Lawyers are being offered a legal opportunity to protect themselves from criminal investigations, in what may be the biggest legal overhaul of the legal profession in years.
The law firm where a lawyer was hired in 2011 is also offering a virtual “law school” where lawyers can learn how to fight lawsuits and make money from litigation.
The website Lawyers for Privacy and Civil Liberties said it was adding a virtual law school where lawyers could “learn the basics of law enforcement investigation techniques” and get an “understanding of the laws and rules governing the use of force.”
Lawyer and privacy advocate Bruce Schneier said he welcomed the changes and called for more lawyers to have access to the virtual law schools.
“It will make it harder for law enforcement to get ahold of them,” Schneier, the former chief technology officer for the National Security Agency, said.
“There is no doubt that law enforcement will use them.”
The law school is set to open March 18.
Some legal experts are skeptical about whether the new virtual law-school model will help lawyers with criminal cases.
“If you are going to offer a legal education that will allow you to take on these kinds of cases, then you should have to make sure that you have the resources to do it,” said Bruce Steinberg, an attorney who worked as a law clerk for a federal prosecutor in California in the 1980s.
He also questioned whether the virtual schools will be able to meet the needs of prosecutors and defense lawyers with access to criminal-defense lawyers and prosecutors.
“The virtual law education is going to be less efficient,” Steinberg said.
He said that virtual law is likely to be a boon to lawyers who work on cases in which they are representing defendants, but the new law school could hurt attorneys who are representing people who are innocent or innocent family members.
“What you’re going to end up with is a situation where lawyers are going be less able to do their jobs,” Steinber said.
The new law schools, which will offer courses online and on the phone, are a welcome change for some attorneys, said Mark R. Gottfried, a partner at the law firm of Jones Day who worked on a virtual-law school project in 2013.
Gottfred, who did not have a comment, said that he welcomed new technology to make lawyers more accountable.
“I think it’s great, but I’m not sure that the law school has any business providing that,” Gottfried said.
Some attorneys said that they were skeptical of the new models, including former federal prosecutors and prosecutors who worked with law enforcement.
“This seems like a bad idea,” said Matthew Hultquist, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now works as a trial lawyer in Seattle.
He worries that it will only make lawyers look worse.
“We’ve all seen lawyers who don’t seem to care about the law,” Hultquer said.
For some lawyers, the change has come too late.
“Lawyers are a lot less capable than they were a few years ago,” said Thomas W. Haney, a lawyer at the New York City law firm, Greenberg Traurig, who is one of the first lawyers to be offered the virtual-school option.
Hanyes legal group, the Lawyers for a Just Society, is lobbying to have the law schools’ legal services removed from the National Labor Relations Board, a move that would likely require a change in the law.
The NLRB has been reviewing the law-education sites and plans to issue a ruling in the next two weeks, Haney said.