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JILT 1996 (1) - Alan Paterson


Plenary session at the SPTL conference
Cardiff 1995

reviewed by Professor Alan Paterson
University of Strathclyde

The highlight of the Society for Public Teachers of Law (SPTL) conference this year at Cardiff University (20-23rd September 1995) was not meant to be the Annual Dinner but the Friday afternoon session where BILETA took over responsibility for the plenary sessions. The afternoon began inauspiciously. Delegates had been induced to dally at the bookstalls by a combination of a publisher's buffet lunch and the onset of a downpour. Moreover the stock of conference umbrellas - an excellent idea for any readers planning to be conference organisers - was stuck in the main law school building. Nothing daunted Richard Susskind, the doyen of legal IT gurus, who kicked off proceedings with a stimulating address on how technology will revolutionise the lawerying process into that of information provision. Abdul Paliwala, the redoubtable Secretary of BILETA followed this up with an insightful account of the implications of the greater availability of technology including Computer Based Learning for the legal teaching and learning environment. John Dale (Technical Director of the Law Courseware Consortium) elaborated on this by discussing the future direction of law courseware.

Question time followed with a tongue in cheek enquiry from the Dean of one well resourced law school as to how the cost of implementing mass PC labs for law schools wishing to use IOLIS, could be met. The Chair played this googly with a straighter bat than the England cricket team managed in South Africa and the discussion took a stickier turn with a sharp critique of CAL from one of the luddites in the audience.

A robust reply from the academic consultant to the package concerned (and a member of the RAE panel to boot) amongst others, sent us off to tea in a contemplative mood. The Chair invited the more energetically minded members of the audience who had not yet seen the packages (aboult half of them, judging by the show of hands) to brave the elements by crossing the road to visit Cardiff's well appointed IT Labs.

The after tea session began late (too many biscuits and the counter attractions of IOLIS and Scots courseware) with Ian Lloyd of Strathclyde University explaining the innovative aspects of the Electronic Law Journals project and the publication of the Journal of Information, Law and Technology (self evident to those of you still reading this piece). Bruce Grant of Newcastle University described the progress which he had made with the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues and the problems which his journal and the proposed new Electronic Law Journals project would have to overcome. The session ended with Andy Terret of the CTI Law Technology Centre discussing the implications of the Web for legal academics and in particular the Information Systems for Law Schools project.

The discussion which followed was on the one hand concerned with the nuts and bolts issues of electronic journals and with the role of the internet in legal education. However, the crucial issue raised was the academic credibility of electronic publications. On this we were informed of Funding Council directions to the effect that electronic publications should be considered on a par with paper publications, otherwise there would be no sense in major funding for electronic publications by the Councils.

We filed out into the damp evening enlightened but a little drained. Ah well there was always the conference dinner to look forward to ....

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