Initially, Emily Janoski-Haehlen simply emphasized the importance of legal tech skills with her students — she was not looking to build a technology center.
“It was amazing to me what students in my legal drafting and legal research classes couldn’t do,” Janoski-Haehlen says. “I noticed a huge gap in what the techie generation thinks they know, and what they actually know about technology.”
Janoski-Haehlen is associate dean of Academic Affairs, Law Library & Law and Technology Programs at the University of Akron. To begin addressing this skills gap for her students, Janoski-Haehlen developed one-hour programs on topics including e-discovery, smart contracts, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. “We identified the need by looking at what our students know and what don’t they know,” she explains. “My main goal was to integrate legal tech into the curriculum so that when students graduate, they’re ready to practice law — not just ready to go into a courtroom, but ready to do the business of law.”
Technology in legal
Students told her how invaluable these skills have been, and she wanted to reach more students. She gave CLE presentations and soon was being invited by law firms to present on technology in legal practice. In need of a program to put all these elements together, Janoski-Haehlen essentially evolved the university’s law library into a technology center.
“My librarians got on board, and we started looking at how we could integrate skills across the curriculum,” she says. “We looked at the trial advocacy class and using courtroom presentation technology. Even our clinics are mobile, and that was before COVID-19. We have an inmate assistance program, and the students have to take all of the resources with them to the jail.”
From her law firm presentations and involvement with the Akron Winter Institute, Janoski-Haehlen realized that the need for stronger technology skillsets goes beyond law students. “My original goal was, ‘Let’s get the students practice-ready,’” she notes. “It has expanded into: The students need to be ready, but the people they are working for need to be ready, too.”
Indeed, it’s often her former students leading technology initiatives when they enter law practice. “I have a lot of students who go back to practice with their families,” she explains. “One student went back to Idaho and is working with his father’s firm. He said, ‘I streamlined the entire firm’s processes just using CMS and some document automation. It saved my dad so much time and money that I’m now the favorite!’”
This isn’t the only story like this that students have shared with her. “I’ve also heard from students hired as associates at small or mid-sized firms,” says Janoski-Haehlen. “All of a sudden, they are the ones in charge of legal tech for their firm! It’s such a positive reinforcement of the program — these students are actually using the skills they’re learning in class.”
Janoski-Haehlen describes her teaching style as hands-on. “I want the students to embrace the technology, and to screw up and have issues, and call me with their frustrations so we can talk through those,” she says. “It really helps students problem-solve.”
Adapting to remote work
Since COVID-19 has moved classes online, she has been reaching out to her students more often via Google Chat and with additional WebEx office hours. She has tweaked her lectures and discussions to focus on how attorneys are adapting to remote work. “The pandemic has been a good topic for class,” she says. “Students have had to realize how much attorneys have had to change in the last four to five weeks. If you don’t embrace technology, you can’t do online meetings with your clients or online mediation. What’s going to happen to you in your future?”
Most students react positively to learning legal tech skills, with some exceptions, she observes. “I’ve gotten some negative concerns like, ‘Why do I need to know about this? I’m going to law school to practice law, not to be a computer wizard,’” she says. “To them, I say: You don’t have to use these things, but you do have to know about them because your opposing counsel might be using them. Clients might expect you to have an online case management system, where they can log in because they don’t want to pick up the phone every time they want to see the status of their case.”
Janoski-Haehlen recently collaborated with faculty from various institutions and the law school division at Thomson Reuters to deliver a online certification program for student, which she says has shaped how she teaches, as well as work she has done with others. “Early on in my career, I was told to be careful working with vendors because their training sessions always devolve into sales pitches,” she says. “I’ve found in working over the years with vendors that they really want our students to succeed and learn how to use the products.”
“The recent certification project I’ve been doing has been eye-opening,” she says. “We’re not focusing on the platform, it’s about the learning. And in a very real sense, vendors are trying to make us better lawyers and these partnerships are critical to the success of our students and to the success of law practice.”
That’s why Janoski-Haehlen advises law faculty who may be interested in starting their own technology center to partner with vendors. As a first step, she recommends law faculty assess their own level of technology competence and encourages “starting small” by talking to vendors and bringing them in for monthly webinars. She also suggests reaching out to other academics and attorneys who are interested in legal tech for their perspectives on ways to embrace technology.
“I found different avenues of research and different ways to embrace the type of legal tech that law firms are doing just by talking to colleagues who work in firms in Akron and Cleveland,” Janoski-Haehlen says. “It’s amazing what we can learn from each other.”