IT & Legal Education
This article is a work in progress.
Date of publication: 7 May 1996
The following quotation suggests that IT is already playing a significant legal role and will have even more influence in the near future.
"The catalyst for legal change is the placement of information in electronic form and the widespred availability of information as well as the means for accessing, communicating and manipulating information in this form. These technologies constitute the seeds of legal change ..."
This quotation comes from a recent article on the role of information technology (IT) in increasing access to legal services (Purcell, 1995). If legal teaching and training is also considered as a legal service, then we may ask whether such a radical view of IT is justified here too.
One exciting thing about IT is that it may not just be a means to do more efficiently what was done before, but a way to make radical changes to the whole process and ethos of education.(Riel, 1993) In a classic work on transforming education, Ivan Illich was quite explicitly concerned with IT:
"I intend to show that .... we can provide the learner with new links to the world instead of funneling all educational programs through the teacher. .... 'Network' is often used, unfortunately, to designate the channels reserved to materials selected by others for indoctrination, instruction or entertainment. But it can also be used for the telephone or the postal service, which are primarily accessible to individuals who want to send messages to each other. I wish we had another word to designate such reticular structures for mutual access, a word less evocative of entrapment, less degraded by current usage and more suggestive of the fact that any such arrangement includes legal oraganisation and technical aspects. Not having found a term, I will try to redeem the one which is available, using it as a synonym of 'educational web' " (Illich, 1970, Chapter 7)
The World Wide Web, clearly very like the "Ereticular structure" that Illich sought, is part of a process that has changed the way human beings experience the political, economic and even the geo-physical structure of the postmodern world (Harvey, 1990). Words that were once only ink on paper are now on screens and, accompanied by spoken words, moving and still images, sounds and virtually real objects are mobile, flowing through a global electronic web. The information reserves that are growing up around us are seen as a rich educational resource: " .... computer-infused communications technologies and the digital media that ride atop them hold tremendous potential to enrich our collective cultural, political and social lives and to enhance democratic values in our society." (Kapor & Weitzner, 1993). This is fundamentally changing what are regarded as basic cultural skills: "The successor to print literacy will be the set of skills needed to locate and usefully organise information for ourselves and others in cyberspace" (Lemke, 1993).
According to some enthusiasts IT will actually transform the very nature of narrative, of criticism and of text based education in general (Landow, 1992). Now, whether or not such radical changes can be expected, it is clear that there will be change and that it will depend on the nature of a discipline. Law may be more apt than other disciplines to undergo such changes. The structure of legal texts and the uses to which they are put matches what IT can do. For instance, the dense cross referencing in some legal texts matches the web-like structure of hypertexts. Here, what IT can do to a text corresponds quite well with what the users of that text wish to do.
The impact IT is having on education in general will be felt in law as much as any any other discipline, but what I would like to investigate is the ways in which IT is specifically relevant to law teaching and learning. One reason for doing this is to guide investment in IT. In a time of shrinking provision, IT may be a way to preserve quality of teaching and learning.
Information technology holds great promise and will bring perculiar challenges to legal education. When Illich sought new resources for liberating education twenty five years ago, there was no Intenet and personal computers were rare and slow. Twenty five years from now global networks will be dense, fast and cheap while computers of enormous power will be commonplace (Pearson and Cochrane, 1995). The law has responded to the impact of IT with ownership, access and originality having been major legal issues for a decade or so (Lury, 1993). In the next decade or so new practices and skills will be appearing.
I am putting together an article for JILT dealing with the use of information technology and legal teaching. I want to find out what use is being made of IT, peoples experiences with it and how they plan to make use of it in the future. I have already written on the role of IT in teaching more generally (e.g. Pickering, 1995) and I would like to use some of this work as a starting point for looking at what is happening in legal education. Legal education must match and preferably anticipate IT developments in legal practice. It is towards these matters that the article is directed, if readers of JILT would care to contact me with any reactions or accounts of their own work, I would be interested to hear from them.