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February 24, 2020

Tech Academy: Improving the tech literacy of law students

Tech Academy: Improving the tech literacy of law students
Mikkel Boris
Director of PR & Communication
Tech Academy: Improving the tech literacy of law students

“Across the sciences and society, in politics and education, in warfare and commerce, new technologies do not merely augment our abilities, but actively shape and direct them, for better and for worse. It is increasingly necessary to be able to think new technologies in different ways and to be critical of them, in order to meaningfully participate in that shaping and directing. If we do not understand how complex technologies function, how systems of technologies interconnect, and how systems of systems interact, then we are powerless within them,” says the British tech-writer James Bridle in his book New Dark Age. We must, therefore, acquire a basic literacy of the new technologies in order to act meaningfully, with agency and justice in the world, he concludes.

This viewpoint is becoming more and more frequent in the legal industry. Some believe that lawyers should learn to code and free their inner computer nerd. Others believe that future lawyers just need some basic digital legal skills and feel comfortable talking to engineers. Either way, it is widely agreed that the lawyer of the future must be more tech-savvy and digitally engaged. Last week Karen S. Suber published the E-book Portrait of A 21st Century Lawyer that states. She believes that “lawyers must also equip themselves with the technological skills to provide cutting-edge services to their clients” and “collaborate with professionals across disciplines, including technologists, to create tools” and “close the justice gap.”

This May, Linn Alfredsson launched Tech Academy at Lund University in order to introduce Swedish law students to the emerging technologies and how they apply in companies like Microsoft, iZettle, IKEA and Nasdaq. The project was such a success that she is planning a repeat it: “Lawyers as well as law students should at least have a fundamental understanding of the technologies and how they work. They should be able to find the correct risks and see the benefits. I don’t think that lawyers in addition to their law degree needs to have an engineering degree, but rather look for multidisciplinary programs where students from other specialties and professions interact” says Alfredsson to Legal Tech Weekly.

Tech Academy: Bringing Berkeley to the Nordics

Alfredsson, who works as an associate in the Nordic law firm Hannes Snellmann, got the inspired to launch the Tech Academy when she studied at University of California, Berkeley School of Law. They have had tremendous success with multidisciplinary courses, where law students, engineers and business students interacted to create projects and even launch startups together, and Alfredsson hopes to inspire Nordic/Scandinavian law schools to adopt a similar approach.

Tech Academy was a unique/first of its kind two-day conference where the first day was an introduction to new and emerging technologies such as blockchain, smart contracts and artificial intelligence, and the second day was directed towards the legal application of those technologies with professionals within different industries held seminars. The Academy also had recruiting possibilities to it as the students were able to mingle with the participating companies and law firms and thereby get internships and student jobs. Next year, the ambition is to enhance the recruiting part of the program and have companies list the free internship and associate positions on their platform before the event. In this way, the law students can also get to experience the work with technologies in legal practice.

But isn't the application of the technologies a practical matter that should be taught in firms they work for when they finish school?
“To some degree, yes, but I still think that if this was integrated into the law schools it would make the transition from law school into law firm much easier for the next generation of lawyers. As we are prepping the next generation, and there is a big interest from both the universities as well as the professional side. This was just a side project that unraveled and finally turned into a conference,” Alfredsson says.

Could you try to describe what the ideal next generation-lawyer is going to look like?

“I think we have been touching upon this already. They will be more multidisciplinary. They will have more soft skills and business skills. It will be more important to understand the business deals, and the technology both regarding ethics and professionally,” she says and then continues: “The world will change more rapidly, and I think there will be more fast turns going forward. You have to have an open mindset of how to adapt as a lawyer, both within policy and law shaping, but also within educational skills. I don't believe that technologies will take over our jobs, but rather that we as lawyers have to find the best way to work with new technologies in order to adapt. The legal industry is known to be very old-school so I'm hoping these kinds of initiatives (Tech Academy etc.) can change this.”

So what is causing this conservatism?
“I wouldn't say conservatism, I would say cautiousness and awareness of risks. As a lawyer, you are trained to asset risks. However, being at a school like University of California, Berkeley School of Law which is a very modern law school, it really opened up my eyes for what kind for kind of classes you can have in law school. These multidisciplinary think tank classes can Make lawyers more aware of the technological risks and get a further understanding for emerging technologies going forward. So, I think all of this goes hand in hand,” Alfredsson says.

Alfredsson believes that the lawyers will not be the only ones that benefit if she succeeds in bringing modern technologies on the curriculum. “I think it is good for a developer or data scientist team to check in with the lawyers. When you develop a new feature that handles something so delicate as our personal data, I definitely would check with my legal team, but I think, unfortunately, that lawyers are seen as the naysayers

Instead of being involved in the feedback phase, lawyers should be included in the development process to give their assessment of whether a specific feature geared towards a specific application poses any risk: “I am positive the lawyers will give you some important things to take into consideration when involved at an early stage in the development process. You can have an open dialogue if the lawyer has a fundamental understanding of the technology you are working with,” he says.

In her quest to bring more tech into the Nordic/Scandinavian universities, one thing is for sure: There will be more Tech Academies.

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