Are law schools doing enough to prepare graduates for today’s technologically-oriented legal environment? If they are not teaching courses in e-discovery, they should be, says Bill Hamilton, a National e-discovery partner at Quarles and Brady LLP in Tampa, Fla.
“Legal practice habits change slowly, and this is a rapidly changing new environment,” said Hamilton, who is also the E-Discovery Dean and Department Chair at Bryan University, where students can earn a graduate level certificate in E-discovery. In addition, he is the Director of the E-Discovery Law Project at University of Florida, Levin College of Law.
In days past, students would learn how to think like a lawyer in law school, but they would learn their practical skills from experienced attorneys during their first years in practice.
Now, ironically, the newer graduates who have had courses in e-discovery are often coming to the table with a greater skill set than more seasoned attorneys. “The vast majority of practitioners in the field do not have sophisticated e-discovery skills because it was a change that happened while they were in practice,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton believes that some law schools do not spend sufficient time on e-discovery, burying the topic in a few days of Civil Procedure. However, e-discovery knowledge is crucial. “In 2007 at University of Florida, we conceived it as a survival course,” he said. Law students at University of Florida have the opportunity to partner with Catalyst Repository Systems (www.catalystsecure.com), a company that makes cloud-based e-discovery software, to complete real-life exercises in e-discovery.
Though law graduates do not always intend to practice traditional law, Hamilton said that it would be “highly advisable” for law students to enter the practice of law with a knowledge of e-discovery, either through their law school if courses are available or through outside courses.
What to do if e-discovery classes are not available in your law school? Lobby for it, advises Hamilton. “There are adjuncts in each city that would love to teach it; there is no reason a law school can’t bring in an adjunct to teach it once a year.”
Hamilton said that discovery in today’s legal climate is no longer a back room support function. He’s recently taught an e-discovery training course at a law firm for litigators.
“The locus of truth seeking has moved from trial deposition to early e-discovery process. These skills are absolutely mandatory to have a handle on to win cases and to keep up with technology, to understand the revolution that is taking place, as we speed through this era by litigation being done more by machine and less and less by humans,” said Hamilton.
E-discovery has paradoxically made it more difficult to find traditional jobs in the workplace, though a host of new opportunities have opened up for law graduates skilled in these areas, including work with vendors and in the government and even project management.
Nick Dorman will be entering his third year at University of Florida Levin College of Law. This summer he is working for a law firm, working with plaintiff’s complex litigation and getting a crash course in e-discovery. As he’s learned quickly, “It’s pretty crucial to have a solid understanding of e-discovery,” noting that many of the younger attorneys have a more in depth understanding of these concepts than their older counterparts.
In general, though, Dorman doesn’t believe that law schools adequately prepare their students for being litigators. “There clearly needs to be more practical experience incorporated into the JD program itself,” he said, such as apprenticeship-like opportunity.
As he wanted to stay on the front lines of current legal trends to make himself more marketable, Dorman took advantage of the e-discovery courses at his law school, learning a whole range of e-discovery principles and working with documents in a simulated litigation via Catalyst Insight and Predict. “The class was evenly split between learning the law around this area and actually doing practical exercises in this area,” he said. “I think you can learn most things on the job, most people do, but it is certainly a leg up.”