« Chief Justice Goldberg? A SCOTUS counterfactual | Main | Anxiety and Ambition in the Trenches »

Monday, June 09, 2014

Decline of Lawyers? Law schools quo vadis?

My Northwestern colleague, John McGinnis, has written a fascinating essay in City Journal on "Machines v. Lawyers."  An essential claim in the article is that the decline of traditional lawyers will impact the business model of law schools -- and, indeed, will put largely out of business those schools who aspire to become junior-varsity Yales, that is, who don't prepare their students for a marketplace in which machine learning and big data pushes traditional legal services to the curb and, with it, thousands of newly-minted lawyers.

Bracketing the enormously complex predictions about the restructuring of the legal market in the shadow of Moore's Law and the rise of computational power, let's focus on the connection between these developments and the modern law school.

The matter of what law schools will do raises equally complex -- and intriguing -- questions.  Here is just one:  What sorts of students will attracted to these new and improved law schools?  Under John's description of our techno-centered future, the answer is this: students who possess an eager appreciation for the prevalence and impact of technology and big data on modern legal practice.  This was presumably include, but not be limited to, students whose pre-law experience gives them solid grounding in quantitative skills.  In addition, these students will have an entrepreneurial cast of mind and, with it, some real-world experience -- ideally, experience in sectors of the economy which are already being impacted by this computational revolution.  Finally, these will be students who have the capacity and resolve to use their legal curriculum (whether in two or three years, depending upon what the future brings) to define the right questions, to make an informed assessment of risk and reward in a world of complex regulatory and structural systems, and, in short, to add value to folks who are looking principally at the business or engineering components of the problem.

Law remains ubiquitous even in a world in which traditional lawyering may be on the wane.  That is, to me, the central paradox of the "machines v. lawyers" dichotomy that John draws.  He makes an interesting, subtle point that one consequence of the impact of machine learning may be a downward pressure on the overall scope of the legal system and a greater commitment to limited government.  However, the relentless movement by entrepreneurs and inventors that has ushered in this brave new big data world has taken place with and in the shadow of government regulation and wide, deep clusters of law.  The patent system is just one example; the limited liability corporation is a second; non-compete clauses in Silicon Valley employment contracts is a third.  And, more broadly, the architecture of state and local government and the ways in which it has incentivized local cohorts to develop fruitful networks of innovation, as the literature on agglomeration economics (see, e.g., Edward Glaeser and David Schleicher for terrific analyses of this phenomenon).  This is not a paean to big govenment, to be sure.  It is just to note that the decline of (traditional) lawyers need not bring with it the decline of law which, ceteris paribus, makes the need for careful training of new lawyers an essential project.

And this brings me to a small point in John's essay, but one that ought not escape our attention.  He notes the possibilities that may emerge from the shift in focus from training lawyers to training non-layers (especially scientists and engineers) in law.  I agree completely and take judicial notice of the developments in American law schools, including my own, to focus on modalities of such training.  John says, almost as an aside, that business schools may prove more adept at such training, given their traditional emphasis on quantitative skills.  I believe that this is overstated both as to business schools (whose curriculum has not, in any profound way, concentrated on computational impacts on the new legal economy) and as to law schools.  Law schools, when rightly configured, will have a comparative advantage at educating students in substantive and procedural law on the one hand and the deployment of legal skills and legal reasoning to identify and solve problems.  So long as law and legal structures remain ubiquitous and complex, law schools will have an edge in this regard. 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on June 9, 2014 at 10:19 AM in Information and Technology, Life of Law Schools, Science | Permalink

Comments

Thank you for drawing attention to John's excellent article. I offer a similar take on Technology, Big Data and Educating Tomorrow's Lawyer in The Texas Lawyer: http://www.texaslawyer.com/id=1202655625216/Technology%20Big%20Data%20and%20Tomorrows%20Lawyers?mcode=1202615022869&curindex=3&curpage=ALL&slreturn=20140509234436

Posted by: Josh Blackman | Jun 9, 2014 11:45:41 PM

This would so nice and useful.thanks for the good word. .

Posted by: Pamela rodriguez | Jun 18, 2014 5:42:21 AM

Post a comment