The legal tech industry has raised more than $2.5 billion in 2021, and alternative legal services providers are gaining market share as companies like Deloitte & EY expand their ranks in legal services. This growth leads to new employment opportunities.
However, while both law degree graduates and non-law graduates are driving changes in legal practice and technology, the resulting job opportunities are typically reserved for attorneys only, despite a large pool of talented professionals without JDs.
Those who know this field understand that you don’t have to be a lawyer to excel in this field. A legal background can be an advantage but should not be a requirement.
Several people transforming the practice of law do not have law degrees, including Ulf Zetterberg (Time is Ltd.), Jennifer McCarron (Netflix), and Stephanie Corey (UpLevel Ops), all of whom have had a tremendous impact on how most modern lawyers do work.
Lawyers can manage lawyers
There are several reasons to limit a legal transformation or technology role to attorneys.
What if the position requires goals and objectives for leading the legal department, leading a team of attorneys, or directing strategic management across the legal department? These skills do not require active practice of the law, but we must address the question of whether someone without a legal background can lead attorneys who do legal work.
Take the example of the medical field.
Doctors are specialized licensed professionals in their field, as are lawyers. The medical ecosystem includes nurses, technicians, and administrators, among others. Although physicians have highly technical skills and unique expertise, that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be at the top of every hierarchy in their field.
Consider the Medical Administrator role. Doctors are trained to treat and heal people. But if you want to run a hospital, you can not only study and practice medicine, you also have to study medical administration for years.
State bar associations often restrict lawyers from holding controlling interests. The American Bar Association rules prohibit law firms from offering ownership or other investment and revenue-sharing opportunities to attorneys, resulting in firms where attorneys direct all decision-making despite working in an ecosystem of attorneys.
Legal restrictions on law firms may have created a culture that leads us to believe that you have to be an attorney to lead a team of attorneys, but that is not the case. It is worth noting that such limitations do not exist in all common law jurisdictions.
For example, in 2011 the UK started allowing legal professionals to invest.
Training in state-of-the-art Legal Tech
Legal Technology continues to transform the way legal services are delivered. Legal technology solutions include deep learning algorithms to automate search and data collection, and cloud-based enterprise solutions streamline collaboration between law firms and corporate legal departments.
While attorneys are often end users of this technology, they do not necessarily have the understanding required to implement or teach these systems. Law schools are good at training students to identify legal issues and potential claims before signing contracts, but not so much at leading a full technology process of selection, adoption, and change.
The legal profession needs to consider developing practice-based education around technology to better equip lawyers for these roles in the ‘new law’. In the meantime, we have to acknowledge that some of the most talented legal innovation and technology professionals have developed and implemented these systems company-wide at some of the world’s leading organizations – and this field is multidisciplinary.
Don’t forget that Legal Technology doesn’t just touch Legal. For example, implementing a contract management system often involves sales, procurement, finance, and IT teams.
The need for “JD” after a person’s name is less important than the requirements of the role. Just because a position is in legal education is no reason to choose a lawyer over a subject matter expert.
The same applies to legal training as a prerequisite for non-primarily legal consulting work. Proper hiring practices should focus on the most qualified applicants.
We live in an environment where 1,800 legal tech startups were funded between 2016 and 2022. The legal tech landscape is changing at breakneck speed, and legal operations professionals, many without JDs, are already evaluating their work and adopting legal tech on a daily basis. These skills are essential for modern lawyers to carry out their duties in companies.
The need for evolution
While the future of legal innovation remains unclear, it is evident that law schools must evolve to meet the technological needs of students. At the very least, attorneys and legal professionals need to have more collaborative conversations about the broader Legal Technology education needs.
Legal professionals have a unique opportunity to emphasize the importance of designing and implementing a business solutions ecosystem to achieve greater efficiency and decision-making. If data and trends tell us anything, law firms and corporate legal departments must adapt to achieve better business outcomes, while law schools must transform the way they teach in our modern digital economy.
This article does not necessarily represent the opinion of Bloomberg Industry Group, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.
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Information about the author
Meme Onwudiwe is Executive Vice President of Legal and Business Intelligence at Evisort and an associate professor at Harvard Law School. During his law studies, he helped set up Evisort and lectures on entrepreneurship and innovation.
Tom Stephenson is the General Counsel of Credit Karma. He is focused on making legal deals smarter and faster while implementing right-sized technology solutions that provide meaningful data on how teams work.