The Law School "Trump Bump" May be Misguided
By Samar Warsi
Trump’s election has caused a surge in law school applications but given the recent advances in legal technology - more lawyers may not be the most effective way to combat Trump’s policies.
In recent years, law schools across the country have dealt with significant drops in enrollment. In fact, law school enrollment has declined from 126,000 in 2010 to 97,265 in 2016 according to the American Bar Association.
But this trend may be changing.
In the past year, the number of people taking the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) has shot up. The test is administered nationally four times a year. According to one count, in February, the number of test-takers went up by 5.4 percent from the prior year; in June, there was a 19.8 percent year-over-year increase; in September, the number of people who took the test increased by 10.7 percent and based on registration figures, the December exam test takers went up by a staggering 21.4 percent.
Being called the “Trump Bump,” some in the legal community attribute this sudden surge of LSAT test takers to the political climate.
Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council notes that the increased interest in law school is on both sides of the aisle. People against Trump “want to be the judge that stood up to him” whereas people for Trump think “I could have won that case for him,” Testy told the Chicago Tribune.
While a number of Trump policies, particularly on immigration, means more people need the help of lawyers – the relevant question becomes: with automation and artificial intelligent tools in the legal industry, does the country need more lawyers to increase access to justice?
The reason law school enrollment declined in the first place is because the job market was brutal for new graduates. The unemployment rate ten months after graduation for the class of 2016 was 8.8 percent, down from 9.7 percent the previous year according to the American Bar Association. The higher percentage of law students employed, however, result from a 7 percent decrease in the size of the graduating class. In other words: there aren’t more jobs, there are just fewer lawyers.
Part of this can be attributed to the legal tech space, which has been booming for the last few years. Funding for legal industry startups received a record number of deals in 2016 with $155 million invested across 67 deals. In 2015, there were fewer deals but a total of $289 million was invested in legal startups. Law firms adopting legal technology have already shifted the hiring process for new graduates.
ROSS Intelligence, dubbed the “Siri for law” recently partnered with Northwestern University’s Pritzer School of Law in an effort to “teach the next generation of lawyers” how to use AI to increase access to justice. The company, which was founded in 2015 by Andrew Arruda, Jimoh Ovbiagele and Pargles Dall’Oglio at the University of Toronto, builds AI tools for lawyers.
The idea is simple: help lawyers do more work in less time.
In the short term, the goal of the partnership is to teach the next generation of lawyers how AI can and will shape their careers by training them and allowing them to use it in their access to justice work. In the long term, the ROSS teams hopes to work with students and faculty at Pritzker School of Law to build out their own AI systems. In theory, any tool that increases efficiency and leads to lower legal costs could increase overall access to justice.
ROSS is not the only AI company partnering up with a law school. The AI Now Institute partnered up with New York Law University Law School. And while some law schools have not partnered with AI companies, law schools across the country are teaching courses about the role of AI in the legal field.
For Arruda, the trend can be easily explained: “AI allows each lawyer to do more than was ever before humanly possible. Whether it’s a legal aid group in an economically disadvantaged area, a pro-bono litigant in a small town, or even a research team at a major law firm, AI will assist and enhance lawyers of every type and experience level.”
Despite the discussion surrounding “robo lawyers,” AI tools are designed to enhance a lawyer’s abilities, not replace them. For example, AI may perform the task of eDiscovery, a task that involves reviewing documents that may be relevant to a particular case typically done by first-year associates. If AI handles eDiscovery, new lawyers can spend their time solving tougher and more complex problems, crafting legal strategies or using that free time to take on social justice case created by one of Trump’s policies.
AI could also be extremely valuable in the legal aid space itself, almost serving as an assistant that can help with traditionally time-consuming tasks such as the intake process, legal research, monitoring grants and overall case management. If these processes can be streamlined and simplified, the organization can spend less time on paperwork and more time on handling a larger volume of cases.
The renewed interest in law school simply comes at a time when technology is increasing efficiency; decreasing legal costs; and freeing up the time of existing lawyers to serve clients in need.
Samar Warsi is a lawyer and journalist whose writings on emerging technology, legal innovation and American civil liberties have been published in Jurist, Vice, The Globe and Mail, The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Globe, Deseret and the Express Tribune. She tweets at @swarsi.