Legal learning has changed for the better, and tech is playing a major role – Ian Nelson
26 August 2021

Legal learning has changed for the better, and tech is playing a major role – Ian Nelson

Published on 26 August 2021

The days of dull one-way knowledge sharing and learning are on the way out.

Due to the pandemic, law firms and schools are now harnessing the power of tech – and more engaging teaching formats – to deliver collaborative and innovative legal education and training.

According to Ian Nelson, co-founder of digital legal learning company Hotshot, this shift is making a lawyer’s life a whole lot easier.

Yet, despite the leaps the legal industry has made, Ian thinks we can still be doing so much more. Because it’s not technology itself that will threaten the legal world, but our reluctance to embrace it.

Technology can be used to help fill knowledge gaps in legal education

It was Ian’s first experience working in a law firm that highlighted the pitfalls of traditional legal education.

“I had studied and worked hard. But nothing really prepared me for the day-to-day realities of practice. I still remember my very first task. I was assigned to a reverse triangular merger and asked to review the due diligence and look for anything ‘weird’.

“I had no idea what any of this meant… which was a terrible, terrible feeling. One that I still remember vividly to this day. At this point in my career, I now know that this is a common feeling for juniors.

“A law degree teaches you the theory that will form the basis of your future work. But it doesn’t typically equip you with critical practical skills.

“Practical legal training is certainly helping to bridge the gap. But our industry is in a state of rapid evolution right now, and the in-demand practical skills are constantly shifting.

“Technology combined with great content and innovative delivery methods has the potential to revolutionise legal training and education. When we look outside our industry, digital learning platforms such as Coursera and Duolingo are creating a new mode of learning.

“It’s on-demand, interactive and can be adapted rapidly to meet immediate needs. Bringing this type of learning into the legal field – which is what we’re doing with Hotshot – is a game changer,” he says.

Accelerated industry change due to the pandemic

The unique and unexpected events of 2020 brought colossal change to the legal world. Especially, in the realm of education and training.

“They created opportunities to reassess dated systems – pivoting to technology that empowers people to collaborate and build intentional relationships.

Throughout 2020, Ian and the rest of the Hotshot team were like many others in asking this all-important question: how can we thrive – as best we can – in this fraught environment?

Luckily, the answer came in the form of great innovation, with even the most conservative firms and schools abandoning antiquated modes of conventional learning.

“We saw law firms and law schools using technology and learning content in more engaging and efficient ways. They’ve progressed past the traditional yet boring one-way Zoom lecture,” he says.

A shift to group-based learning – thanks to tech

Ian says the role of tech has changed. It’s now a tool that facilitates collaboration, connection and relationship building. 

“Let’s say a firm wants to train various associates. Traditionally, this would have been in the form of a one-way lecture with PowerPoint slides.

“But now, the onus is on individuals to consume the relevant material beforehand, so we can use technology and live training time in a more productive, interactive and effective way.

“Whether that’s breakout rooms with moderated discussions, engaging in peer review or simply having genuine conversations. It’s all about learning and applying the information together.

“Firms are redefining the purpose of technology,” Ian says, “And I don’t see them going back. It’s a gigantic shift that I strongly believe is for the best.”

Overlooking tech is overlooking a chance for positive change

“I’m not one to say ‘if you stick to your old ways, you’ll be forgotten’. But I do think those firms that don’t evolve and embrace more modern ways of operating will lose out.

“By not taking full advantage of technology, you’ll be left behind. It might not be for five or ten years, but eventually, if you don’t seize these digital opportunities, associates – and clients – will go elsewhere,” he says.

For Ian, technology itself isn’t a threat. Rather, it presents new and exciting opportunities.

“I don’t think people are taking full advantage of today’s technologies. There’s so much that can be done. But it takes thinking about processes in a new way and accepting the potential to fail, which isn’t always in the DNA of a legal professional,” he says.

Advice for new lawyers: it’s your ship to steer

Ian offers a simple yet often forgotten reminder for new lawyers.

“You’re in charge of your career. I think people fall into the mindset that their career is in the hands of their manager, or someone else at their firm. But really, the road you pave is up to you.

“If you want a certain opportunity, make it happen. If you’re eager to expand your knowledge in a specific area, learn about it. The responsibility falls on you to find what’s out there and to take advantage of the tools.

“But I also stand by the age-old advice to do what makes you happy, first and foremost. Whether that’s a particular practice area or type of firm. Maybe it’s not at a firm but working in-house – or leading a startup. When you do what makes you happy, the money tends to follow.”

As Ian says, “It’s a long career. It’s a hard career. But it can be really rewarding. Especially, when you approach it from a place of curiosity and lifelong learning.”

CLI is opening doors to innovation

When it comes to supporting legal professionals through technological disruption, Ian believes the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) is crucial.

“Through engaging with the CLI, lawyers have the opportunity to learn what else is out there. It’s lifting the siloes within the legal world – to open up communication and foster innovation.

“I think there’s always been so much focus on the billable hour – and less emphasis on developing new skills. But greater collaboration between clients, firms, service providers and law schools can only yield interesting and innovative outcomes.

“That’s exactly what the CLI is doing,” says Ian.