What the Tech?

My new typewriter

Can you imagine formatting a brief on this?

Lately, I have been preoccupied with the issue of what law students (and lawyers) need to know about technology.

The Legal Tech Audit created by Casey Flaherty and Suffolk University Law School emphasizes activities such as manipulating Excel spreadsheets, turning Word documents into PDFs, and automating actions (Tables of Contents, Tables of Authorities, headings, etc.) in word processing programs. Sam Glover has spoken and written on the need for lawyers to be more cognizant of how to protect themselves on public wi-fi, encrypt their files, and create good passwords. The ABA has commented that lawyers need to keep up-to-date on the “benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.”

When, how, and from whom are law students going to learn this? Some of them may well be personally interested in it and seek it out themselves, but many do not appear to be so inclined. While one may contend that in the workplace these duties should be performed by a legal or administrative assistant, the fact remains that law students need to do many of these things in law school, as evidenced by the number of students each term working on their briefs and asking me for help formatting their tables of contents, or trying to figure out how to get the page numbering scheme to change from their title page to their contents page to their main text body page.

Additionally, especially with our hybrid students who depend heavily on technology, I’ve been wondering how much we should require law students to know about technology — before they start, while they are here, and when they are starting life as an attorney. For example, our hybrid students (and, frankly, most of our bricks-and-mortar students, as well) need to be comfortable with our learning management system; they need to know how to upload a document, post to a discussion board, and submit answers to a test. Then, of course, they need to know how to access professors’ assessments of their activities. This is somewhat akin to accessing an electronic filing system, filing a pleading, and checking for new filings and orders. As another example, our first-year students have assignments where they have to role-play an attorney counseling a client (played by another student). For our hybrid students, they have to conduct this as a video conference, record it, and upload the recording to the web for their professors to review. This also has a real-world analogy: attorneys may have to hold depositions in such a manner.

Students have accomplished these activities but not without some snafus. We tried to anticipate student difficulties with the LMS by encouraging the completion of activities prior to the start of school that would mimic tasks that students must accomplish during the semester, but we had little recourse for students who either didn’t do the tasks or didn’t fully accomplish them successfully. For the video recording assignment, the library provided detailed instructions and offered one-on-one virtual conferences, mimicking the assignment, with reference librarians. But these were not required, and subsequently not many students took advantage of the opportunity. And what of students whose computers don’t meet the specs that IT sets out?

I seem to recall that in library school, we were required to prove our tech competencies through a quiz, and, if we did not pass, we had to take various tutorials to bring us up to speed. Does anyone know of any law schools that do this? I am intrigued by the idea, but wondering about the institutional backing that would be necessary for it to work.


About jkbeitz

Academic law librarian. Amateur photographer and beaded jewelry-maker. Mom to a kiddo. Loves a good timesuck.
This entry was posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What the Tech?

  1. Sarah Mauldin says:

    This is an issue I can get up on my soapbox any time. All law students can type in the sense that they can place their fingers on a keyboard and make letters appear on the screen, presumably creating a series of words that form some kind of sentence, paragraph, and, we hope, reasonable arguments. We all know better than to believe that the average law student has ever used Excel for anything beyond basic functions and has likely never used advanced word processing features beyond entering footnotes or creating an outline.

    Where should they have learned these skills? Maybe in elementary or high school, perhaps in college, or maybe on the job, if they have ever had one. Most likely the average student has never been truly trained and actual otj training, beyond trial and error, in a law firm will probably be an hour on the first bewildering day of work.

    Please reach out to the firms and other employers that your students are likely to join and find out what the state of technology is in those places. Ask law firm librarians and IT directors to come in and talk to students about the real world of not just the research competence expected, but also what students need to be able to do to be successful in an environment where more and more attorneys are being assigned to fewer paralegals, legal assistants, and secretaries. Reach out to your local ILTA chapter for the scoop on the real world of legal technology. If you don’t know about ILTA drop me a line and I will be happy to tell you all about it.

    The true message here is to let those of us in the “real world” help you and your law schools train truly practice ready attorneys who are able to make it through the first years as a solo practitioner, a Big Law associate, a judicial clerk, or anything else. Let’s get this conversation going.

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