The evidence pops up on a screen in front of the jury. Meeting with a lawyer is done via video conference. And court documents that used to be stored in boxes are on a flashdrive.
Technology advances in the practice of law are rapidly changing, and Long Island colleges and universities are adjusting their programs to prepare the more than 1,300 law students Islandwide.
Hofstra University has a high-tech mock courtroom and provides its students iPads on which they keep their legal arguments, evidence and other court documents. Students at the Touro Law Center are learning how to use artificial intelligence for electronic discovery, creating algorithms to sort digital data.
“Technology is revolutionizing and changing the practice of law each and every day,” said Judge Gail Prudenti, dean of Hofstra’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law and executive director of the Center for Children, Families and the Law. “Firms are using technology more and more to become more efficient to save time and to save costs.”
Technology also is “helping to expand greatly access to legal services for those who cannot afford it — both those of modest means, as well as those who live below the poverty line,” Prudenti said.
Hofstra in early October offered its first one-day legal tech boot camp for students, discussing the role of technology in law and the skills needed in the workplace. The event touched on e-discovery, e-filing, e-billing, cybersecurity, e-research and the use of artificial intelligence and how it’s improving legal services.
The Hempstead-based, 853-student law school plans to offer the boot camp again next year and hopes to open it to the community, including law professionals.
“What we’re trying to do is give our students an opportunity to explore not just where the practice of law is now, but where it’s headed,” said Courtney Selby, Hofstra law professor, associate dean for information services and director of the Law Library. “We’re trying to give them the opportunity to see a little bit into the future of their own professional lives.”
This fall, Hofstra also began offering a class in courtroom technology and advanced advocacy. Students, playing the roles of attorneys, judge and juror, conduct mock trials in the recently updated court classroom, presenting evidence on screens controlled by their iPads. Using the TrialPad app, students can digitally access case files and store evidence. They can then take that evidence and highlight or zoom in on portions of photos or documents, making it easier to point out information to witnesses.
The technology not only makes documents more easily accessible, but allows attorneys to tell a story, keeping jurors engaged, said special professor of law Jared Rosenblatt, who teaches the class.
The course helps make students more marketable, as courtrooms and law firms across the state implement the technology, Rosenblatt said. “In this ever-difficult job market, we need our students to stand out, to be able to say to an employer not only do I have the sufficient experience, but this is what I can do to help your firm, help your business.”
Hofstra third-year law student Taylor Cain, 25, of Wantagh, said taking the class has made him feel “ahead of the game. We’re getting ahead of a field that’s emerging.
“It’s one thing to go up there with an exhibit and say, ‘What is this exhibit, what does it say?’, and it’s another thing to use technology to actually break that exhibit down in a more helpful manner," he added.
Gabriella Malfi, 28, of Great Neck, a third-year law student who also took the course, described one class where the students came in with their opening and closing arguments and directs and cross-examinations printed out, and they were using the iPad separately.
The professor taught them to use the notes feature in PowerPoint so they could go paperless, said Malfi, who has been working for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and has accepted a full-time position there next fall.
“It’s another way to get more comfortable in the courtroom and more understanding of how to respond to objections, how to get evidence in if you can’t get it in, how to use the technology,” she said of the class.
The focus on technology doesn’t end with learning new ways to use devices in the courtroom, but also how to sift through information.
“Over time, the amount of information stored digitally has grown exponentially,” said Jack Graves, professor of law and director of digital legal education at Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center.
The Central Islip-based college, which has 486 law students, has been offering an e-discovery course for the last four years. Discovery is the process of finding and reviewing information used in litigation.
Along with electronic records, there’s also more digital communication, so the course teaches students how to search for and analyze information, Graves said.
Artificial intelligence and computer algorithms are increasingly being used to locate information relevant to the case, he said. Artificial intelligence is also being used to predict settlement values and legal outcomes.
Technology also is changing how legal services are delivered, he said. Graves offers a course in building automated systems that can be used, for example, to create automated client intake. Clients can assess their own legal needs before meeting with an attorney. It also allows attorneys to see more clients, as they move away from the days of hourly rates with lawyers chained to their desks, he said.
These methods, along with the use of digital communication, also allow attorneys to deliver cost-effective legal services to those who can’t otherwise afford them, he said. “By rethinking what is it that we're trying to do, and coming up with a better, more efficient way to solve a given problem, we make that solution more accessible to more people."
Touro has been offering courses online, and flipped its classroom — so content is taught online and the classroom is reserved for discussion, said Harry Ballan, Touro Law Center dean and law professor. The program encourages team-based learning, using technology to allow students to comment on projects and grade each other, Ballan said.
The use of online technology allows the college to deliver a better, more accessible education to students who may not otherwise have been able to attend, Graves said.
“Whether we're talking about educating law students, or law students providing legal services, the idea is that the appropriate use of technology, blended with individualized interaction as necessary, can make law schools better at educating tomorrow's lawyers and can make tomorrow's lawyers better at delivering legal services to their clients,” he said.