Today I came across what could possibly be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. Florida Coastal has decided to respond to the crisis of too many unemployed JDs with mountains of debt by creating a Center for Law Practice Technology (CLPT). What is this CLPT? According to the school’s website:
“At its core, the certificate offered through the center will ensure students graduate with the technological competence all lawyers need in light of the demands of the profession, namely how to leverage technology to serve clients more effectively and efficiently,” Granat said. “However, we also understand it is perhaps even more important to prepare students for new positions in the burgeoning market of companies offering technology solutions for legal services, including electronic discovery, legal process outsourcing, law practice management software, automated document assembly and more.”
So your solution to the debt crisis is to teach recent law graduates, most of whom don’t have any savings to start their own virtual law firms? Hmmmmmmm….
But get this. These “virtual law offices” apparently will help poor people get legal represenation:
Davlantes added the CLPT furthers Coastal Law’s mission to provide “service to the underserved.”
“Many Americans cannot afford a lawyer or they do not qualify for the limited legal aid programs that may be in place in their communities,” she said. “The legal profession faces a delivery problem in that we have failed to develop sustainable models for delivering legal services that are affordable and accessible to all.
I don’t think this achieves either goal…
First, young JDs are not finding employment because they aren’t technologically savvy. Often the new JDs are much more technologically savvy than the hiring partners. The problem is there are not enough jobs for young lawyers, made worse by the fact that student debt from going to law school is crushing. No jobs, too much debt. No amount of technology can fix that. It just can’t.
Starting a law firm right out of law school without any mentorship and experience can lead to disastrous results. It is even riskier if you are undercapitalized and robbing Peter to pay Paul to keep the lights on.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, but the fact of the matter is there are too many JDs and not enough jobs for them.
I am also not convinced that technology is going to help poor people get access to legal services. Having represented, you know, actual poor people, I can tell you this – most don’t have an iPad, a Macbook, or high speed internet. Many do not even have an email account or know how to use one. Technology is an area where the unfortunate are often left behind, because there is a high cost of entry plus an education barrier. Plus, keep in mind that many poor people who need legal representation have just committed a crime like robbing a store, mugging someone, or selling drugs. Others have been injured due to the negligence of someone else, or perhaps they are having a custody dispute. Usually low income citizens with legal problems need an experienced lawyer to show up in a courtroom and competently argue for their rights – not someone sitting in an office drafting documents. That is the reality of “small law”.
But in academia you constantly hear this myth that the solution is easy – figure out a way to provide legal services to the poor by using young lawyers and technology. Why, you’ll kill two birds with one stone, right? Poor people will get legal representation, and young lawyers will find gainful employment. That sounds wonderful!
Well, I’ve got news for you. Technology isn’t going to bridge that gap anytime soon. Access to technology is still reserved for the privileged. A good computer, PDF software, and a smart phone cost money. The poorest are trying to scrounge up enough money to eat for the week. Many are just trying to stay out of prison or seek their kids. Even if they could afford the technology, there is also an education and cultural barrier. Plus, the poor usually need competent trial lawyers, not someone to draft them complex LLC operating agreements. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to competently do litigation from a lawyer’s living room.
Combine this with the fact that young lawyers need to pay bar dues, carry malpractice insurance, carry a CGL policy, access legal research, pay filing fees, pay taxes, own suits, oh yeah and and eat, then suddenly the cost of practicing law, especially the kind of law poor people need, is expensive.
This is another “technology is going to save us all” feel good solution that doesn’t address the real problems. It’s so completely out of touch with reality that my head is spinning.
But hey, virtual lawyers and academics among us will say it’s a step in the right direction.
Towards where, though? I’m not really sure…