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Do Law Students Need to Learn About eDiscovery?

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 12, 2016 3:05 PM

The list of things they don't teach you in law school is endless. Common sense? Hardly. Career planning? Nope. How to avoid massive debt? Ha! But chief among the skills you don't learn in law school is how to lawyer. If you don't take advantage of "extras" like clinical education, internships, and competitions, it's quite possible to graduate law school without the slightest idea of what working as a lawyer actually entails.

But while critics have long called for a more practice-ready legal education, some are going a step farther. Law students shouldn't just know how to file something with the county clerk, they need to know all the key competencies of lawyering in the modern day, and that includes hands-on experience with eDiscovery.

Crim Law, Torts, and eDiscovery 101

Almost no law schools offer courses in eDiscovery. Just 30 of the nation's top 205 law schools offer a single eDiscovery class, writes William Hamilton in Legaltech News.

But even a class might not be sufficient. Teaching about discovery isn't enough, Hamilton argues. Unlike Civ Pro or Con Law, law students need to be able to experience eDiscovery practice to understand it. Schools must allow students to go to the data themselves.

While teaching eDiscovery as an adjunct law professor at the University of Florida, Hamilton collaborated with the discovery company Catalyst to create an eDiscovery practicum that allowed students to get "the kinds of hands-on experience that would facilitate and deepen student learning."

Hamilton and Catalyst created an eDiscovery "sandbox" that would allow students to work directly with discovery. Their sand? More than 600,000 emails from the Enron cases, through which students had to search and assess. Sounds fun!

Digital Natives but Not Too Tech Savvy

Experienced legal professionals shouldn't overestimate new lawyers' tech skills. While many students now graduating law school are the first generation of so-called "digital natives," they often don't have the most sophisticated understanding of what lurks under their screens -- or the Google search bar.

Search seems simple, Hamilton writes, "until you have to grapple with the challenges of synonyms, polysemy, near-duplicates, stop words, stemming, case sensitivity, threading, de-Nisting, and the like."

And it's not just eDiscovery where Millennials might like a bit of digital sophistication. A recent survey of college students found that less than a quarter of them were able to put together a "well-executed" Google search. Very few knew you could do more than type in a word or question. Forget about filters or Boolean search terms.

So whether it's eDiscovery or general search, it looks like the youth have a bit of learning to do. Maybe someday, law schools will start helping them out.

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