LawTech: Diploma Challenge 2020

The past year with LawTech has been an unusual one, as I think many others can relate to. The shift to an entirely virtual way of working and socialising has been a big change, even for a group that is interested in developing understanding and communication around technology. I thought, as the weather gets better (and as a distraction from my own impending exams) it would be a good time to reflect on the past year for LawTech.

“Students…often joke about entering law with the intention of never looking at their school science and maths books ever again.”

One of the goals for this year was the greater inclusion and engagement of law students. It has been a constant area of improvement for us, to learn how to reach and involve students who often joke about entering law with the intention of never looking at their school science and maths books ever again. We reached out to Laura McBrien the Head of the Diploma course at Edinburgh. Over the latter half of 2020 we developed our plans to engage students in legal technology in collaboration with the aims of the Diploma course.

This work over last winter took place in many coffee shops, with many discussions around how to develop a Challenge that supplemented knowledge while being accessible to those who had never looked at legal technology before. Due to COVID restrictions, we created an entirely online Challenge, premised around email exchanges between an associate partner and the trainee solicitor, the student.

Highly recommended is the Gordon St Coffee mocha for energy when preparing events.

The content of the Challenge itself was tailored specifically to DPLP students at the University of Edinburgh. The Professional Skills and Responsibility course culminates in a Legal Tech presentation where groups of students work together to present technology they think is useful for lawyers. This presentation takes place in the second semester of the course, normally in February. As such, the Diploma Challenge was scheduled for the first semester in order for students to use the information they gained in their later coursework. During the development of the Challenge we were grateful for the input of both Laura McBrien and Esther Duncan, head of the PSR course. Their help meant we could fully integrate the aims of the Legal Tech presentation into our Challenge to make the exercise more useful to students.

The Challenge itself was released on the 16th November. We encouraged students to sign up beforehand and received a good number of sign-ups. Every student who signed up and completed the Challenge was given a goody bag — including participation certificate, pizza vouchers from Civerinos (an Edinburgh Uni staple diet) and gifts from participating firms.

“Students were given two weeks to develop a short practice note on specific legal tech products to present to partners at the firm.”

Students were given two weeks to develop a short practice note on specific legal tech products (smart contracting and data analysis software) to present to the partners at the firm, on the premise that they were sceptical of the use of tech. A week into the challenge, additional information was emailed out. The trainee was asked to add a short amount of information explaining how machine learning can help review contracts.

A text based image with the logo for LawTech in the left hand corner. The text states: “Welcome to the LawTech Diploma Legal Tech Challenge 2020! This Challenge is aimed at introducing you to the professional world, and how you may be asked to complete tasks in a law firm environment. Please find the details for the challenge below:”
A text based image with the logo for LawTech in the left hand corner. The text states: “Welcome to the LawTech Diploma Legal Tech Challenge 2020! This Challenge is aimed at introducing you to the professional world, and how you may be asked to complete tasks in a law firm environment. Please find the details for the challenge below:”
The introduction to the Diploma Challenge, sent out to all students.

We were aware that even the terms of these technologies can appear daunting when first looked at. This is an issue that is hard to tackle, and often the only way to do so is to dive into research and just start Googling. We held an online drop-in session so students could approach us with questions if they were concerned.

As this was the first year of the Challenge, the process helped reveal bumps in the road. The development of any project is never smooth sailing and this was as true here as elsewhere. We extended the deadline for the Challenge after taking into account the large number of end-of-term assignments that were due. In future iterations we will likely shift the dates slightly so students are not faced with a daunting level of work. Zack and I were both Diploma students ourselves this year; we deeply relate to the pressures students are facing in general and due to the pandemic more widely.

“We were blown away by the response from the legal industry and the students.”

Overall, the Diploma Legal Tech Challenge was a success. For a first run, we were blown away by the response from the legal industry and the students. The prize we offered this year reflected our aim of creating connections for students with industry professionals. We had volunteers from Shepperd and Wedderburn, Pinsent Masons and Dentons all offer to share their time with students and offer a personalised insight into the profession, alongside advice. One of our winners, Zoe Nugent, had the following to say for the experience:

“I participated in the Legal Tech challenge as it was a topic I didn’t know much about but recognised it’s a hugely significant and developing area for anyone interested in legal practice. I enjoyed researching smart contracts, document analysis and automation and taking part in the challenge has given me confidence and motivation to develop my knowledge further. I also had the opportunity to talk to Steve Dalgleish who is Head of Technology at Shepherd and Wedderburn. This was an incredibly informative and enjoyable conversation. We both agreed there is definitely a need and demand for having a technology course as part of the Diploma. Overall, the challenge has left me feeling optimistic that the legal profession will embrace technology more and more. This will make us more dynamic and efficient as lawyers and it’s hard to argue against that!”

Two certificates, the first obscuring the second, with the name of the First Place Winner on the former.
Two certificates, the first obscuring the second, with the name of the First Place Winner on the former.
Zoe’s Certificate, sent out alongside a goody bag.

The experience has been a steep learning curve, but we hope to continue the Challenge for years to come. Technology in law is a growing area of importance and the law professionals of now and the future need to be prepared for how it will impact their working life. We hope in a small way that LawTech is helping to prepare students for this reality. We would like to thank everyone who has helped in the development of the Challenge, and we look forward to creating more opportunities for students in law and technology to connect ideas and develop connections.

If you are interested in learning more about the work we do at LawTech, and in getting involved please follow us on Facebook and Twitter. All welcome regardless of experience, our DMs are open if you have any questions.

Lead Co-ordinator & Founder LawTech: UofE. Mainly I live off bad puns & peppermint tea. Belfast / Glasgow / Edinburgh. History MA / Law LLB & DPLP (she/her)