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eDiscovery: The Crucial Next Step In Law School Curriculum

June 5, 2015, 1:37 PM

Editor’s Note: The author of this post works in the eDisovery industry and is teaching a course on eDiscovery at Touro Law Center this fall.

By Chris Gallagher, national director of eQ discovery services

In the past decade, the legal profession has gone through an identity crisis of sorts. The recession brought years of bad news, layoffs, and closings; and although the industry is better and some top firms have seen their profits rebound, solo practitioners — the majority of all licensed attorneys — have seen significant decreases in their yearly income topping off at an average of $49,130; down from an inflation adjusted rate of $70,747 in 1988.

There are many reasons for this decline, but none more devastating to small practitioners than a shift in how legal services are offered and consumed through technology. Legal service organizations are turning do-it-yourself law into a reality. Relatively simply processes — the ‘bread and butter’ work for smaller firms — like wills, trusts, and leases can now be done through automated processes at a fraction of a firm’s cost.

Given the rapid growth of these legal service websites, it’s only logical that legal technology within firms has grown at an equally impressive rate. Ninety percent of the data in the world has been created in the past two years and eDiscovery, the area of law that deals with the management, collection, processing, and review of information when it is needed for litigation or other investigatory matters, is skyrocketing. eDiscovery didn’t exist a decade ago and now the market is expected to reach $9.9 billion in 2017. Dozens of law firms have groups that specialize in this area along with hundreds of service organizations. As someone who works in theindustryI’ve seen this growth — and growth potential — firsthand. It’s an industry game changer.

Even with this staggering growth, it may come as a surprise that eDiscovery and technology are elements that aren’t mainstays of law school curriculum. While many attorneys will agree that the foundation of law school is invaluable, most will also concede that most of the ‘real world’ skills that are essential to success haven’t been taught.

Just as the industry has changed, so must the education process. With law school no longer guaranteeing a six-figure income and the cost of education continuing to rise, schools are now competing for students with many looking at ways to help their graduates differentiate themselves from the mass of attorneys being churned out each year, and technology is a way to achieve that. What may be surprising is that only a handful of schools across the country are teaching students technology subjects that have real world applications. Enter “21stCentury Lawyering”, “Technology and the Law”, or simply “eDiscovery” classes.

In an ideal setting, these classes will prepare students for specialty careers within a law firm, corporation, or more recently, lucrative careers just outside the areas of traditional practice inside of service providers — a more practical approach at law than taken in the past. Classes that follow the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) beginning with Information Governance would give students real world understanding of the flow of data. Corporations are working harder than ever to balance legal and regulatory obligations with business efficiency and a goal of reducing the cost of electronically stored information (ESI), limiting liability, and increasing process efficiency.

Moving past the basics, elements like predictive coding, advanced analytics, mock custodial and IT interviews, and time spent working inside the latest tools to categorize data will give new graduates the experience they need to excel in law.

Much like the world around us, evolution and innovation are needed to move forward. eDiscovery and technology based learning is the best way to move past book theory and into applicable skills. These usable skills will ensure that recent law school graduates will be an immediate value to their clients, saving them both time and money. As law firms and the legal community work to find the ‘new normal,’ it’s important to not forget the value of working hands inside a safe environment. If we want the next generation of lawyers – large and small firm practitioners alike — to succeed, we must give them the tools to learn and evolve.