Technology to radically transform the practice of law – Prof. Wilkins

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Professor David B. Wilkins, Director, Center on the Legal Profession, Harvard Law School during his recent India tour interacted with students of NMIMS Kirit P. Mehta School of Law at Mumbai. Following are select questions asked by curious students of B.A. LLB & B.B.A. LLB, and interesting reply by Prof. Wilkins:

david wilkins, harvard law school, nmims law school, ba llb, bba llb, kirit p mehta

Student 1:  Sir, today, industry-academia linkages are the benchmarks of institutional quality, but the Bar Council of India has prohibited law professors from arguing in the court or acquire any practical training. Do you think that such a policy should continue?

Prof. Wilkins: So, this is a complicated question and let me tell you why I think Bar Council probably has this rule and then let me say a little bit about what I think are its limitations. So, there are countries around the world, Italy is an example where all of the law professors have their own law practice.  And the problem is most of them spend 90 percent of the time on their  law practice and 10 percent of the time teaching students, and this has really had a negative effect on the quality of legal education in many law schools. There are some wonderful law professors in Italy, but many people would agree that it’s a problem. And so, some countries like India have tried to have a separation between the practice of law and the teaching of law. The problem with that is twofold. One is, that the professors sometimes can be very out of touch with what the realities are of legal practice and that’s increasingly a problem as legal practice has changed considerably around the world, particularly in places like India. So, as you say what you really want is a collaboration or an integration of theory and practice, which is hard to get if professors don’t have any exposure or connections to the world of practice or the real world. The second problem is that the academic salaries in public institution are not high enough to attract high-quality faculty who can devote their full-time energy to these institutions. Now for a great private university which runs from a wonderful trust like this one, you don’t have that problem as much as they do in a public university. So, my own view is that while I understand the reason why the Bar Council might be worried about this issue, I think that the way it is set up now is not producing what we really need which is law faculty who really understand legal practice so that they can help students to understand the changing realities of legal practices.  Nor is the current policy attracting enough high-quality people, particularly in a public universities that aren’t the most prestigious ones say like the National Law Schools.

Student 2: In what ways do the changes in the legal profession, particularly those changes ushered in by technological advancements, influenced the development of ethics that guide the profession.

Prof. Wilkins: That is an excellent question! Technology is changing our whole world. One of the things that I mentioned in the talk that I just gave to your wonderful batchmates is that, it has only been 10 years since there were any smartphones. The iPhone came 10 years ago. If we think back, we can’t imagine our life without smart phones.  Now, think to yourself, what are going to be the technological advancements in the next 10 years which we cannot even imagine today. Those things are transforming everything about our world. Of course, they are also going to transform law and lawyering and legal institutions. The problem is that we don’t have a very good way of thinking about the interaction between technology and law because people who are trained in law are typically not trained in technology, and people who are trained in technology are not trained in law. It is only recently, that we have tried to develop a curriculum, or even a way of thinking about these changes, that put technology and law together. But we better start doing it quickly because things like artificial intelligence, big data, and block chains are going to radically transform the practice of law. It won’t turn us all into robots — don’t worry, there will still need to be human beings!  But what those human beings need to know is that the way in which they help their clients and the public at large is changing very dramatically because of technology.

david wilkins, harvard law school, nmims law school, ba llb, bba llb, kirit p mehta

Student 3 : What knowledge or training should law students have, to be relevant as per the changing scenario, should they acquire a second degree, should they do other extra courses, what do you advise, sir?

Prof. Wilkins:  So, this is a big question and one that every law student should be thinking about, but also your professors and the people who run law schools should be thinking about. I think here, you are all very lucky because this law school is a very new law school and there has been a lot of attention on trying to create opportunities for interdisciplinary learning. One thing we know for sure about the future is that in order to be able to help clients solve legal problems you need to know much more than just the law. As I said in my talk here, clients don’t actually have legal problems, they have problem problems.   Lawyers will need to be able to integrate what is legal about those problems, with things like technology, or things like economics or things like business or strategy or culture or human resources and psychology. Now, no one can be an expert in all those things.  So even if you took a lot of courses and stayed in school forever you would never learn everything. But you need to have enough introduction to the major areas that connect with the law so you know how to ask the right questions and seek other help, and be open to working collaboratively, with people who are experts in those other areas, and not just thinking that as a lawyer you’re the one that has all the answers. So, that does mean maybe taking certain other kinds of courses. For some fields it might be getting either another degree, or participating in something  like the program  you have here in law and business, where after you qualify you can take a separate one or two year course where you are really working on the integration of law and business.  Or to take another example, people who are really interested in Intellectual Property Law will need to have at least some serious background in new technologies, engineering, and digital practices.   Even lawyers who want to be litigating lawyers in courts or lawyers who want to do basic kinds of commercial or corporate transactional matters, they are going to have to be at least fluent enough to understand the basics of things like strategy, finance, and psychology to be able to know what are the right questions to ask and who are the right people to work with.

Student 4: Sir, how do you handle the work-life balance?

Prof. Wilkins (Laughs): Poorly is probably the best answer to that. Listen, I actually tell my students that I never call it “work-life balance” because anybody who does these jobs or has children knows it is never in balance. It is never even, it is always one thing or the other thing. I think the key is, first of all, to be clear about your own priorities and what is important. And, my work is very important to me and it’s very fulfilling to me, but it is not the only, or even the most fulfilling thing. I have a wife and a 17-year-old son, not much younger than you. And, it is really important for me to be an important part of his life as he grows up because he is going to be gone very soon, off to university as you are.  These years are precious and I try to make sure that I have the time for him, for my wife, and for my mother who is 89 years young.  But that means that I have to make choices about what I do. I am in India for the next ten days, and that’s an awfully long time to be away from home. I will fly back on Monday morning at 2 AM from Delhi so that I can be there on Monday afternoon for something that my son is doing. I make those kinds of issues a priority. And when I spend time not just with my family, but also my friends, I put those little crackberries (referring to smartphones) away. I don’t answer emails when I’m with other people, and that includes when I’m meeting terrific students like you. I don’t allow my students to have computers in my classrooms or their phones because I tell them that the single hardest thing, particularly for your generation, is to learn how to be present, actually present in a moment. There are so many distractions and you are so used to multitasking that we fool ourselves into thinking that when we are multitasking that we can do everything equally well. In fact, all research says that people do not multitask, they just concentrate on one thing or another serially and that their attention is fractured by constantly being interrupted. Especially for your generation, you have to teach yourselves how to put the phone away; how to turn off email notifications while you are working on something else on your laptop.   I’ll say one other thing: take care of your body. So I was picked up at 9 am today to come here. I got up at 7 am so I could go to the gym first.. I try to go to the gym at least five days a week. I do it because I know that I have to take care of myself before I can take care of anybody else, and also because I enjoy it. So do things that you enjoy, whether it is reading the newspaper on Sunday, listening to music, or going out to a great restaurant – by the way, we ate at Bombay Canteen last night which was fantastic!  But take time to do things for yourself.  Otherwise you won’t be there for anyone else.

Student 5: Any message you would want to give to our students?

Prof. Wilkins: The main message I  want to give to you is that I think this is the most exciting time in the world to be a lawyer, to have a legal education, I should say because some of you will  graduate from here and won’t practice law. You’ll be entrepreneurs or business people, or who knows you may become an artist.  But the kind of training and knowledge and experience that you get as part of a legal education is never been more valuable or important.  But it is also true that it is now more up to you to learn what you need to learn and to get out of this education what you can get out of it than ever before.  And it is critical to remember that education doesn’t just stop when you finish your 5 years and you get your degree, or even when you take the bar exam and you qualify. You have to be a lifelong learner.  Because as much as the world has changed over the last 10 years since we developed the iPhone, just imagine the changes that will be coming in the next 20 or 30 years.  I understand that this may be a little scary.  But it should also be really exciting because there are so many possibilities that are open now. If you would asked me when I was your age, whether I would ever be sitting in a beautiful law school, in Mumbai, India, talking to brilliant law students about the future and they actually care about what I had to say, I would have said you were crazy. So, the world is amazing.  Go grab it!

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