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JILT 1997 (2) - BILETA

12th BILETA Conference

The Future of Legal Education and Practice

Reviewed by
Richard Jones

This is a Conference Report published on 30 June 1997.

Citation: Jones R, '12th BILETA Conference', Conference Report, 1997 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

For it's 12th conference BILETA found itself in the old university city of Durham, in the significantly newer conference facilities at Collingwood College. The ambitious theme 'The Future of Legal Education and Practice' attracted papers and delegates from universities, practice and publishing.

These are turbulent times for those involved in education and training, having only just digested the Lord Chancellors Advisory Committee Report on Legal Education and Training and the results of the latest Research Assessment exercise, July will see the publication of the report of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education. Delegates were in no doubt of the significance Information Technology will play in the implementation of these three sets of findings.

Fittingly the keynote address was delivered by Prof. Richard Susskind (Masons and Strathclyde) whose latest book 'The Future of Law' examines the fundamental changes that IT will bring in legal education, practice and the administration of justice. Prof. Susskind was able to engage in some crystal-ball gazing, providing delegates with possible insights into the legal world of the future, a world where IT is a pervasive feature not a not a discipline in its own right, where training and practice fully utilise the massive potential of the Internet, a system capable of delivering massive amounts of text, audio and video at virtually nil cost, a world where keyboards are a thing of the past and where computer systems adapt round the needs of the user. The technological foundations are already in place, Lord Woolf's report on Access to Justice comments that IT is 'catalyst for radical change', what these changes will be and how they may be managed were then set to be the twin themes of the conference.

Robin Widdison (Durham) provided an insight into what the administration of justice may be like in the 'Virtual Courtroom', David Calderwood (Glamorgan) discussed conveyancing on the internet and Nigel Armitage (LINK) and Christopher Davis (Davis & Co) gave insights into the teleworking law firms of the present and future. In education John Mayer (Chicago-Kent) reviewed present and future developments in Computer Assisted Learning possible around the Law Courseware Consortiums IOLIS authoring system whilst Erich Schweighofer considered the links between electronic sources and legal education. Veronica Smith and Christine Cnossen (Robert Gordon) pondered the implications for research methodology of the new technology. Eve Wilson (Kent) reviewed new searching mechanisms for the CELEX data base and Richard De Mulder (Erasmus) argued that lawyers in order to function with electronic data will have to work in a more technologically advanced way drawing upon empirical scientific methods and statistics, a return to Jurimetrics?

Whilst technological developments naturally attract practitioners and educationalists they must not be allowed to drive the changes. Directing and managing change made possible by IT provides its own set of challenges. Barry Dean after reviewing current IT use within a large law firm (Linklater and Paines) and the likely IT developments considered the changes these will bring in the 'tasks' performed within the firm. The introduction of, for example, a document preparation system enables less skilled staff to produce documents impacting both on their role and on the role of those who traditionally would have had to carry out this task. Peter Duncan (Glasgow Caledonian) focused on the challenges facing a sample of firms from Scotland. The firm sizes varied from 2 to 8 partners, for the sample firms key factors were seen to be 'driving and blocking' the adoption of IT. These factors included competition and cost. For the small firms IT is still predominantly used in the support functions of the firm, it as yet has not proved itself on cost or competitive factors (blocked) as something that should be used with lawyering functions. Implementing technological in university is no easier where change is often blocked by relatively mundane factors, Tim Vollans (Coventry) had the sympathy of his audience when he reviewed the difficulties facing typical students intending to use IOLIS based courseware, the problems of crowded libraries, insufficient terminals and 'networking problems', which teacher hasn't been there!

There remains one paper that not only defies classification but remains and eats at the soul long after the conference. Jim Tunney (Abertay) challenged the western analysis of the role of IT by asking delegates to consider communications technology at a 'Future Aboriginal University' , a university servicing a culture where knowledge is held within a predominantly oral tradition. The aims, objectives and methodologies of 'western' education have little place within such a tradition. Unfortunately western lawyers have shown a significant reluctance to embrace other perspectives, as Joseph Raz states, 'there is a view of the superiority of the secular, democratic, European culture...' Couple this with the challenges of IT and Tunney's paper marks only the beginning of the challenge that no doubt will be continued at BILETA 's 13th conference!

BILETA Pre-Proceedings are available at

BILETA's 13th Conference will be held at Trinity College Dublin March/April 1998. 'The Shrinking Jurisdiction'

Parallel Session Reports

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