On February 7 over 800 people gathered at the ReInvent Law NYC event to discuss the future of law and the impact of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in the legal services industry. The audience included a diverse group of people: large firm lawyers and legal professionals, solo practitioners, entrepreneurs, techies, academics and others. One of the largest representation of people in the audience and participating as speakers were law students. This is not entirely surprising since the ReInvent Law conference was created by the ReInvent Law Laboratory and Michigan State University College of Law professors Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake in the Spring of 2012.
The concept behind the laboratory is to “offer innovative courses for law students and practicing attorneys to develop new ways of delivering legal services.” ReInvent Law sets out to “fill the R&D gap for law firms, in-house legal departments, and other legal service providers by conducting experiments, beta testing new products and engaging in market research.”
While we applaud the mission and vision behind ReInvent Law, we wonder why other law schools are not conducting similar initiatives to serve their students. After all, job prospects for law students who are graduating law school are grim. According to a report released in June 2013 from the National Association for Law Placement “NALP” employment for 2012 graduates fell to 84.7 percent from 85.6 the previous year, the fifth straight decline. The employment rate, the lowest since 1994, has fallen from a 24-year high of 91.9 percent in 2007. The report also show that less than 60 percent of law graduates secured full-time jobs that required bar passage.
This in turn has created a domino effect for law schools. Enrollment of first-year students at U.S. law schools this academic year fell 11 percent to 39,675, the lowest since 1977, according to a report released by the American Bar Association. The report points to concerns about the job market as well as the cost and growing levels of debt associated with three years of graduate school, according to ABA President James R. Silkenat.
There has been harsh criticism of the law school system including a blog called Inside the Law School Scam and a book called “Failing Law Schools” by Brian Z. Tamanaha. The NYC Bar Association issued a recent report of the City Bar’s Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession, which urged that “law schools seek to provide “practice ready” lawyers and that the third year of law school provide practical experience or otherwise better prepare graduates for their legal careers.“
At the same time that all of this is taking place, corporations are making substantial investments in social technologies and processes and reinventing themselves as social businesses. Leading executives know that organizations that know how to leverage collaboration to improve business agility will be the ones which will succeed in the near future.
In a recent article in Inc., Vala Afshar, Chief Marketing Officer for Extreme Networks, and author of “The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence.” writes about the importance of social business skills. “Social businesses want social candidates to be part of their ecosystem. They look for candidates with an online presence that showcases accomplishments, networking capabilities, and measures of their influence. All things being equal, if you have two candidates, it makes sense to hire the person who is more socially active because their ability to impact others is so much greater. With this shift in the way that companies recruit candidates, they’re continually and actively hunting for talent, rather than waiting for the talent to come to them.”
Afshar goes on to write, “By the end of this decade, the millennial generation will comprise more than 75 percent of the workforce. That workforce is mobile, social, and hyper-connected, with a deep desire for a real-time understanding of events. If, as a job candidate, you haven’t built up your personal online brand (your accomplishments and, most importantly, your beliefs and values) you risk becoming irrelevant to any forward-looking employer regardless of your domain expertise.“
While it is true that most major law firms are only at the very early stages of use and deployment of Social Business technologies and practices. There is a nearly universal recognition by large law firms of the growing importance of social technologies for external marketing and business development purposes. It is only a matter of time until major law firms and in-house legal departments consider social business skills as an important consideration when hiring new talent.
Therefore, it is time for law schools to react to this reality and start teaching social business skills to law students as part of their curriculum. Social business skills include the use of social technologies for communication and collaboration. Just as important however, is the social business mindset of teamwork, collaboration and a law student’s ability to connect with their colleagues and their company or firm.
Law schools should begin to deploy internal social networks as a way to get students and faculty to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. They should also assist and encourage law students to build their personal brand and to use public social networks as a way to grow their networks and connections.
The students at ReInvent Law get this. They understand what they need in order to survive in this new connected economy. They are not waiting for law firms to hire them. They are going out and creating new projects and start-ups on their own. It is time for law schools to wake up and respond to the existing market conditions. Not just a few law schools but all of them. As Vala Afshar wrote in his article: “Be social or be irrelevant. The choice is yours.“