here) are excellent resources, but they tend to focus on what (legal) resources practitioners are using, and in what areas of legal research new hires are deficient. I would like to know not just what resources they are using, but what information they are researching. Even within the law – are there areas that we should de-emphasize? If the goal in legal education today is to produce practice-ready lawyers, what are practicing lawyers’ research demands?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this. In fact, there is almost certainly no one answer. I’d like to develop this inquiry further by reaching out to practitioners for their input, and if I get some interesting answers, I am happy to share. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them!