Legal professionals increasingly rely on digital technologies when they provide legal services. The most advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) promise great advancements of legal services, but lawyers are traditionally not educated in the field of digital technology and thus cannot fully unlock the potential of such technologies—often referred to as LawTech—in their practice.
In our paper ‘Education for the Provision of Technologically Enhanced Legal Services’ (published in the Computer Law & Security Review), we identify five distinct skills and knowledge gaps that prevent lawyers from implementing AI and digital technology in the provision of legal services and suggest concrete models for education and training in this area. Our findings and recommendations are based on a series of semi-structured interviews, design and delivery of an experimental course in ‘Law and Computer Science’, and an analysis of the empirical data in view of wider debates in the literature concerning legal education and 21st century skills.
The Common Core of LawTech Skills and Knowledge
LawTech adoption is still relatively low. According to a recent survey by our Oxford colleagues Mari Sako, John Armour and Richard Parnham, less than a third of lawyers in England and Wales have experience using an AI-assisted lawtech in their legal research. Also, 80% of respondents stated that productivity at their organisation would improve if lawyers were trained further in how to use new technology.
To help fill this gap and to identify what particular skills and knowledge needs lawyers have in this regard, we have conducted 16 semi-structured 45 to 90-min long interviews with 19 subjects from a range of professional organisations, namely from large and medium law firms (nine organisations), large and medium legal technology firms (three organisations), the Bar (one organisation), legal information publishers (one organisation) and law libraries (one organisation). The aim of these interviews—all of which were conducted between 2019 and 2020—was better to understand the knowledge and skills gaps that prevent law professionals from enhancing their legal services through AI and digital technology. Second, alongside those interviews, in the last academic year we have designed and taught for the first time an experimental course in Law and Computer Science, jointly with our colleague Tom Melham from the Department of Computer Science. This course involved 12 masters-level students from each discipline attending 16 two-hour lecture seminars. In addition to these theoretical sessions students also were put into groups of six (three students from each discipline) to produce a pilot product based on blockchain technology for presentation in a pitch-like session to experts from the profession.
So, having conducted these two forms of research, what were our results?
Our research seems to confirm the hypothesis that the provision of tech-enhanced legal services is partly limited by skills and knowledge gaps amongst legal service providers. What kind of education will thus help lawyers to provide tech-enhanced legal services?
Based on our original research data, we argue that a common core of lawtech skills and knowledge are particularly important to meet the learning needs in the sector. In particular, five core areas of learning needs emerged from our research: 1) Mindset understanding; 2) Data-oriented thinking; 3) Agile systems and design thinking; 4) Commercial awareness; 5) Digital ethics and the law relating to AI and digital technology (you can read more about those in the paper). These areas seem to be jointly significant for the provision of tech-enhanced legal services and could be thus embodied into a Legal Technologist qualification. They may also serve as a blueprint for multidisciplinary team assembly. In many respects, these learning needs mirror trends towards 21st century skills that we see in other professions.
Training and Education
Knowledge and skills that fall into these five areas are transferable and can provide the required stability and credibility in the legal market. As such, it might be expected that these skills and knowledge capabilities will be increasingly demanded by the legal sector. At this stage, it is unclear whether these learning needs should be satisfied by a degree-level education. Given that lawtech is now quickly evolving, we argued that educational and training programmes in this area would benefit from collaboration between university educational experts and professionals from the lawtech sector. Backing from national bodies would also be desirable.
Our research also revealed several specific learning needs which, in our view, should be seen as a continuous and continuously changing demand that could be satisfied primarily through CPD or ExecEd programmes. This is mainly because those needs are relative to technologies and roles, and because these needs are therefore often only temporary.
Given that tech-enhanced legal services will likely play an important role in the future of legal services, we hope our research-led suggestions will be a welcome contribution to the debate on the future of legal education more generally. If there is a right time to bring up a generation of Legal Technologists who will help us to navigate through the uncertain digital waters of the 21st century whilst protecting the worth of legal services, it is probably now. Thus, in our current work—which is part of a large-scale multidisciplinary project ‘Unlocking the Potential of AI for English Law’—we are piloting research-led online learning modules that are designed to help fill the existing LawTech knowledge and skills gap.
Václav Janeček is Research and Course Development Fellow in Law and Technology and is reading for a DPhil in Law at the University of Oxford.
Rebecca Williams is Professor of Public Law and Criminal Law at the University of Oxford.
Ewart Keep is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oxford.