COVID-19 pandemic has exposed social, racial, education, and justice inequities of all sorts over the past year. It has forced a paradigm shift in society.
Associate Dean of Research and Scholarship at Albany Law School Christian Sundquist thinks that the law schools of the future will also be radically different in his paper, “The Future of Law Schools: COVID-19, Technology, and Social Justice,” that was published in the Connecticut Law Review in December.
“Change is inevitable—even for law schools—I believe a series of structural forces identified in the article will transform legal practice and legal education,” said Sundquist.
Even though he believes in-person learning will still be important in the future, Sundquist suggests that hybrid online learning will impact law school education beyond this academic year and the pandemic.
But with new territory, comes a new set of issues that legal professionals will need to get in front of, he notes.
“New technologies that are often powered by artificial intelligence have disrupted legal education and practice. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the disruption caused by these technologies, such as predictive legal analytics and AI-enabled software that provide answers to legal questions or research developed from scanned briefs,” Sundquist said. “These have spawned difficult legal questions in court around what it means to practice law.”
Beyond how education is delivered, Sundquist believes that the content of classes will also shift with expanded experiential opportunities and a focus on social and racial justice issues.
“We need to focus on developing the cultural competencies of students via anti-racism and anti-bias courses to ensure our students can interact with an increasingly diverse community,” Sundquist said. “We need to look at law school not as a three-year stopover to get a J.D. but a way to start the path to lifelong learning. In this moment of significant disruption, I foresee an opportunity to retool education that will promote legal education and student capabilities as we move into the future.”
Based on all of this, Sundquist concludes that the law schools of the future will need to ensure that students are prepared to:
- Engage in high-level critical analysis.
- Exercise independent judgment in the analysis of legal problems.
- Provide creative solutions to complicated multidisciplinary problems.
- Provide emotive client-focused representation.
- Understand and utilize emerging legal technologies.
- Advocate on behalf of clients in virtual and online judicial and administrative tribunals.
- Use the “law school” as a center for lifelong learning that can respond to the new and evolving educational needs of both students and alumni.
- Interact with a diverse range of persons with a deep understanding of systemic bias and inequality
“Law schools are facing unprecedented pressure to change from a perfect storm of social, public health, and technological forces. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the ongoing disruptions to legal education and practice caused by technology and social justice activism,” Sundquist said in the paper. “Law schools should use this unique moment in time to acknowledge that these structural forces have rendered the traditional education model in need of transformative change, while taking bold measures to thoughtfully envision the law school of the future, today.”