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What Do Law Students Need to Know About Technology?

What Do Law Students Need to Know About Technology?

  • Student Tips
Joanna HughesDec 20, 2016

Think you can get by in the contemporary legal world as a Luddite? Think again. What might appear charmingly eccentric on television shows does not translate to success in our techno-centric reality. Because of this, more law schools are aiming to help students develop solid foundations in this increasingly important area by integrating technology into their curricula.

Wondering where to begin when it comes to enhancing your technology understanding within the legal sphere? Here’s a closer look at five valuable technology skills for today’s law students.

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1. PDF and Excel Skills

Many legal documents are preserved and shared in PDF forms. But working with these documents isn’t always a matter of clicking and reading. From signing and editing PDFs to securing them with everything from passwords to redacted images, professional-level PDF editors like Adobe Acrobat Pro and Nuance’s Power PDF Advanced can make your life as a lawyer considerably easier -- but only if you know how to use them.

Other basics worth learning? Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and Excel. While some of these tasks can be outsourced to assistants, a basic grasp can help you not only get your work done faster, but also better.

Recommended reading: Tips for law students who want work in Big Tech


2. Software Development and Coding

More likely than not, you’re not pursuing a career in law because of your coding prowess. (But good for you if you are -- your services will be in great demand!) However, a complete lack of knowledge regarding software development and coding can be a handicap, particular given rising demand from clients in the tech sector.

Law students with a grasp of the basics of coding not only gain first-hand insights into the process required in the creation of new tech and online ventures, but are also better positioned to understand how that product fits into the tech world -- a vital perspective when it comes to intellectual property and patent law.

The takeaway? While you don’t need to be a developer yourself, you do need to become conversant in the common language in order to communicate with clients and strategize on their behalf.

Browse technology law programs

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3. Advanced Analytics

Big data offers tremendous potential to increase decision-making in the contemporary world, and the legal sector is not exempt.

How, specifically, can big data and advanced analytics be put to work within the legal industry? For starters, big data allows us to quickly and efficiently analyze massive amounts of information. The result for lawyers? Access to new correlations and insights which can help answer previously unanswerable questions. This can take the form of everything from new evidence in court to increased transparency for corporate clients, consumers and even law firm HR departments.

The good news? You don’t have to be a data scientist to harness the power of big data. Startups like Juristat offer law-specific tools, including data visualizations and analytics, to promote innovation and transparency in the legal sector.

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4. Blogging and Social Media Skills

Blogging is no longer the domain of mommies, foodies, and other “ies.” Not only can law students improve their writing and critical thinking skills by blogging themselves, but reading legal blogs can also help them stay apprised of relevant and/or rising issues. Staying current is particularly important in today’s fast-moving law landscape, and blogs are one of the best ways to keep up. Law firms and lawyers, meanwhile, will also find great value in social media for everything from networking to raising their profiles in the legal world.

In fact, results from the ABA’s most recent Legal Technology Survey Report indicate that more law firms than ever are establishing online presences as a strategic measure: 76 percent in 2015 compared to 55 percent in 2012. Lawyers, meanwhile, report interacting online for reasons including career development (71 percent), client development (48 percent), education and awareness (45 percent) and case investigation (24 percent).

Businessman or lawyer, working late business hours with  laptop, digital tablet and coffee on his office desk as he completes his work with signing a final document, focus to the pen.

5. Online Research Tools

Why spend hours in a dusty old legal library when so many resources are right at your fingertips in the form of today’s extensive and free online research tools? While unlimited Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis subscriptions are outside the financial reach of most law students and even some smaller-sized law firms, students with savvy online research skills can find what they need while keeping costs at a minimum.

Apps like Evernote, meanwhile, can help you compile and track findings from multiple sources in one central and accessible format.

While using technology may be outside of your comfort zone now, all evidence points to it becoming a “must-have” moving forward. So why wait until you’re a busy lawyer to acquire this knowledge when law school offers an opportune learning environment...along with the potential to acquire skills which will make your resume shine?

Joanna Hughes

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.