Schoolhouse Blues: Ediscovery Courses in Law Schools

Monday, August 17, 2015 by Thought Leadership Team


With August comes languid heatwaves, leisurely days outdoors and (for many) the looming dread of heading back to school. For students everywhere – and perhaps especially law students­ – the start of a new semester brings new challenges, lessons and discoveries.

One thing that is slow to change though is the dearth of ediscovery courses in law schools around the nation. Kroll Ontrack’s previous analysis of law school websites showed that less than 40% of law schools offer a course in ediscovery. Of those schools, only a fraction offer courses with any practical ediscovery lawyering skills.

My Kroll Ontrack colleague, Michele Lange, recently partnered with noted ediscovery educator, William Hamilton, to publish an article, Law Schools Lag in Teaching Ediscovery, which delves into this deficit.

Both Hamilton and Lange found the limited access and resources for adjuncts qualified in the ediscovery field to be a likely cause for why there are so few courses in ediscovery. Indeed, many universities lack tenured professors that are comfortable and skilled in the constantly evolving ediscovery field, while the adjunct professors that do teach ediscovery lack the time and resources to properly educate and grade student coursework. To remedy this, Hamilton and Lange suggested two major changes that law schools should undertake to alleviate the course shortages.

Create a dynamic relationship between students and ediscovery professionals

The first step law schools need to take is to stress the mandatory need for a robust ediscovery module in their basic civil procedure course, as these courses are especially important for litigation-tracked students. By inviting ediscovery professionals from law firms, corporations, technology providers and the government, law schools can help foster an environment of communication and understanding about the importance of ediscovery and the career opportunities ediscovery presents to students. In addition, these partnerships have the potential to create cadres of adjuncts that will develop courses together, share instructional design responsibilities and alternate teaching both elementary and advanced courses. By laying down the groundwork for success, these partnerships between students and professionals will create a new breed of lawyers who are ready to tackle modern ediscovery litigation issues straight out of law school.

Promote the value of an ediscovery education

The laws of supply and demand in economics apply to ediscovery courses as well. This means that merely providing ediscovery coursework is not enough. For ediscovery courses to become a mainstay in law schools, students need to understand and embrace the value of an ediscovery education.

The hurdle that schools need to overcome is this misguided belief that an education in ediscovery is “too techie” or that it falls under the heading of “litigation support,” rather than “real lawyering.” In reality, an ediscovery education opens the door to a variety of career options. Firms and corporations need litigators who can rapidly assess risk and exposure and who possess real life skills to manage cases and control costs. Those who are knowledgeable about ediscovery and know how to cut costs by using different platforms will have an edge over other young lawyers who first explore the ediscovery field upon arrival at a firm. By offering ediscovery courses and enlightening students to the need for such courses, law schools will help train and provide students with valuable, real life skills that they can bring to the workplace.

The historical model that taught aspiring young lawyers that a law school’s purpose was to teach them how to “think like a lawyer” is no longer applicable today. For the next generation of lawyers to succeed, they must begin their education in ediscovery in the classroom, not in practice at a firm.