My Alternative Legal Career: Teaching and Technology

February 9, 2015

law firm marketingThe library at Iowa State University overflows with memories. As a kid, I marveled at the endless rows of books. I stood in awe of a computer connected to the Internet! From those moments came a question. How can people make sense of all that information?

My question stuck through the college years at Iowa State. There, I studied new media and taught courses on library research and communication technology.

Today, law and technology are transforming each other. Our always-on culture is changing the research and practice of law. Technology is also causing disruptive changes to the legal profession and the legal job market.

In 2013, I graduated from law school and looked for opportunities in the “New Normal.” During that process, I thought a lot about what my ideal career would look like. In law school, I enjoyed student practice, clerking, and legal aid outreach. I saw technology transforming that work. There is a niche for people who combine law and technology to work more efficiently. After passing the Iowa Bar, I started on that path as an Inside Account Manager (IAM).

IAMs are attorneys who train people on legal solutions and research tools. They demonstrate smarter ways to draft documents, manage matters, and investigate cases. By renewing their contracts, IAMs connect legal professionals to those solutions. Each day is a chance to apply legal skills like issue spotting, persuasive communication, and previous legal practice experience.

In law school, we learned issue spotting in classes and on exams. Practicing attorneys interview new clients during intake and question new jurors in voir dire. Those same skills are in play outside the courtroom, where there are many tech tools to solve many unique issues.  IAMs need to ask the right questions and discover the distinguishing facts of each case, while building credibility with a personable style.

Compelling visual aids can make the difference in mock trial and arbitration competitions. After spotting the issue and identifying key facts, litigators tell a story using powerful words and exhibits. Technology provides an edge in learning about an audience and creating engaging content. IAMs monitor tweets and feedback on social media, create individual webcasts to jump-start research, and communicate with larger audiences through webinars and the Legal Solutions Blog.

Like Professor Kingsfield said, the touchstone of a legal education is “thinking like a lawyer.” But even Professor Kingsfield would need to face the New Normal.  As an IAM, I showed other members of the profession how technology empowers “thinking like a lawyer” while saving time for what’s really important. Having legal practice experience provides insights for how to help different practice areas and people at different stages of the case.

In 2015, I’m moving to a different team, but still pursuing an old question. How can we, as lawyers, make sense of all the information in our practice? If you’re passionate about answering that question, you can find opportunities in the New Normal.