Training lawyers for a digital world


The world of work needs to change rapidly to keep pace with the digital revolution, and English law is no exception. But combining complex legal principles with digital thinking is no small feat. Enter the Oxford LawTech Education Program (OLTEP), an education program for lawyers that brings together the disciplines of law and computing, opening up new possibilities for the practice of law of the future.

“We want to make people bilingual”

The 2018 project (check date) ‘Unleashing the Potential of Artificial Intelligence for English Law’, led by Professor John Armour, provided the research underlying the establishment of OLTEP. The results have led to the development of a new module for Oxford University IT and Law students, designed to help students from both disciplines better understand how the two fields can work together more effectively.

The success of the module with students led to the creation of the OLTEP – a learning resource for training practicing lawyers using the same interdisciplinary principles. The OLTEP project is led by Professor Tom Melham (IT), Professor Rebecca Williams (Law) and Dr Václav Janeček (Law).

Professor Williams says: “We want to make people bilingual – so a lawyer can sit down with an IT guy and have an intelligent conversation. They would know what questions to ask, understand the terminology, the measures used, the different systems. It’s about having cross-disciplinary conversations in an intelligent and productive way.

“We want to collaborate, it’s the only way to move forward”

The project team worked closely with two key external partners to identify and shape the course based on the unique needs of the practice of law.

The Government Legal Department (GLD) is the largest legal department in the country, responsible for developing, implementing and advising on government policies and decisions. Ruth Ward, Director of Knowledge, presented at the ‘Unlocking…’ launch conference in her previous role in the private sector. She was keen to explore the continued connection to the GLD.

“I was aware that AI was becoming part of the legal practice knowledge that all of our lawyers needed,” Ruth says. “So we were keen to develop and pilot an introductory program that would be relevant and useful for all government lawyers. AI is not an easy topic to tackle at an introductory level, not least because lawyers and technologists tend to be very attached to their words and what they mean. We found that the Oxford team had, by developing and running their own in-house course, overcome these obstacles to be able to present the relevant technology and legal concepts and implications in a clear and understandable way. This expert multidisciplinary approach certainly contributed to the success of our initial partnership with Oxford.

The OLTEP team also worked closely with leading law firm Slaughter and May, a former partner on “Unlocking…”.

“There’s always been a real synergy between the questions they ask and what we’re working on,” says Jane Stewart, knowledge and innovation manager at Slaughter and May, “and the professionalism of the team is absolutely outstanding. It makes working together a truly productive and enjoyable experience. Innovation in legal services is for the good of the industry as a whole. So we really want to work together – it’s the only way forward.

“We want people to be confident users”

The two organizations participated in a series of interviews to identify training needs and shape the content of the module accordingly. Developing an efficient means of delivery was also essential – teaching was initially planned in person, but shifted to remote and asynchronous delivery due to the pandemic. This ultimately turned out to be a positive move, leading to the creation of a training resource that can now be accessed and scaled more easily.

“Our course includes exercises, readings, discussions, questions and answers. It is a real education. We expect people to know something permanently when they’re done,” says Professor Melham. “I don’t think we would have achieved all of that with an in-person delivery.”

After perfecting the initial introductory modules, OLTEP is now focusing on developing intermediate modules to meet industry needs. The team continues to work with the GLD and Slaughter & May, and is now reaching out to other law firms looking to improve.

“To effect change in the industry, we want people to be confident users,” says Dr Janeček. “Our goal is to train at least 20% of practicing lawyers.

With just under 40% of all companies approached accepting the offer of the pilot program and accreditation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority on the horizon, the team appears to be on track to achieve its goal.

Learn more about OLTEP at https://www.oltep.ox.ac.uk/

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