Firms kick off summer associate programs integrating innovation, legal tech

(Reuters) – As Big Law’s next generation of attorneys join the summer affiliate programs this week, masks and zoom meetings won’t be the only sign of the times.

Some of them will come across something alien to summer programs of the past: a focus on legal innovation and technology.

“The reality is that law students who are now entering the legal profession as Summer Associates will inevitably be affected by the changing legal practice and technological advances in legal practice in the course of their careers,” said Nicola Shaver, Managing Director of Innovation Knowledge at Los Angeles-based global company Paul Hastings.

This is the second summer Paul Hastings is hosting his LegalTech University, a multi-week curriculum for all US summer partners. Topics include “transforming commercial forces in the legal industry,” ABA Model Rule 1.1 related to technology literacy, and artificial intelligence and automation in the legal practice, Shaver said.

Lawyers need to understand how to identify ways to use technology and streamline processes, she said. “That’s the mindset we want. And it should be anchored in associates and lawyers very early on.”

Other companies offer specific programs for some of their summer partners. Reed Smith launched a summer technology lawyer program in 2018 with a modified interview track that includes a technical component. According to Lucy Dillon, Reed Smith’s chief technology officer, attendees spend about 70% of their time doing traditional summer legal work and the remainder on legal technology projects.

With some returning to the firm later as associates this summers, legal tech training “is starting to become embedded in our system,” said Dillon.

Pittsburgh-based Reed Smith has one person starting on the program this week. The law firm’s long-term goal is to continue the initiative and ultimately there will be more partners who have double the legal and technological expertise.

“The best possible result is that we don’t even have to recruit people like that anymore because that’s how everyone works,” said Dillon. At the moment, however, it is necessary to be deliberate in the effort “because it is not part of the way people think,” she said.

The summer programs fit a broader technology and innovation trend that is making its way into legal education in both legal education and law firms.

Efforts are not just aimed at aspiring lawyers or young lawyers. Hofstra University’s Law Faculty last month introduced a six-week Legal Tech Skills Certificate for attorneys, paralegals and legal support staff. Law firms have promoted a number of in-house innovation and technology initiatives, some of which have responded to customer demands and increased competition from alternative providers.

According to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, employees at the company can spend 50 hours of bonus time on innovation projects. Dechert recently teamed up with design company Ideo to offer lawyers and professionals in the firm an innovation program.

Law firms also work with technology companies to offer new products that can be used internally and for clients. This also happens in some of the summer affiliate programs. Paul Hastings worked with the Berlin company Bryter for the automation of no-code services as part of his summer program last year.

At Wilson Sonsini, based in Palo Alto, employees have the opportunity to develop tools to automate work processes in the summer. The firm’s third-year Build-A-Bot initiative is an option for summer employees to meet a qualification requirement, according to Elizabeth Pond, who leads the firm’s law school recruitment efforts. Summer Associates participating in the program this year will partner with Finnish no-code document automation company Contract Mill Oy.

Build-a-Bot, the firm’s attorney recruiting director, Cherie Beffa, said, “will truly reflect the firm’s commitment to innovation and provide our entry-level summer employees with the kind of practical and technological innovation experience they need to be successful later. “.”

Sara Remember

Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security as well as legal business, including legal innovations and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com

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