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Many new attorneys come out of law school today with very little knowledge of e-Discovery other than the fact that ESI exists and is discoverable. Only about one-third of ABA accredited law schools today offer a dedicated course in e-Discovery. With the significant percentage that document review can take up in the billable hours of new associates and the potential for these newer lawyers to bring a more technologically savvy perspective to their firms, law schools and other actors in the legal education market can make a few changes to educate the next generation of attorneys in the practical skills and knowledge they’ll need on the job.
- Require e-Discovery to be covered in depth in Civil Procedure: Civil Procedure is already a required course, and because it has been added to the MBE portion of the bar exam, many law schools are now putting an increased emphasis on thoroughly educating their students in the subject. Adding e-Discovery to the curriculum of this required course would boost the amount of basic knowledge that students will likely need in the area when they graduate, at the same time that many schools are already increasing their focus on the Civil Procedure generally.
- Updating textbooks and using supplements: Textbooks are expensive and infrequently updated so incorporating a more robust e-Discovery component will take time. In the meantime, textbook publishers and even professors should offer their students e-Discovery supplements covering the latest changes in case law.
- Guest Speakers: Many law schools are located in markets with an abundance of sophisticated firms and e-Discovery vendors. For these schools surrounded by a large pool of potential guest speakers, bringing in an expert to provide an overview of e-Discovery in practice would be invaluable for teaching students about the field. For schools who cannot feasibly bring in a guest speaker, remote conferencing technology could still allow students to learn from leaders in the field remotely.
- Offer dedicated e-Discovery courses: An upper level course dedicated to e-Discovery topics would provide an excellent opportunity for students who are interested in learning more and recognize the value that an e-Discovery savvy applicant can bring to a future employer. For schools that offer these classes today, they are often taught by adjunct professors who work in the field of e-Discovery.
- Hands-on projects: It is rare to find a law student who has taken a class on, or otherwise participated in, the discovery process, let alone one who graduates with hands-on experience dealing with e-Discovery issues. Adding projects to simulate requests for production, and tutorials of how major document review platforms operate, would put new graduates in a position to immediately dive into e-Discovery projects as soon as they are hired.
- Open to non-student attorneys and paralegals: With the focus on current law students, it’s easy to forget that there are a large number of young, tech savvy attorneys and paralegals who have already finished school but didn’t have the luxury of a robust e-Discovery education. Law schools could open up slots in classes for audit to local attorneys and paralegals who pay a tuition fee. A semester long course could go into far more detail than a brief CLE on the topic. This would not only provide in depth classroom level knowledge to those who already have real world experience, but would also foster networking and communication between currently practicing attorneys and current law students.
With the greater roles that ESI is playing in both navigating the discovery process in a cost-efficient way, as well as maintaining high standards of professional responsibility, the current education environment is not enough to adequately prepare today’s law students for today’s practice, let alone tomorrow’s. E-Discovery is a growing field and the number of law schools teaching e-Discovery specific classes and skills needs to be higher than the current 35%. With a few minor curriculum changes, legal educators could go a long way towards remedying that.