When I told other law professors that I wanted to teach first-year law students about ediscovery — and better yet, have them actually do some themselves — I met skepticism.
“First-year law students just can’t learn this stuff.”
“They aren’t ready for legal technology until at least their second year, but more like the third year, if that.”
“You’ll be lucky if they pick up Microsoft Word. Tools like ediscovery are a non-starter.”
And I get it. Law students are asked to juggle a lot. Piling on something as dense and forbidding as e-discovery sounds impossible. These folks are trying to navigate the rule against perpetuities. How can they navigate productions, ingesting, document collection, tagging, coding, and the slew of other concepts wrapped up in ediscovery?
To be fair, if I did this a few years ago, it may have been impossible. I remember trying to figure out how to use ediscovery tools when I was first entering practice. Walking out of my first multi-hour training, I felt like I needed to spend a few months studying the manuals just to get started.
Years later, when I began splitting my time between teaching and practice, I still couldn’t imagine trying to teach law students about ediscovery. I had a hard enough time using the tools myself — and that was after years of working on big cases with ediscovery as a constant companion. I can’t count the times I sat in front of my computer, well into the night, trying to make an ediscovery platform do the simplest things. It usually ended with me breaking down and asking someone for help. Sometimes it wasn’t my fault: “Joe, you don’t have permission to add notes to the document.” Sometimes it was: “Joe, you have to create the search, save it, then go back to the saved searches and rerun the search, then…”
But that’s all changed now with the advent of intuitive ediscovery tools designed with modern ease-of-use principles and an intuitive user interface. These companies have embraced powerful lessons taught by other tech companies, most importantly: creating technology from the user’s perspective. The usability of a tool is just as important as what’s under the hood.
These tools not only empower lawyers to do much more with less, but they make it possible for law students to learn key tech skills they will need to thrive (alongside all the other traditional skills law schools teach them).
Enter DISCO, the easiest ediscovery platform that I’ve come across. As soon as I tried it out, I knew: This is how law students can start picking up ediscovery tools.
A Semester of First-Years and DISCO
I had introduced upper-class law students to ediscovery through DISCO’s platform before. But I’d never dared do the same with first-years. Yet I was convinced I had to. Ediscovery sits in a set of core tools that lawyers can’t afford to ignore. Many will be forced to use these tools at some point, as ediscovery platforms now offer powerful data analytics and other features that give lawyers a leg up. Unfortunately, unless students opt to take a special class before graduation, most of them will never even know what e-discovery is, much less how to get around on a platform.
It was time to take the plunge. So I designed a simple curriculum: first, an introduction to the brass tacks of ediscovery, then a short demo and some hypotheticals to make the basics concrete. DISCO made it possible for the best part of all: My students all received logins to a real matter. They then used the platform, as real attorneys do, to complete various real-life simulations.
These first years took to the platform like they’d been using it for years. They created custom searches. They used DISCO’s visual filters to track down target documents hidden amid tens of thousands of others. They debated what tags to create and reviewed documents for privilege and responsiveness. They put together a production. They even tried out some fun stuff like predictive coding.
Along the way, students learned a lot about building searches (skills that transfer easily to legal research, factual research, and much more). They walked away with a concrete concept of what a real case looks like, what real documents look like, and some of the skills they’d need to do this work well. In short: They learned a list of skills and concepts I struggled to convey in the classroom.
Were there struggles? Sure. Some students got lost in a morass of documents and couldn’t figure out how they got there. Some stumbled looking for features that were new to them.
But even in these moments there was a lot to learn — and it went beyond ediscovery. In learning one tool, we learned lessons that could apply to other tools, too. For example:
- Learning the core features of a platform that align with your practice.
- Making your platform more efficient with cheat sheets of core functions, hot keys, and setting preferences.
- Looking for expert help when needed.
- Understanding the limitations of a platform.
- Finding potential pitfalls or trouble spots in using a platform.
- Working with others on the same platform.
- And plenty more, I’m sure.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what some of the students had to say about the experience:
“I was scared to death about the ediscovery projects. But I couldn’t believe how easy it was to figure out on my own. I didn’t even need the instructions.”
“I feel like everything we’ve been learning is clearer now.”
“I feel like I see cases in an entirely different way now. Before, all we had read about is cases and the end of litigation. Now I see what the process looks like for lawyers during all that time leading up to the opinions.”
Incorporating some technology and real-world simulations in the first-year curriculum was an overwhelming success for me. Students seemed desperate to glimpse what real lawyers do today. And we all know that includes more than just writing briefs and giving oral arguments.
Consider using a tool like DISCO to expose students to modern practice, help them develop good habits with tech, and even teach them the basics of ediscovery.
Joe Regalia is a law professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law and co-founder of Write.law, a legal e-learning company trusted by Am Law 100 firms, judges, and other legal professionals. Joe is a nationally recognized legal writing and technology consultant for law firms, courts, agencies, nonprofits, corporations, and other organizations. His research and teaching focus on legal writing, persuasion science, technology, and innovation. Joe graduated first in his class at the University of Michigan Law School. He went on to clerk for the U.S. District Courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Joe previously practiced at the international firms of Wilson Sonsini, Sidley Austin, and King & Spalding.