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JILT 1996 (3) - US-CALI

US-CALI Conference

Thursday, May 30th - Saturday, June 1st, 1996
Chicago-Kent School of Law

Reviewed by
Andrew Terrett
University of Warwick

According to a member of the US-CALI Board, the CALI (Computer Assisted Legal Instruction) organisation has two main activities. The first is the development and distribution of computer-assisted learning materials for US law schools and the second is its annual conference. Based on the efficiency of its execution and the overall quality of this conference, it is not hard to believe that this conference takes nearly half of CALI's time. This conference, its sixth, (sponsored by Microsoft amongst others,) attracted over 250 legal academics, librarians and computer support staff.

The conference itself was preceded by an extra day sponsored by LEXIS-NEXIS which introduced attendees to Folio Views software for the development of electronic casebooks. LEXIS-NEXIS are promoting electronic casebooks fairly aggressively in the US and they seem to be very popular in US law schools. The essence of an electronic casebook is that it allows legal academics to assemble cases and materials in an electronic format, which can then be manipulated by students in the form of highlighting key sections of cases, adding footnotes to particular sections and re-organising their materials for their own purposes. This day was interesting for two reasons - it demonstrated a technology which is not currently in use in European law schools and also demonstrated the importance that legal publishers place upon the legal academic market in the US.

The conference proper started with parallel "head-to-head" sessions by LEXIS and Westlaw. LEXIS were again promoting their electronic product Folio Views which for attendees of the previous day, was somewhat repetative. West Publishing demonstrated their prototype West Educational Network Web service. This latter service will be exclusive to West users and offers databanks of West's materials and in addition offers an electronic conferencing facility for both students and lecturers. The important feature of this service is that it all takes place on the World Wide Web. Messages submitted are dynamically added to existing Web pages. However, users need a West password in order to participate and the system is not due to go live until the autumn of 1996.

After lunch, attendees were offered three consecutive parallel one-hour sessions. This author attended sessions on electronic casebooks by Little Brown and Co., a session on SGML and a quite remakrable case study about a law school that abandoned a Windows PC environment in favour of Macintosh and managed to achieve 90% of the change-over in six weeks! However, in order to achieve this, they continue to levy a $50 charge per student per semester and all law students are required to purchase their own Apple Powerbook laptop computer. Nevertheless it demonstrated how some law schools can adapt quickly and efficiently to a new computing environment.

The second day started with the keynote address which was given by Microsoft. By any standard, this is unusual for an academic conference and apparently was a new departure for CALI. Judging by the quite negative feedback from delegates it seems unlikely to be repeated! Immediately following this, delegates again had the choice of three different sessions. Perhaps the best session of this day was on the topic of electronic exams. Brett Amdur of Villanova University demonstrated his Toolbook-based product which allows law school professors to write their own electronic exams and talked about his own experience of running a law school course which was examined electronically. He identified three key benefits of this system - the first being that faculty no longer had to decipher cryptic hand-writing, the marking process could be performed as the students took the exam and students received feedback from the exam in the form of electronic footnotes. The afternoon began with a "techie" session on the most appropriate network operating system (NOS); i.e. UNIX -v- Windows NT -v- Novell Netware. After much debate, the speakers agreed to disagree and also agreed that each system had its merits. Microsoft also hosted a session on their Internet strategies which was helpful to law school Web developers but not altogether convincing.

The third day of the conference began with a Plenary session by Professor Arthur Miller of Harvard Law School who demonstrated a multi-media system based upon his first year civil procedure course which made strong use of videoed lectures, interspersed with interactive questions. These lectures were used more for revision purposes than for replacing the lectures themselves and appear to be well received within the law school. Following this, there were a number of entertaining sessions which verged on futurology - a case study on using the Web to deliver substantive legal teaching which allowed students to interact in a Web conferencing environment and so on. Finally, a session on using the Web to transfer internal law school information was highly interesting and informative using so-called "Intranet" information systems.

CALI conferences differ somewhat from their UK counterpart, (the BILETA conference) in that CALI has an emphasis very much on the practical issues of developing and dissemination technology applications for legal education whereas BILETA takes a broader brush, pedagogic and more academic approach. Vendors at CALI are offered session slots in which they can talk about their products and their future directions. This approach has both pro's and con's. On the positive side, this reviewer came away with many useful ideas for future projects and possible developments in legal education. On the minus side, all delegates endure a number of inevitable product "pitches" by vendors as part of the conference programme. One other notable difference of this conference was the way in which the various vendors and in particular the two main competitor dataset providers, LEXIS and Westlaw clearly value the US legal educational market. It would be fair to say that in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, legal academics feel that they are undervalued as a market by legal publishers. By contrast, both LEXIS and Westlaw were very keen to demonstrate their products and to develop good relations with conference delegates. Duopoly competition has clearly benefitted US law schools.

CALI was not all work and no play. The conference organisers had gone to some length to offer a variety of social activities from sponsored receptions through to indoor "paintball" and a meal at a restaurant/video games arcade - testosterone filled perhaps but good fun all the same. Due praise should be given to John Mayer, Executive Director of CALI, his team at CALI and to the Chicago-Kent Law School - the conference was organised extremely efficiently, the buffet lunches were excellent, transport to and from the hotels worked efficiently, the timing of sessions allowed delegates plenty of time to discuss issues raised, and both academic and social programmes were very full. Thus, it was one of the most useful and interesting conferences that this reviewer has ever attended on law school technology. European legal academics and law school computing staff interested in this area would be well advised to examine their conference budgets for 1997!


Date of publication: 9 July 1996

Citation: Terrett, A (1996), 'US-CALI Conference', Conference Report, 1996 (3) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/elj/jilt/confs/3terrett/>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1996_3/uscali/>


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