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Giving law students a peek into the future

Q&A with visiting professor and innovator Mitch Kowalski
October 30, 2014
Visiting professor Mitch Kowalski is teaching students how to prepare for the legal marketplace of 2025 in his course, Law 2025: Innovation in Legal Services.

Visiting professor Mitch Kowalski is teaching students how to prepare for the legal marketplace of 2025 in his course, Law 2025: Innovation in Legal Services.

Students in Kowalski's class are encouraged to use Twitter to continue the discussion between lectures using the hashtag #law2025.

People often think of law firms and lawyers as serious and staid, unwilling to move forward or embrace new ways of doing business. But Mitch Kowalski, a visiting professor in the Faculty of Law and legal innovator, is bringing a new perspective to law students during his course, Law 2025: Innovation in Legal Services. Through a combination of lectures, case studies, online simulations, role pays, external speakers, and yes, even Twitter, the course highlights skills and knowledge that lawyers of tomorrow will need to excel in the new legal services industry.

“The course focuses on legal services as an ‘industry’ of which lawyers are just one part,” says Kowalski. “We explore the latest innovations, entrepreneurial efforts, and technological advances in the global legal marketplace so that students will be prepared for the legal marketplace of 2025 — not the legal marketplace of 2014.”

We spoke with Kowalsky to find out a bit more about what the future holds for legal professionals.

Q: Tell us a bit about your background and how you became known as the expert in legal innovation.

A: I’ve practised law in Toronto for a number of years in a variety of roles — at a large international firm, a mid-sized firm, in-house counsel, and as a solo practitioner. All of these roles gave me a unique perspective on the delivery of legal services. In addition, I’ve spent the last five years researching, thinking, writing and speaking about structural changes in the legal services market and what these changes mean for clients and for lawyers.

Q: Why is it important to teach law students about innovation in legal services and the future of the practice of law?

A: Law students will soon be entering a legal profession that uses business methods still recognizable to Sir John A. MacDonald: a labour-intensive lawyer-centric model that stubbornly resists change. But, as the Borg say, “resistance is futile.” Because no matter how much lawyers wish to ignore the impact of the 21st century on the way they practice law, you can’t, as George W. Bush said, solve today’s problems using yesterday’s methods and hope to be in business tomorrow.

The current manner in which Canadian lawyers deliver legal services is at the end of its natural life cycle. The business model has served the profession well, but it’s no longer up to the task. The skills and ideas needed to be successful in legal careers of the not-too-distant future are far different than those of the past.

Q: What are some of the trends or innovations you see coming in the next five or 10 years?

A: The next five years will see liberalization in the regulatory scheme under which Canadian lawyers are forced to operate. This will lead to an influx of capital and the creation of new players in the marketplace who will invest heavily in technology and process improvement, making law more accessible, affordable and understandable to everyday Canadians. We are already seeing a change in the buying behaviour of corporate clients, as well as an increase in the number of non-traditional legal services providers such as Cognition LLP and Conduit Law.

Q: In your opinion, what technological change has made the biggest impact (to date), and what has been the biggest detriment on the practice of law?

A: Current legal technology is uninspired, doesn’t integrate well with each other, and is just plain awful. However, the advent of cloud computing and platforms like Clio are gradually improving the situation. Lawyers as late adopters and technological dinosaurs are the greatest detriment to the advancement of technology in law. Fortunately, the current generation of young lawyers and law students are paving the way forward.

Lawyers and law students should live by the words of Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century are not those who can’t read or write — they are the ones who can’t learn, unlearn and re-learn.” For those who are able to learn, unlearn and re-learn, this is a most exciting time ever to be part of the legal profession. But for those who wish to practise law like its 1999, it’s the worst time to be part of the legal profession.

To find out more about #law2025, go to the Assentio Mentium event on Nov. 4. The Future of Law: Legal Trends and Preparing for Practice in 2025 will feature a presentation by Mitch Kowalski followed by a panel discussion. More information is available here.

Follow the conversation from Kowalsky’s course on Twitter.