“You can do anything with a law degree.” If you’re a law student or considering law school, chances are you’ve heard some variant of this phrase. Although not technically true, there are new opportunities and areas of specialization emerging all the time. This is the first post in a multi-part series that will consider how the legal world is changing with the emergence of new technology, highlight practice areas experiencing sustainable growth, and explore some of the most popular jobs in the ever-expanding JD Advantage market.
Innovation and technology is disrupting every industry, and the legal world is no exception. Historically, most opportunities in this market have been roles with alternative legal service providers. However, as more law firms are beginning to embrace innovation and make efforts to integrate technology into their practices, exciting new prospects are emerging for the tech-savvy, innovative lawyer.
In April 2018, Reed Smith announced the launch of its Legal Technology Summer Associate Program, which will add a technology focus to the traditional summer associate experience, allowing students to help develop creative, technology-driven solutions. Recognizing that “the capacity to innovate is becoming indispensable to the practice of law,” the program will include projects that employ analytics, blockchain, and smart contract technology to encourage students to think about how technology can improve efficiency and enhance the delivery of legal services. I suspect that we’ll begin to see more law firms follow suit.
Electronic discovery – commonly known as e-discovery – is the process of identifying, preserving, collecting, producing, and reviewing electronically stored information (ESI) in the course of a lawsuit or investigation. ESI includes email, voicemail, documents, and social media, among other things. E-discovery marries the legal know-how of attorneys and the technical expertise of IT professionals, and it is one of the fastest growing specialties in the legal industry. Although e-discovery certainly falls within the purview of legal technology, as a multi-billion dollar industry that presents career prospects in and of itself, it warrants a special shout-out.
E-discovery attorneys often work in law firms or with e-discovery vendors, and increasingly, government agencies and corporate legal departments are bringing e-discovery specialists in- house. The FBI’s Office of General Counsel, for example, has a Discovery Coordination and Policy Unit staffed by expert legal advisors in the field of e-discovery who may have been involved in a little dustup in 2016 you probably heard about. Other attorneys, like Kelly Twigger, have forged their own path. Twigger developed an interest in e-discovery as a litigation partner at an AmLaw 200 firm and went on to found ESI Attorneys, a law firm focused exclusively on e-discovery and information law.
The e-discovery industry has grown exponentially since its inception and shows no signs of slowing down. As technology and laws governing the process continue to evolve at a rapid pace, so too will e-discovery. Not only is there a promising job outlook, but e-discovery professionals seem to genuinely love the work that they do.
Data Protection & Privacy
One of the largest (and most newsworthy) threats facing every business or organization today is a data breach. With more data floating around in the ether than ever before, comes a high demand for attorneys – in law firms, private corporations, and government settings – who can help ensure compliance with relevant privacy laws and advise clients on how to respond to a breach.
Author Richard L. Hermann, who has spent his career researching, evaluating, and accurately predicting where career opportunities will be for law graduates, recently wrote that he believes data protection practice may be the hottest legal field at present. When he asked the general counsel of U.S. Steel what keeps her awake at night, she answered, “I cannot find enough attorneys who understand data protection.” He believes this is a common theme that will continue in corporate America for years to come.
If any of the above opportunities sounds intriguing, you may be wondering what you can do to break into these growing industries. Below are some of the most effective strategies.
- Educate yourself. If you don’t already have a background in technology or business, take classes (at the law school or, if you can, through other graduate degree programs at your university), attend local CLEs, and participate in specialized training programs in the field.
- Join professional associations (e.g. Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists, International Association of Privacy Professionals, International Legal Technology Association) and obtain certifications. Many associations offer student memberships at a discounted rate, and the benefits really can’t be overstated. It will help you connect with experts in the field, demonstrate your commitment to the industry, and enhance your professional credibility.
- Attend industry conferences. Although they can be costly, conferences present an incredible opportunity to expand your knowledge and meet industry professionals. Most professional associations host annual conferences, and there are numerous other legal tech events that happen each year.
- Get practical experience. Find the person in your firm or organization who is working on these issues and make your interest known.
- Find a mentor. If your firm doesn’t have anyone practicing in this area, use the bar association, your alumni network, or the professional associations you’re in to identify someone who will be your Yoda.
- Identify new technology to target. Virtual reality? AI? Drones? Pick something and employ all of the above steps to learn as much as you can. Even as a law clerk, you can begin establishing yourself as the go-to person on a particular subject matter.
- Use social media. Join relevant LinkedIn groups and follow and engage with industry experts (individuals and companies) on Twitter.
If you’re looking for a legal career in the technology space, there are plenty of opportunities – you just need to look for them!
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