Dirk Hartung, Executive Director of Legal Technology at Bucerius Law School: «You need technology to automate tasks and assist decision-making, but you also need human-centered design to make sure that your solution actually fulfills the client’s needs»


1. What triggered you to rethink the way law is taught at Bucerius Law School? How is Bucerius Law School different from traditional law schools?

Bucerius is the first private law school in Germany, where private legal education was unthinkable just a few decades ago. So, in a way, we have always been trailblazers. Nonetheless, that still means we have to excel at our core business: Educating excellent lawyers and pushing legal scholarship further. And yet, we want to provide more to our students and the legal market than just substantive legal expertise. 

To me, the most powerful idea here is this: Imagine someone entering law school in 2019. Under the German system, it will take them at least seven years to enter the workforce. If we think about the legal market of 2026 and later: How can we let young lawyers graduate without them knowing the first thing about process automation, operations, and data-driven decision-making—when the working world they will enter already heavily relies on these methods to handle the rising complexity out there? We think it is our mission to give our students insights and understanding in these fields—basic insights to everyone and a deeper understanding to those particularly interested. 

2. What are the most relevant challenges the legal industry is currently facing? Are there any unique challenges to Germany or is the situation similar around the world?

The most relevant challenge is legal complexity. We have recently concluded a research project on legal complexity—and we’ll publish our results soon—but I can share this: By any measure, our laws (and, arguably, the world they govern) have become much more difficult to deal with than they were just 20 years ago. There is no indication that this trend will slow down or reverse itself. Therefore, we need to address this challenge, and the only way that has been shown to work is through technology and labor arbitrage in the form of process improvement. 

Germany is a comparatively strongly regulated legal market with an additional entry barrier in the form of the German language. Therefore many innovations that have already taken hold in Common Law jurisdictions are only slowly trickling over to Germany. That makes it easier to predict what will happen in the near future, but it also means that tools will just not be as good initially as they are in English-speaking, Common Law markets. For example, widely used tools in natural language processing currently simply perform weaker for German than for English. This in turn means that it becomes harder for an innovation to “cross the chasm” and become accepted by many. 

3. What are the key skills that the lawyer of the future (or even the lawyer of the present) should have?

Substantive legal expertise, which has long been the only thing taught at law schools, is most important. And yet, there are a host of new skills that lawyers can acquire to better serve those seeking legal advice. These skills span the entire value chain of legal services. They are all in some way connected to technology, but there is a lot more to it than just tech. In “The MIT School of Law”, a paper which has deeply influenced our thinking at Bucerius, Dan Katz talks about “{Law, Technology, Design, Delivery}”, and we believe that the lawyers of the future will have to know about all of these. You will need technology to automate tasks and assist decision-making, but you also need human-centered design to make sure that your solution actually fulfills the client’s needs. And all of this ties in with process optimization and project management. 

4. There is a great debate around the need for lawyers to learn to code, what is your perspective, do lawyers need to learn how to code?

Yes. Sweeping generalizations aside, we believe that most lawyers should learn how to code. Of course, there will always be legal work that will not involve coding, data, process, or design. Our argument is just that there will be less and less of this work, and it will become increasingly harder for lawyers to explain to their clients why they are not using technology to automate repetitive tasks and data to inform their decision-making. 

This is not really about learning how to code in itself. On balance, computer scientists, data scientists, and programmers will always be better at that than lawyers. However, if you’ve learned how to solve problems using computers, you understand how to formulate questions in order to make them computable. You get a grasp on what is an “easy” problem and what is a “hard” problem to solve computationally. And that will make you a more efficient and more informed lawyer—which is to say, a better lawyer. 

5. Code is law? Are our legal systems ready to embrace an increasing incorporation of technology into our everyday life?

No, but do they have a choice? In Germany—despite the increase in complexity we talk about—we actually see less lawsuits in our courts every year, yet they take longer. We think that Access to Justice is an important aspect of the change in the legal market we see today, and we need to make sure that our legal system remains attractive as a way of resolving disputes next to its competitors: arbitration, online dispute settlement, and the like. This means there is no case for conservatism today: We need to liberalize our professional laws and digitize our court system. This might be a Herculean feat, but we remain optimistic that—with the right funding and political will—it is doable.

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