Much has been written about the inability of law schools to prepare students to practice law, their high cost, their fudging of placement rates, and so forth. The knocks on law school can be summed this way: If you go to, say, Akron Law, you have a 9% chance of entering the workforce as a barista and a 100% chance of entering it $100k in the hole.
Would embedding legal technology and, specifically, eDiscovery training in law school curricula help matters? Or would it just reinforce the cynical (but potentially accurate) perception that graduates are most likely to put such training to use as document reviewers or in comparatively low-paying vendor jobs?
In this interview, we pose those questions — in so many words — to A. Marco Turk, who is a professor emeritus at California State University and a former appellate lawyer with more than 50 years (!) of experience under his belt.
Mr. Turk is also a renowned mediator at ARC and, as luck would have it, highly quotable. This is part one of two.
Logikcull: On the whole, tell me how you would rate the ability of law schools to prepare law students to practice law in the real world.
A. Marco Turk: Unfortunately I’d have to say low, because the law schools are mostly interested in achieving high bar exam pass rates. And bar exam questions are based on the required, theory-based law school courses — not based on electives. While there are electives in law school curricula dealing with practice-oriented subjects, they are not emphasized in the same manner as the required theoretical courses.
Traditionally law schools don’t prepare their students for the practice of law. Most people don’t really realize that — and law students don’t find out until they graduate. Law schools basically teach the law, and they leave it to the profession to show its new lawyers how to practice. Law schools are basically in the business of, as I said, achieving high bar exam pass rates.
“Law schools don’t prepare their students for the practice of law. Most people don’t realize that — and law students don’t find that out until they graduate.”
Logikcull: Increasingly it seems that eDiscovery is being taught as an elective in some law schools. But as you mentioned, it isn’t necessarily engrained in curricula, and it’s not part of the bar exam. How prevalent would you say eDiscovery training is on the whole at law schools?
AMT: As far as I can tell, it’s not prevalent at all. You’ve got law schools who are teaching it in different ways, so from my understanding, training runs from non-existent to very limited. Sometimes it is a one-unit elective that takes place during winter session. Sometimes, it’s two units, offered periodically. In some instances, the law school offers eDiscovery as a section in its civil procedure course — so it’s not even a course on its own.
“It’s like the law schools’ arms are being twisted to put eDiscovery in their curriculums at certain times in certain circumstances.”
It’s like the law schools’ arms are being twisted to put it in their curriculums at certain times in certain circumstances. And for some students, it’s basically a throwaway course. I recently asked a student at one of the “one unit” schools why he took the course, and he said, “Well it’s an easy one unit.” I said, “Well don’t you have any interest in eDiscovery?” “No, it’s a one unit course that seemed to be easy. We got one unit, and its done in one week’s time.”
Logikcull: You said that law schools are primarily interested in getting their students to pass the bar. They’re also interested in placing those students in jobs in which they can actually practice law. It seems to me that if it was impressed upon law schools that, by teaching eDiscovery, their students would be better equipped to find jobs, they’d proactively move to make eDiscovery a part of the standard curriculum. Do you feel like that’s the case?
AMT: Absolutely. I really believe that. As you say, in addition to the bar exam percentage rates, the law schools have a desire to make sure their students get placed in high profile firms with high salaries. We’ve recently seen that some large firms are offering $180,000 a year to entering associates. Even at my age and how long I’ve been around, this blows my mind.
“We’ve recently seen that some large firms are offering $180,000 a year to entering associates. This blows my mind.”
That’s what some law students look at: they want to pass the bar and get a job afterward — ideally one that will get them a condo and a nice sports car. Never mind that they’ll never be able to drive the car because they’ll be living in the office. But the point is they want a job, and if eDiscovery can be positioned as a way to help get that job, then there’s going to be more interest in eDiscovery both from the student and the school.
Also, I think it would help if eDiscovery training is structured in a way that’s not so technically oriented in the minds of law students — so they don’t have to learn to be the technicians. There are organizations like Logikcull and others that are going to be the providers [and, in some cases, facilitate a simpler user experience]. So lawyers have to understand the theoretical concepts of the law and, at the same time, they have to understand what the function of the provider is so they can work together as a team.
Logikcull: To your point, it seems like the type of people who end up practicing law aren’t necessarily the most technically minded. And certainly some recoil when they run into technical complexity. We certainly see that a lot.
AMT: Yes. And that’s amazing when you consider how technology-savvy young people are. I’ve seen 5-year-old kids working a computer. That’s unbelievable.
Logikcull: Since we’re on the topic, I wanted to ask you, what impact do you think generational change will have? As you just said, you have a lot of kids who grew up with iPhones and Macbooks coming up through the ranks. When they come into the workforce and they start practicing law, do you think the profession will gravitate more toward technology and the issues it poses? Or will it be the case that lawyers will never want to get their hands dirty with this stuff?
AMT: I think it’s going to depend on how legal technology is packaged. If it’s packaged in a way that makes it attractive to pursue their interests, and they can feel satisfied and gratified, they’ll go that way. There are firms that have entire departments, as you know, that are strictly geared toward eDiscovery. That’s all those lawyers do in those units is work on eDiscovery.
Now, if you come out of law school and want to be a big trial lawyer so you can have your name in the news, you’re not going to be interested in eDiscovery. You’re going to want to be in a courtroom winning battles, and having those battles publicized so that people know you’re the world’s greatest ever. Unfortunately, that’s the history of the legal profession.
“If you come out of law school and want to be a big trial lawyer so you can have your name in the news, you’re not going to be interested in eDiscovery.”
I went to law school to get into politics, not to be a lawyer. Then I ended up being a lawyer and I did very well, but that’s not why I went to law school. A lot of students certainly don’t go to law school to get into eDiscovery, they go to law school to get into politics or to be trial lawyers or what have you. So the eDiscovery area and other legal technology issues need to be publicized and made to be attractive.
And that shouldn’t be too difficult because technology poses so many amazing legal challenges on a daily basis! Consider the eDiscovery issues with the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton emails, for instance. So if students can be made to see the importance of eDiscovery and how it can be the key to success or failure when it comes to litigation, then they’re going to be more interested in pursuing it.