Published January 30, 2024
As advances in technology broaden the array of tools available to practicing lawyers, the Charles B. Sears Law Library is responding with a major new initiative to bring students up to speed with the possibilities.
Leading that charge is Latasha R. Towles, who joined the law library last summer as the law library’s first dedicated law practice technologist. Towles, who holds a master’s degree in library science from the University of Washington with special training in law librarianship, is developing a Legal Technology Center on the library’s second floor, and assuming primary responsibility for advancing this facet of the law library’s service.
“Latasha’s role is to build a program that infuses legal practice technology skills into the law school experience,” says Elizabeth Adelman, director of the law library and vice dean for legal information services. “This initiative is essential to legal education because modern practice demands technology skills for practical and ethical reasons.” Adelman notes the New York Rules of Professional Conduct require that attorneys know the “benefits and risks associated with technology the lawyer uses to provide services to clients.”
The Legal Technology Center, Towles says, will afford access to the entire range of technologies that are being developed for legal practice. That could be as basic as learning the full possibilities of Microsoft Word and Excel, and as cutting-edge as exploring the uses of artificial intelligence in practice.
“I want it to be a place of innovation,” she says, “where students can explore ideas they have, and also a place of learning.” The facility will also serve as the classroom where she will teach courses on legal technology.
In addition, the Legal Technology Center will incorporate two virtual reality stations where students can don VR equipment and practice their advocacy skills in a realistic courtroom setting.
“Generative AI is booming in the legal industry,” Towles says. “It’s not going to replace attorneys, but we need to be able to utilize it as the tool it is.” Familiar databases such as LexisNexis and Westlaw have integrated AI into their systems, she explains, and some individual law firms are creating AI tools for internal use.
More immediately, Towles is incorporating training in legal technologies into students’ Legal Analysis, Writing and Research courses — she has already led a workshop in one course — and has arranged for students on a trial basis to access the National Society of Legal Technology, which runs a certificate program focused on the evolving topic.
“With these skills,” she says, “students will be more competent going into practice, or more enthusiastic about starting their own practice if they don’t want to join a firm. The skills of legal technology will prepare them for that life.”
The new position is a career shift for Towles, who was born in Buffalo but grew up in Queens. After her undergraduate work at Drexel University in Philadelphia, she earned a JD from Valparaiso School of Law in Indiana and spent a summer as a law clerk for a judge in Melbourne, Australia. But even in law school she knew she wasn’t inclined toward practice. She did love research, though. After working in university contract administration and for municipality law offices, she moved from Miami to Seattle and entered the University of Washington’s library information science program.
As development of the Legal Technology Center unfolds, Towles is looking to connect with UB Law alumni — particularly those who hire UB graduates — to learn about the legal technology their firms are using and what skills they need UB Law graduates to bring to their new roles as lawyers.