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As expert computer programs take over associate legal work, how will the senior lawyers of tomorrow learn the ropes today?

The thought isn’t original to me that legal “expert system” computer programs like those of Neota | Logic will eventually be disruptive to the law firm revenue model. And that disruption will raise the question: Where will expert senior lawyers get their training in the future, when junior lawyers can’t get hired to do the work by which they traditionally learned the ropes?

The answer may be that junior lawyers will increasingly be trained in legal “flight simulators,” powered by descendants of the very computer programs that took their learning-the-ropes work away from them.

We’ve seen this movie before, in BigLaw litigation: These days, the vast majority of disputes settle or are forced into arbitration. As a result, there just aren’t that many smallish trials anymore, which means that BigLaw junior lawyers have a hard time getting meaningful trial experience.

(I’ve known fifth-year lawyers who had never even taken a deposition, let alone tried a case. In contrast, I first-chaired my first trial — in a small case, of course, with a partner holding my hand — when I was a third-year associate.)

All this presents the legal community with a chicken-and-egg problem: Companies’ general counsel, for career-protection reasons, understandably want to hire trial lawyers who have already tried X number of cases to verdict; they don’t want to take a chance on a young partner who spent his or her first few years mainly reviewing documents. As a result, the young partner might well have a hard time attracting client work, which these days is the sine qua non of even a modestly-successful law firm career.

Certainly there are well-regarded trial training programs, such as those offered by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA). But those training programs are necessarily expensive in terms of money and opportunity cost.

That’s where legal expert systems might find another market: In serving as “flight simulators” to help train — and even certify  junior lawyers.

Who might pay for legal flight simulators? Law firms; big in-house departments; law schools; perhaps state bar associations.

It’ll be interesting to see whether anything develops along these lines.

(Hat tips to DiligenceEngine, via Jason Wilson.)

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