As pointed out in prior published opinions, legal education and the legal profession have lagged behind technology and have been slow to make changes required to provide graduates with the skills to succeed and lawyers with the skills that provide sufficient value required by Information Age clients and government departments.
Addressing these concerns, in mid-May, a group of Oxford professors led by Professor Rebecca Williams presented the findings of their research project, which explores the relationship between legal education, professional training and technology.
The thesis underlying the study was that a major limitation for both the profession and legal education was the limited skills possessed by lawyers. The report suggests five core skills areas that should be addressed to fill this skills gap in terms of mindset understanding, data-oriented thinking, agile system and design thinking, commercial awareness, digital ethics, and the law of AI and digital technology.
Mindset understanding encompasses a grasp of the world and thinking behind computer science and how it operates, including its strengths and weaknesses. Data-oriented thinking refers to lawyers being aware of the role and importance of data and information science in improving decision making and devising creative solutions to clients' problems. Also, a core skill for lawyers is the ability to apply design thinking and work with professionals in other disciplines to devise creative, holistic and systemic solutions to complex problems faced by clients and governments. Commercial awareness refers to the ability to see law as an information service and appreciate the commercial value, threats and opportunities for clients in today's society where disruption and rapid change are the norms. Finally, new technologies raise significant ethical and legal issues, the resolving of which requires lawyers to be key players in devising solutions that enable clients, specifically, and society, generally, to reap the rewards of technology and minimize its potential harms.
The report leaves unresolved questions about how to best design and deliver the training required to meet the skills gaps identified. My view is that there will be multiple and diverse solutions. Universities should be proactive in breaking down the barriers between disciplines by designing and delivering courses that meet this need. Law firms, technology firms, government and others should be proactive in creating and offering shorter professional courses for those already into their careers and seeking to deal with such issues. Law schools, computing schools, business schools, public administration and other disciplines should consult with the professions and industry and review their curricula to ensure they are responsive to the needs of the 21st century.
Indeed, I am reminded of one of Australia's first E-business Law and Management Courses, designed with my University of Canberra colleagues and delivered over 20 years ago. It brought together people from law, computing, government, business and other disciplines. All benefited from the cross-pollination of ideas and shared understandings necessary to evolve genuine and workable solutions to questions raised by new technologies. Through such engagement, all professions will develop the skills, experience and wisdom required to move us forward to a better and more prosperous society.
Finally, I note that this work is part of a larger project on Unlocking the Potential of Artificial Intelligence for English Law. Given China's leading role in the development of AI, it will be exciting to see corresponding Chinese efforts to develop its legal technologists required to enable the legal profession and society to effectively realize the full potential of AI.
Eugene Clark is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
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