Computerising Legal Education: What's in Store?
This article explores current and future trends in the development of two areas of educational technology - computer based learning and computer mediated communications. It explores these two converging technologies by examining them from three main points - the present, the short term and the longer term future. The next part of the article takes the form of a speculation about how legal education may look in the longer term. In the conclusion, an attempt is made to explain the benefits of developing such a long term perspective.
Keywords:Legal education, legal futurology, computerising law schools, education technology, computer based learning, computer mediated communications, the present situation, the short term future, the longer term future.
This is a Refereed Article published on 29 October 1999.
Citation: Widdison R, 'Computerising Legal Education: What's in Store?', 1999 (3)The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/99-3/widdison.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/1999_3/widdison1/>
What does the future hold in store for legal education? Where is the computerisation of law schools taking us over the next quarter of a century? Some argue that legal futurology of this sort is nothing more than idle guesswork. But how can an earnest search for such a perspective be thought of as idle? Without it, we are flying blind. Even if speculation admittedly involves guesswork, it can at least be informed guesswork. It is true that detailed predictions must always be suspect. The identification and exploration of the broader forces that are propelling us into the future, however, may help give us some control over the direction in which we are travelling.
What are these broader forces? We can now see that we have progressed from the first period of the information society - the age of the computer - to the second period - the age of the Internet. The expression: 'the network is the computer' can be understood for what it is - prophetic wisdom rather than abject nonsense. Today, Gibson's concept of 'Cyberspace' is more than simply science fiction. It describes a digital dimension existing in parallel with our physical world that we have begun to build. Indeed, we are already colonising Cyberspace with our hopes and aspirations (Rheingold, 1993). Bits now demand equal status with atoms. These two types of basic building blocks are beginning to interact, to converge and even to merge.
We know all this. But, where is it leading us? And, in particular, how will academic law be effected and changed over the next quarter of a century? In this paper, I plan to undertake three tasks. First, I want to examine how computer based learning may evolve. Second, I would like to explore where our early experiments with computer mediated communications as a forum for teaching could take us. I propose to undertake these two tasks by looking at the coming changes from three standpoints - the present, the short term and the longer term future. Third, I will attempt to predict how legal education may look in the long term before saying a few words by way of conclusion.
After some modest early efforts in the area of computer based learning, a large injection of central government money helped produce Iolis. What is Iolis? It consists of two main components. First, it comprises a collection of workbooks. Second, it contains one very large resource book. The workbooks can best be thought of as interactive open learning materials. They cover a wide range of academic topics which are, at present, grouped together into traditional subject areas. Such areas include both the 'core' subjects i.e. contract, crime, European law, property, public law, tort, and trusts as well as a growing number of optional subjects such as consumer law, family law, and international law. These workbooks may well prove useful for genuine open learning. Primarily, however, they have been designed to slot into campus based law courses as a cost effective addition to the traditional diet of lectures, independent study and small group teaching (Scott and Widdison, 1994) (Paliwala, 1998).
The resource book is simply a digital law library of full text source materials - predominantly primary sources at present. It contains, for example, well over two thousand case reports. The workbooks and the resource book are linked together. Generally, cases and other authorities cited to in the workbooks are connected directly to the source text of that authority in the resource book. In addition, though, the resource book can be used on its own as a stand-alone supplement to each law school's over-subscribed collection of hard copy materials.
To date, there have been a variety of different experiments in the use of computer mediated communications as a forum for small group teaching such as tutorials and seminars. Experiments of this type of work have been conducted at e.g. Durham, LSE, New Mexico, Saarland and Warwick. I have reviewed and discussed most of these experiments in detail elsewhere (Widdison and Schulte, 1998). In addition to the above experiments, though, there have also been attempts to develop more innovative activities for students using the medium of information technology. For example, Hardy (1994) describes an experiment that he designed and conducted. A group of fourteen students was required to collaborate in the drafting of an ideal constitution for a fictitious country called Dalmatia. The group had to accomplish this task via a single medium only - that of email discussion. The experiment took place over the period of one whole semester. More recently, Lancaster University Law Department has used computer mediated communication as the primary medium for an extensive negotiation exercise with first year students (Armitage and Steeples, 1998) (Bloxham, 1998).
Email and electronic conferencing - the technologies used for the above experiments - can technically be used for simultaneous - i.e. synchronous - communication. Internet Relay Chat is an example of email used in this way. However, all the above exercises in fact involved the use of the technology for non-simultaneous or asynchronous communication. Thus, all the 'electronic tutorials' look place over a period of days rather than in the typical one hour slot that is allocated for traditional small group teaching. Equally, this choice of technology meant that there was little or no verbal, face-to-face contact between the academics and students who were involved in the experiments. Interaction was generally written and remote. These two aspects of the existing experiments inevitably effected the nature of the exercises considerably. This resulted in both advantages and disadvantages over equivalent traditional methods (Widdison and Schulte, 1998). Amongst the advantages were:
However, amongst the disadvantages of using computer mediated communication to enable written, remote activities where:
A particular point to note about the work that has been done in this area until now is that all the electronic tutorials, seminars and innovative activities were conceived and put together as stand-alone exercises - independent of any computer based learning packages. The fact that such packages may have been used by students in preparation for the various computer mediated communication activities was purely incidental.
In the near future, I anticipate that two things will happen. First, we will see continued development and enhancement of our existing set of interactive open learning materials - Iolis. Second, I think that we will see the beginnings of a cottage industry in computer based simulation games for law teaching. As for Iolis , I think that its popularity with academics will increase just as it has already done with students. Academics will grow comfortable with the technology, realising that it does have an important role to play in campus based legal education. By then, they will have integrated it into their courses as readily as they integrate textbooks, casebooks and other hard copy materials today. The means by which Iolis becomes part of the familiar furniture of legal education is not a one way process though. I hope and expect that there will be considerable improvements in both the quantity and quality of Iolis materials over the period in question.
As to quantity, the number of substantive subjects covered by Iolis has expanded considerably in the last half decade. I anticipate that this process will continue at a similar rate until all but the most esoteric courses are supported. Quantitative expansion will also occur beyond the range of traditional substantive law areas. The era of academic skills teaching is now upon us. A new draft statement on qualifying law degrees (Law Society et al, 1998) places a great deal of emphasis on this type of educational approach. So, work is already underway on a set of workbooks aimed at providing support for this rising area of study. It is anticipated that the new skills section of Iolis will contain workbooks on research, legal reasoning, communication skills and numeracy. Information technology skills teaching will be integrated with these other workbooks rather than dealt with in a separate workbook. But, why confine Iolis to academic law teaching? Law publishers' catalogues bear witness to a massive growth in hard copy materials covering all aspects of vocational education. It is also clear that continuing legal education has opened up a huge new market for teaching and learning materials. I suggest that it is now time to start giving serious consideration to the politics and economics of developing computer based learning packages for these markets too.
Increased quantity will be very welcome. So too, though, will improved quality. Of the existing workbooks some are excellent, most are good, a few are below standard and one or two are bad. Keeping existing materials up-to-date is not enough. Over the next few years, I hope that a rolling programme will be adopted aimed at raising the educational quality of workbooks that are below standard and replacing those that are bad. The Law Courseware Consortium has already, wisely, adopted a policy of looking to appoint editors whose role will be to maintain and update workbooks within a subject area. However, editing is not always enough. I think that this approach needs to be supplemented by one that identifies unsatisfactory workbooks and earmarks them either for radical improvement or for replacement as seems appropriate.
Turning from existing workbooks to new ones, ensuring the quality of the content right from the outset is crucial, in my view. Perhaps at the start, each workbook author should automatically be assigned an academic consultant to work with. The consultant would then advise on content, educational approaches and drafts throughout the authoring process. It may be useful to choose a consultant who, whilst having respect and sympathy for the author's views, none-the-less has a rather different academic and/or educational approach to the subject area in question. Then, the interaction between author and consultant may be stimulating and productive rather than cosy. Quality of content should, I feel, be supplemented by functional enhancements designed both to deepen and enrich the learning experience (Ramsden, 1992) and to attempt to loosen the shackles of formalism (Collins, 1994). With this in mind, several page types have been proposed and are under active consideration at present. These new page types include:
At least two other functional enhancements are being considered for Iolis. One is an integral monitoring system that will produce detailed feedback on each student's performance on a workbook, highlighting areas of weakness so that recommendations can be made on how to improve. The second is better support for authors either in the form of an on-screen demonstration or an interactive workbook on authoring. Such support would, hopefully, stimulate authors into making greater creative use of the page types and the other facilities that Iolis offers, It would also encourage them to think about how best to design for and achieve educational objectives. Finally, such support would seek to guide authors on such issues as the style and presentation of learning materials.
Lets us turn now from Iolis to consider the next level of computer based learning software - interactive simulation games. I have already mentioned that I think we will see the emergence of a cottage industry in such games in the short term. In the near future, individuals and small teams will begin experimenting with the development of such simulation games as a useful additional tool for academic law teaching. What is the difference between Iolis and these simulation games? I have characterised Iolis as a collection of interactive open learning materials. A simulation game, by contrast, is better understood as a type of interactive film within which a student can play an key role in a drama. What sort of drama? Here are some suggested legal scenarios:
I have discussed the potential benefits of such simulation games elsewhere (Widdison et al, 1997). Suffice it to say here that I believe that, if Iolis inevitably tends to foster a rather analytical, serialist approach to learning, simulation games by contrast are designed to encourage the development of a much more synthesised, holistic approach (Daniel, 1975). Ultimately, simulation games are capable of providing a more challenging and absorbing learning experience than Iolis (Ramsden, 1992) (Jones and Scully, 1998). So, am I predicting that simulation games will eventually replace Iolis? No, they will compliment Iolis. In the future, I see a continuing role for Iolis-type workbooks to provide basic legal education for most law students. Interactive simulation games will be the contribution made by computer based learning to the more advanced legal education of these same students. For the foreseeable future, we will be using both types of packages.
One of the most significant technological changes that we can expect to see in the short term is the general availability of cheap, PC based video conferencing technology. This means that simultaneous communication will become as easy to establish as non-simultaneous communication is today. The proliferation of such technology will add the key dimension to computer mediated interaction that is currently missing. Video conferencing will enable face-to-face, verbal interaction to take place just as readily as remote, text based interaction. However, video technology will by no means replace email and electronic conferencing. It will simply add greatly to the possibilities. What we will see shortly is communications technology that is flexible enough to be moulded not only into many of traditional forms of communication, but also into a wide variety of innovative 'multimedia' forms of interaction. At this point, 'virtual presence' will easier to achieve - and in some circumstances almost as enriching - as actual presence.
What else in the near future? I agree that we will see moves towards a convergence of computer based learning and computer mediated communications (Moodie, 1997). Early experimental work of this type is already being undertaken (Grantham, 1999). Rather than these educational technologies operating independently of each other, we will increasingly be exploring ways of using them in harness, thus profiting from the advantages of both - and hopefully without ending up suffering from the disadvantages of both! I think that initially we will use the two technologies consecutively - alternating between computer based learning and computer mediated communication. Concurrent integration - tantamount to full integration of the two technologies - will come later.
Here is a scenario in which the technologies are used consecutively for the most part. A group of students are offered an initial session on a legal topic that they wish to study. This session serves to introduce those students to the topic and to highlight the interesting and problematic areas. The initial session may take the form either of pre-recorded, 'video-on-demand' lectures or a computer mediated pre-tutorial. Perhaps both will be offered, enabling each student to choose his/her preferred introduction. Some students may, of course, choose both! After the introductory session, students then undertake private study by means of Iolis-style interactive open learning materials coupled with a digital library of full text sources. As each student works through these materials, any areas of difficulty he or she encounters can be referred directly to the appropriate academic member of staff via simultaneous video-conferencing or non-simultaneous email whilst the issue is still fresh in the student's mind. At an appropriate stage in the educational process, the academic will schedule a computer mediated tutorial. At this point, he or she can gauge how well each student has advanced and advise on suitable remedial work for those who have not progressed sufficiently. More advanced students can then be assigned further reading and encouraged to place their growing understanding of the topic in question both within the framework of the subject as a whole and then within a wider context.
Five to ten years from now, I hope to see a new pump priming exercise - an injection of central government funds similar to that which brought about Iolis. This time, though, the focus will be on the development of more advanced educational technology. For law, I anticipate, this will mean the interactive simulation games that I mentioned earlier. So, just as an injection of cash moved the development of interactive open learning materials up from a cottage industry to large scale mass production, this change will be mirrored in the production of interactive simulation games. Their time will have come. The preceding cottage industry will help identify the starting point for the development of this new generation of teaching tools.
As interactive simulation games will move from the wings to centre stage, so too a new, even more advanced generation of educational technology will occupy those vacant wings. What will be the nature of this new species of legal software? My guess is that it will take the form of what I shall call 'virtual tutors' ( Widdison, 1996) (Paliwala, 1999a). These virtual tutors will not be computer based learning packages in the sense that we now understand. Rather, they will be designed to function as managers of the learning process. Each student will be given his/her own virtual tutor. It will be an intelligent agent which will be personalisable - and will then autonomously personalise itself further - so as to mould itself exactly to the academic level, intellectual ability and psychological learning style (Honey and Mumford, 1992) of the individual student that it is assigned to serve. At first, interaction with such tutors may be of the 'point and click' variety. Eventually, though, I anticipate that the barriers between virtual tutors and their allotted students will be lowered as the tutors become capable of conversing by, and responding to, natural language, whether in spoken or written form.
The first service each virtual tutor will perform will be to devise and recommend a suitable learning strategy and timetable for the student to whom it is assigned. It will then guide its client along a customised route through available computer based learning packages, computer mediated interactions and other educational resources - both digital and traditional. It will be sufficiently flexible to be able to slow down or return to difficult areas, to speed up or skip easy or inappropriate areas. It will be capable of modifying the learning strategy it is pursuing at any time in order to optimise the learning experience of its client. Whilst managing an education, the virtual tutor will simultaneously be 'informating' - i.e. constantly monitoring, assessing and reassessing the student's progress and needs (Zuboff, 1988pp 9-11). We can even imagine a time when such informating may take over from the much despised memory tests that are examinations and the over-rated alternative that we call continuous assessment. Imagine just how much more accurate a report based on genuinely continuous feedback from the virtual tutor would be by comparison with the existing means of summative assessment. Such machine based assessment would also, of course, be painless for students!
There is no reason why the student and his/her own, personalised tutor need part at the end of academic study. In Dearing's learning society where lifelong learning is the norm (1997), it may come to seem perfectly appropriate for the virtual tutor to be a lifelong guide and friend. It will accompany its client through the vocational phase of legal education - if that continues to be separate from the academic phase - and on to the now everlasting third phase of continuous legal education. I can imagine that the virtual tutor will evolve beyond the handling of the on-going learning process to assisting in the operation and management of the legal practice of the future.
When discussing the short term, I predicted that computer based learning and computer mediated communications would converge, leading at first to consecutive use. In the longer term, I envisage full integration giving rise to concurrent use. Let me illustrate this by inserting a new stage to the scenario I discussed earlier.
After private study and before the computer mediated tutorial, the students would be encouraged to take part in an appropriate interactive simulation game. Perhaps this simulation game would work rather like computerised card games of today such as Bridge or Poker (Blackie and Maharg, 1998). It may begin by suggesting to one student that he/she contact other students in order to invite them to take part. The relevant software could then act like a casting director. It would allocate roles to all the students who expressed an interest in taking part and itself fill the roles of any remaining characters in its dramatis personae. An alternative, less technology-intensive type of simulation game might also be chosen. This alternative group activity would be rather like the Multi User Simulation Environments (MUSEs) that have already existed on the Internet for some years (Rheingold, 1993p 155). In the latter case, the computer would do no more than provide the scenery and the props, leaving the students to evolve their own role-playing game, distributing all the roles between them and determining the course of the drama.
In the longer term, I anticipate law modules being designed 'from scratch' to make full use of computer mediated communications integrated with computer based learning. A typical module designer (whether human or software!) will have a wide range of educational tools to draw on in addition to the 'up-front' methods of learning such as traditional lectures, seminars and tutorials. This will make effective module design much more complex and challenging that it is at present. After all, the number of tools from which the designer will be able to select will have more than tripled! No doubt it will take experiment and experience to select from the available techniques and to combine and mould them together effectively. However, this type of problem is already common enough even in today's manifestation of the information society.
What types of education tools will the module designer be choosing from? In addition to the traditional approaches, all the following will be on offer.
Over time, I imagine that more use will be made of the newer approaches and less of the traditional. In particular, virtual presence will slowly come to replace actual presence. This does not mean that actual presence will be regarded as an inferior commodity, though. Rather, the opposite will be true. Actual presence will, by then, be valued as an especially precious and expensive resource - something to be offered to all students, albeit rather more sparingly that is typically the case now. I anticipate actual presence will be made available to students with something like the frequency with which it is offered to today's Open University students. We will return to this issue later.
If we project forward some of the developments in educational technology that we have been discussing, what sort of vision may we have of legal education twenty five years from now? Here, I will tentatively suggest some possibilities. To give the discussion structure, I will focus my forecasting on three areas: students; academics and law schools.
The first technology driven change for law students is that the various discrete ways of studying law will become a flexible continuum. This continuum will encourage and support the development of a 'learning-on-demand' culture. Whether one studies on campus, at home, or at work; whether study is full time or part time, by day or in the evening - all these varieties will be available on every degree programme. Students will be able to switch from one scheme to another at will. Equally they will be able to study some modules full time by day whilst simultaneously taking other modules part time during the evening. Students in a hurry to complete a law degree programme may be able to choose to pack their studies into the minimum allowable time - three years or even two. Such an approach may well suit the young school leaver who wishes to get into a career as quickly as possible. At the other end of the spectrum, mature students who are carers, who are in some other type of employment, or who cannot afford to support themselves full time in their studies may well choose to spread their programme of study over the maximum allowable time - perhaps ten years. But the system will be flexible. If our school leavers start a family or gets a job, they will be able to slow down the pace of their study - perhaps even stop for a while. Likewise, mature students who, for example, obtain help with child care or who get leave of absence from their work will be able to speed up the pace.
If the above prediction is accurate, we will move into an era of 'open study' (Twining, 1997p 287). Law school doors will be open to those who have never had the opportunity to study law in the United Kingdom before. I anticipate that a far higher proportion of future law undergraduates will be mature students having spent time away from education after leaving school. It will, perhaps, become much more common to study law in one's twenties, thirties, or in middle age. Law will not only be a natural choice for school leavers in a hurry to get into legal practice. It will also be a natural choice for life-long learners who are interested in a change of career, who want to equip themselves to deal with their own or other people's problems, or who wish to broaden their understanding of how states, societies and economies work. This highly personalisable regime of study is by no means a new phenomenon. It is very much the way that the Open University operates today. However, in Dearing's learning society (1997), instead of this flexibility being virtually unique to one higher education institution, it will become the normal way to study law. Educational technology will ensure that all law schools will easily be able to accommodate such flexibility in their law degree programmes.
Clearly, we are moving rapidly towards a situation where each student will access and work with a variety of educational tools. Does it follow that virtual presence will completely obviate the need for any actual presence? Generally, I think not. There may be a few students who, because of location, commitments, or preference will complete a whole law degree programme without any actual presence. For the rest, though, I think that actual presence will still be encouraged and expected. Periodically, students will be required to attend in person at a law school study week. There, they will take part in intensive activities with fellow students and academic staff. These study weeks may take place at a regional study centre used by a number of local law schools. Alternatively - especially during the summer - they will be at a centre or hotel either by the sea or in one of the nearby national parks. Free cr?che facilities and organised activities for older children will be available. Student-orientated activities will typically involve short lecture courses by 'big-name' academics, competitive mooting and role-playing games, group problem-solving exercises, actual visits to local courts, tribunals and law firms and, of course, socialising! Competitions will not pit individual student against student in a traditional, unrealistic way. Rather, they will be team based and so more like the real world. Such competitions will take the form of pitting one team of students against others in reasonably friendly rivalry. This will provide the benefits of both promoting esprit de corps within the teams themselves and fitting the would-be practitioners with the sort of cognitive and social skills that are now recognised as essential in the legal world (Paliwala, 1999a).
Ready access at all hours to an individually selected range of educational technologies will allow for a greater and greater degrees of personalisation of legal education. This development will, I feel, be accelerated by the use of the type of the virtual tutors that I described earlier. Individual students will be able to progress at their own pace on a programme of study that has been tailored precisely to their own prior knowledge, ability and level of motivation. As we have seen, as a result of the deployment of such virtual tutors, each law degree programme will optimise individual learning by reflecting and exploiting each student's own psychological learning style (Honey and Mumford, 1992).
If we look at modern law schools, there is already a wide variety of work relationships in evidence. It may well be that the core still comprises permanent, full-time lecturers employed by the law school or university in question. However, it is also striking that around this core are typically to be found a broad outer layer comprising a variety of other permanent and temporary work relationships. These include not only part time employees but also both full time and part time, self-employed academics. Even full time core staff sometimes attend other law schools in Britain and abroad for short periods as guest academics or on an exchange. Part timers - whether full or part time may well combine law teaching with legal practice or work for two or more law schools at once.
How may this already varied picture change over the next quarter of a century? I think that the core will shrink and the outer layer will expand to fill the vacuum. More importantly, the perception of what is normal will come to embrace the whole spectrum between the permanent, full-time, employed lecturer at one end and the temporary, part-time, self employed academic on the other. My image of the latter end of the spectrum is something like that of the modern Bar. Many academics will obtain their educational accreditation from the Quality Assurance Agency and then will operate as peripatetic scholars and teachers, hiring themselves out simultaneously to a number of employers in order to do a number of specific educational jobs within the area of their interests and expertise. We may even see the emergence of one-person law schools - individual academics with an excellent reputation taking on and educating small number of students in their areas of specialism. Although this arrangement it may well completely suffice for a student taking taught masters or research degrees, it can only provide a proportion of an undergraduate's education. Some undergraduates, though, may take the whole of their degree programme by studying with several such individual, accredited academics instead of going to a single law school.
Writing about legal practice, Susskind (1996p 286) predicts that the role of legal practitioners will change dramatically. He claims:
While most of the work of a lawyer in today's paradigm is advisory and consultative in nature, the emphasis will shift radically in the information society as many lawyers assume the role of legal information engineer and devote much of their professional lives to the design and development of legal information services and products.
In my opinion, this prediction will hold true for academic lawyers too. Virtually every lecturer will be involved - either individually or as a member of a team - in devising, setting up, customising and updating electronic learning technologies in their specialist areas. But the role of the academic in 2025 will still involve some more familiar activities too, albeit done in different ways and under different circumstances. So, as we have seen, there will be a far wider selection of learning tools and techniques available to those that design modules and degree programmes - whether human or machine. Information technology provides not only many more ways of doing traditional educational activities but also the possibility of doing completely innovative activities that simply were not possible before. The prime beneficiary will be the student as an individual. Our current 'one size fits all' degree programmes must surely give way to personally tailored programmes matched precisely to the needs, desires and psychological learning profile of each student.
Turning to the research side of academic life, I think that, in this sphere, it will be much more a case of 'business as usual'. There will still be plenty of funds to be applied for, projects to be undertaken, surveys to be conducted, conference papers to be produced and presented, journals to be edited, and scholarly books, articles and reviews to be written. The most striking difference between then and now is that these activities will generally involve teleworking from home and they will be conducted via online libraries and computer mediated communications. The rise of teleworking will be, perhaps, one of the most striking changes that will occur over the next twenty five years. It is true that such orientations to work are relatively rare today. Reasons that are cited include the fact that employers often still assess work value by reference to input rather than output, Also, they prefer to have their workers on site where they can keep an eye on them. As for the workers, they find teleworking rather an isolating, lonely experience. These barriers - part technological and part cultural - will not last for ever, though. The coming of ubiquitous video conferencing bringing with it a true sense of virtual presence - the next best thing to actual presence - will reduce the technological obstacle. The cultural hurdle will be overcome naturally for the next generation - the 'Net generation' - of both employers and workers (Tapscott, 1997). Most of those who will be starting out on an academic career in 2025 are being born now. They will be surprised and faintly amused by our angsts.
As for research input, digital methods are already commonplace amongst today's legal academics. It is now as important to be adept at electronic searching as it is with the traditional equivalent. I imagine that electronic research may be easier a quarter of a century from now. Firstly, today's surfing excellence will be greatly enhanced by our machines. Sophisticated autonomous agents - personal search engines - will constantly monitor the holdings of online libraries. They will the compile customised weekly, daily or hourly bulletins comprising all but only the legal news of interest to their particular academics (Negroponte, 1996pp 19-20). Databases of past bulletins coupled with a detailed and up-to-date knowledge of where to find other information on the Internet will also enable these agents to search thoroughly and find information on command. Secondly, when perhaps 99% of the world's primary and secondary legal materials are readily accessible online, only a few academics such as legal historians will need a working knowledge of how to do things in the old ways.
On the topic of research output, we are now familiar with finding books, journal articles, conference proceedings and postgraduate theses in full text, or at least abstract form, on the Internet as well as on paper. There is a growing tendency to publish such works solely on the Internet. Clearly, this tendency will rapidly become the norm. Soon, the global outpourings of legal scholars will only be published electronically and will be accessible and downloadable on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.
By 2025, will we end up with a single, enormous Open University-style of law school, on the one hand, or a thousand miniature law schools all clamouring to be noticed, on the other hand? My forecast is that neither extreme will occur. I anticipate that there will still be around a hundred law schools in the United Kingdom together with a penumbra of the type of one-person schools that I mentioned above. However, I do foresee a number of key changes resulting in a great deal more diversity and giving prospective law students a more meaningful choice of routes to qualifying in law.
Law schools will greatly accentuate their different philosophies and approaches both to law and to legal education. So, for example, prospective students will be able to choose between law schools at one extreme which are strongly academic and contextual and those at the other extreme that are highly vocational and clinical in character. Equally, they will be able to choose between schools with a radical and innovative approach to the study of law on the one hand and those with a more traditional outlook on the other. Needless-to-say, there will be a wealth of possibilities between these extremes. I also think it likely that while some law schools will offer a wide range of modules, others will come to specialise in particular areas of the law - e.g. private law, public law, European law, and international law.
Diversity will be further increased as many law students detect an advantage in beginning their studies at one law school and then moving on to others for a different phase of their education. Conceivably, a law student may choose to study at more than one law school simultaneously. The trend towards globalisation of information and institutions will mean that these law schools may well not be located in the same country or even continent. Where, for example, a chosen module involves studying the laws of another state, the student may choose to learn that subject at a law school in that state. Those taking French law will be free to study at a French law school, those choosing Chinese law at a Chinese law school etc. Furthermore, perhaps the specialised law schools we were discussing above will form partnerships - in time, even merge - with schools based in other countries with the same specialisms.
Most of the current discussion about the impact of computerisation on legal education focuses on what is happening now or in the near future. However, without some attention to the longer term possibilities, this discussion must inevitably lack a sense of perspective. If we lack such a perspective, educational technology can seem like an irritation, a distraction, even a threat to law students, academics and law school administrators alike. And, unless we have this sense of perspective, how can we have any sense of where we are heading - or where we may wish to go? If we make the effort to peer into the longer term future, I believe that we will be rewarded. We will begin to understand what is happening to legal education - and maybe even strive to take control over the direction in which we are moving. Perhaps we can then try to make sure that educational technology will help us towards our shared goal of offering a deeper, more varied, and more stimulating environment in which to learn law (Paliwala, 1999b).
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