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JILT 2000 (1) - Orlan Lee


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IT, Law, and Verbal Skills:
A Review of a CD-ROM Project,
Hong Kong Business Law

Reviewed by
Orlan Lee
Hong Kong University of Science & Technology

(The project was sponsored by a Teaching Development Grant of the University Grants Committee, Hong Kong.)


The author has the rare opportunity to review a digest of his own course and textbook on Hong Kong business law. His students have prepared a CD-ROM which contains a summary of the law and outlines of leading cases in Hong Kong business law, a running commentary on his course. The CD-ROM presents him with two clear observations on the role of IT in law teaching:

What are the goals and objectives of a course in business law in Hong Kong and China?

Why are there still expatriate law teachers on the China coast? Old China hands, or foreign devils? Simply to convey technical information: on formation of contract, avoidance of claims of professional negligence, choice of business association, pitfalls of agency relationships, protection of intellectual property, etc.? Or do you also detect in this CD-ROM concepts of a society which is also 'fair, just, and reasonable'? and a method of solving the problems these concepts present?

While the law itself may attempt to represent high ideals, the 'cruel loser pays' rule in Hong Kong may risk making the courts inaccessible to all but those too rich to care, or those too poor to worry, for whom legal aid makes access possible.

We see, too, how the adversary process may force you to learn new meanings for words you thought you always knew. In brief, the CD-ROM seems to capture both the ideals and shortcomings of the law, and to give us a lesson in the plain meaning of words, and the reasoning of those who use them.

What is IT good for and how can it be useful in the study of law?

The new technologies in use here also provide a tremendous advantage for us, not available to those who studied only a few years ago. The CD-ROM is able to simplify and portray concepts and ideas, and more important to make immediately accessible materials that are stored in multiple jurisdictions at opposite ends of the earth.

The final lesson is to learn from this student effort that these media advances cannot in good conscience be left merely to chance use, like new chalk and blackboard classroom equipment. There is an opportunity here to employ these techniques, as they have previously been employed only by the media giants, not simply for student attempts to digest and summarize, but also for academic efforts to create new texts and monographs, in the medium of the TV generation.

1. Introduction

'Do you teach democracy in your law course in Hong Kong?'

an editor of a prominent Commonwealth public affairs journal asked as we met for the first time.

'No,' I replied, 'but I am gratified whenever students question whether a decision was 'fair, just, and reasonable'.

I am struck by how often that reservation arises in the student outlines of the Hong Kong cases summarized in the CD-ROM under review here.

It is a rare pleasure for a university instructor to be able to review the work of his own students. It is even rarer for technical students to produce a piece of work that a law teacher would like to present to the public as a medium for teaching law and verbal skills. The CD-ROM pictured here is such a project[1]. It was produced in part with a Teaching Development Grant of the University Grants Committee (Hong Kong), and represents a significant step in the direction of investment in this form of IT property as a promising means of enhancing verbal skills of technical students.

2. Review of the CD-ROM Project

2.1 IT in a Business Law Course for Technical Students

The CD-ROM which appeared in fall semester, 1999, is, as the title indicates, a Student Manual to Hong Kong Business Law in a Nutshell[2], the text and casebook for their business law course. It contains excerpts from the 'moot court' debates and student team project outlines of leading cases in Hong Kong business law in the course law, or 'Business Law for Engineering Students' in the School of Business and Management of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, from the fall semesters, 1997 and 1998. It was produced as a class project in order to assist the coming years' students, intended to save them the effort of simply repeating the work of those who had taken the course before them, to enable them to take a further step the coming year.

The CD-ROM we have since developed has the following features:

  • Interactive case reports: These are outlines of leading cases in Hong Kong business and engineering law, prepared by students in the fall semester of the1998 course;

  • it is possible to click on words and concepts for definitions;

  • click for maps (where relevant to cases); and

  • to click on case names and to jump to further outlines of prior decisions, or documents etc.

An enormous refinement makes it possible to click on case names for Realplayer size, or whole screen size, videos of the past two years' 'moot court' debates, showing students debating both sides of the relevant cases.

2.2 IT for School and University

By virtue of an early tip-off that funding would follow, the student team was able to get a head start on production. On 24 March, 1999, a day the University of Science & Technology set aside for presentations on the use of IT in the schools, the student team was, therefore, able to give an initial demonstration to visiting principals of Hong Kong schools and to the University of how the CD-ROM would work.

The CD-ROM was completed in time for the fall semester of the 1999 course, and is now in use and is available from the Souvenir Shop of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.

3.The Goals and Objectives of a Course in Business Law in Hong Kong and China

3.1 Learning Rules vs. Learning Verbal Skills

Why should the business and engineering students who take these courses be critically re-examining decided cases, instead of simply learning the rules of precedent these cases represent? Not because the certifying agencies that require them to study the elements of business law and professional responsibility expressly call for that, surely. Rather, it is appropriate because there is no business law, or professional responsibility, without addressing fundamental questions, and how they are answered. The desire for fair play in business dealings, and the expectation that a professional person should attempt to conform to the best standards of his trade or profession are the concerns that underlie these fields of law. Whenever we express these concerns and expectations regarding the law, we play our part in keeping alive the ideal, perhaps only the cultural myth, that the law embodies our best expectations of ourselves and our various traditions.

3.2 Law vs. Equity

We expect the legislature to make 'laws', statutes, or 'ordinances' as they are called in Hong Kong, that will reflect our political and social ideals. But, we really do not want to live in a society based solely on 'rules and regulations', the overwhelming impression of what 'the law' is to most citizens of this perhaps most rigid of common law societies. The most skeptical of us still cherishes a longing for some more tangible expression of human feeling, of 'justice and equity' in our lives.

Law, in the common law tradition, and also in the civil law or codified law traditions of continental Europe and much of the rest of the world, does include, or is also expected to include, reference to these other 'sources of law' in judicial decision making. However, the average person, and, unfortunately, many lawyers and judges, and administrators, sometimes forget this, and simply equate law with a rigid literal reading of the 'laws' on the books. This is particularly easy to do if we rely on the Chinese texts which translate the English word law with an expression that historically meant only 'rules and regulations', i.e., fa lü in Mandarin, or fa lud in Cantonese while reserving the expression jen ch'ing / yan cheng, 'human feeling' for another field.

It is all the more gratifying, therefore, that the moot court debates excerpted here, and the case outlines, examining decided cases anew, so often turn on questions of equity. Not one of the technical and business students who have taken the course have not objected at the beginning of the course that the English of the case reports is too difficult. Yet, here you will find them just as easily re-examining those same cases for what they now argue is 'absurd, harsh, or unreasonable'.

3.3 Problem Solving as Course Objective

The outlines and debates presented in this CD-ROM are not meant to be an authoritative restatement of Hong Kong case law. They are simply presented in the hope that these outlines may be useful to the next class of students to illustrate how the principles of law the first class learned in the course have been applied in the past. They also represent the experience of those students that application of the law is a matter of persuasion, and that, therefore, it is the reasoning in these cases that determines whether the law was correctly applied.

The Objective of the Course: The objective of the team projects, like the objective of the course, was not to make lawyers out of engineering students. Rather, the intention was to demonstrate that rules of law, while they can be learned like the data in so many other courses, have to be applied by human beings to real life situations. Law, as a field of study, and as a profession, deals with problem solving. Theirs was, therefore, a 'general education' course, that attempted to help the student learn how 'to spot issues', and 'to solve a legal problem', which is not much different from solving any other kind of social, business, ethical, scientific, or, perhaps, even engineering problem.

The typical steps toward resolution of a problem by this method, they learned, are as follows:

  • First, identify the parties involved, then determine the relevant FACTS of a case, e.g., 'A' makes an offer to 'B'; 'B' 'accepts' and gives 'consideration', but adds new terms; 'A' rejects, 'B' sues 'A' for 'specific performance' (i.e., 'B' sues 'A' to force him to carry out the foreseen contract, often to complete the sale and purchase contract for real property);

  • The resulting FACT, that is, who is suing whom for what, should make clear what the LEGAL PROBLEM is, i.e., 'Can 'B' get 'specific performance'?;

  • That PROBLEM can be studied in terms of underlying LEGAL ISSUES , those ISSUES determine which principles of law apply, e.g., (1) acceptance must be in keeping with the terms contained in the offer, unless (2) negotiations, or acts in reliance, continue and/or allow otherwise;

  • The final step is to apply the rules of law that arise in order to RESOLVE the PROBLEM , recognizing that more than one RESOLUTION may be possible, e.g., (1) there is no 'acceptance', but rather a 'counter-offer', which results in no contract or (2) perhaps rejection came too late and there was either 'part performance' by 'B', or 'reliance to detriment', which may result in an implied contract.

The nature of problem solving in law is that while rules of law may be fixed. the facts may not be easy to determine[3]. There is rarely a set of isolated facts that has no connection to a set of past circumstances, or that does not lead to ongoing dealings. Furthermore, litigation in the common law system is an adversary process, that is, the parties themselves argue what the facts are and what law applies to which facts. The continental European, civil law system, follows an inquisitorial process, that is, the court itself investigates in order to establish what the facts are and then applies the law to those facts. But that does not totally eliminate the role the parties play in presenting their own cases. In either situation there is little to gladden the heart of the science and engineering student here unless he has already made the psychological transition from a Newtonian system of scientific training and beliefs to an Einsteinian relativistic one.

3.4 Then What is Law?

In brief, law does not and can not operate like a fixed rulebook from which you apply absolute answers to completely isolated questions. Administrators, legislators, and even judges may not like to hear this. But in the PowerPoint slides and video clips that comprise this CD-ROM you will see many a case that could have come out differently, and many a case that you would perhaps argue should have come out differently. Sound reasoning and good judgment are the keys to good case law. There is a right to appeal for a mistake of law, but even appeals courts can misapply good rules, or apply rules differently. In the long run, perhaps good law or good rules emerge from these decisions. But you can begin to see that that does not necessarily mean that justice was done in a particular case, though that is all you go to court for.

A classic dilemma of this kind arises in Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co.[4], discussed in the student outlines. Here the court developed the doctrine of 'foreseeability,' without which modern negligence law would be unthinkable. But it did so at the cost of denying even minimal medical expenses to a woman injured by a falling object dislodged in an explosion that may have been caused by Railroad employees' negligence, but where plaintiff's injury was deemed too remote for compensation.

The point is that not all 'laws' are the kinds of wise sayings we want to hang in places of honor. And principles of 'equity'[5 ] (we speak of 'fairness' or 'natural justice') are just that, principles. We can not always predict how they will be applied in court.

  • There are some legislators and members of the public who think that laws are made just to get even with other people, or to cure all the ills of society. So we read, for instance: 'A mainland move to send cheating husbands to labour camps is winning praise from Hong Kong wives whose partners have cross-border mistresses.'[6]

  • Some administrators think even the 'add/drop' rules for university courses have to be enforced with a bitter ferocity: The first time I gave this course I discovered that the student records office had reported 7% failures. 'How could this be when I did not fail anyone,' I asked. 'Because a student dropped your course and did not turn in the drop slip,' I was told[7]; and

  • Sometimes judges invent questionable new rules out of fear of failing to enforce other rules. Thus while abortion was prosecuted as murder, 'attempt' was pursued as only a slightly lesser crime, even when the 'attempt' could not have succeeded, the means were ineffective, and there was no fetus. In old criminal law textbooks this was treated as the problem of 'the unworkable attempt, with an unworkable means, on a non-existent object'.

In former times in China, we are told: 'You often [saw] stone tablets on the highways near a hsien capital bearing these bold letters: 'DO NOT GO TO [COURT]!' [Moh ta guan sz ]'[8]. For reasons you see even in these leading cases, that is not a bad motto to follow anywhere. The rules of law may be good ones, but how courts will apply them is often unpredictable.

Advocates of 'Asian values' tell us to sit down and have a cup of tea together. But let us not be too hasty to congratulate ourselves on cultural superiority. The introduction of Western style courts in the European colonial areas in Asia led to an immediate explosion of the demand for litigation[9]. Compromise in an unequal society of status and power relationships was not that equal, or that satisfying, either.

What is law? What is Legal Reasoning? My mother used to like to watch a lawyer detective story series on television. The mysteries were always solved in the courtroom. The lawyer detective would always have discovered clues that led to his uncovering new information that he could use in cross-examination to lead an unwilling witness into admitting that he had committed the crime. 'But that is not how legal reasoning works', I had to complain. 'Most of law is not about discovering who committed the crime, it is about deciding what is 'fair, just, and reasonable' in dealing with the facts'.

3.5 Rigid Rules vs. 'Good Conscience' in Hong Kong

Perhaps the most notable among Hong Kong cases that deal with this problem is one where the courts, despite themselves, could not approve, but could not overturn, Government action, which they held to be strictly in conformity with its powers in terms of the relevant legislation, but shockingly short on adherence to standards of declared policy[10]. In this case, the courts at all levels in Hong Kong, and Privy Council, agreed that the Immigration Department had the power to deport illegal immigrants, and had acted within their powers with respect to Mr. Ng Yuen Shiu. However, in this case, the Government, including the Governor himself, had given an 'undertaking', that is an assurance, that in each such case the person 'will be interviewed' and that 'each case will be treated on its merits.' Therefore, the full bench of the High Court concluded that, at least, Mr. Ng:

'. . .should have been asked whether there were any humanitarian reasons or other special factors which he would like to be taken into account before a decision was reached'[11].

Privy Council agreed.

We are, therefore, indebted to the rigidity of the Hong Kong Government, or of the Immigration Department, or of the Attorney General, as the case may be, for thus bringing about Privy Council's application to Hong Kong of the doctrine of 'legitimate expectation', a new principle of 'equity', which, even in England, had only recently been formulated[12]. The principle was thus established for Hong Kong, that, '. . .a public authority is bound by its undertakings as to the procedure it will follow, provided they do not conflict with its duty'[13]. Moreover, these 'undertakings' do not have to be expressed in so many words, if it is 'reasonable' to expect that a pattern once established would be followed in a particular case[14].

Accordingly, law is not simply the cold and rigid rulebook that legislators, administrators, and even judges, sometimes like to apply. law properly applied calls for decision making, on the basis of rules of course, but also on the basis of reason, justice, and fairness, that is 'equity', that limits even the sternest legislation from reaching a decision that is 'absurd, harsh, or unreasonable'.

4. Re-arguing Leading Cases in Hong Kong Business Law

4.1 The Role of Verbal Skills and Judgment

rearguing Leading Cases in Hong Kong Business and law: The objective of these team projects, like the objective of the course was to demonstrate that rules of law, while they can be learned like the data in so many other courses, have to be applied by human beings to real life situations. law, as a field of study, and as a profession, deals, with problem solving. law in the courtroom should not be simply a matter of applying rules and formulas to data. It is about how to apply sometimes ancient customs and modern legislative rules, along with principles of 'equity', and the experience of how these have been applied in the past. In other words, 'rules of law' are also subject to 'principles' and 'prior decisions'. Thus we attempt to apply these 'rules' to the facts of a case. But we also attempt to keep what we think of as the basic 'rules of law' from being applied in ways that offend conscience.

In a famous dissent in one of the leading cases studied by these students, one of the most courageous English judges of our times lets us understand that we would not be living in a civilized country if our system of law and justice did not allow us to correct the mistakes we can now see in judgments of the past[15]:

Because you are not a law student, or because you are a student of business and management, or are a student of engineering, does not mean that you are, therefore, entitled to disregard some of the problematic decisions that we encounter, that seem to depart from the general rules of law you have studied, or that seem to drive these rules of law to absurd extremes:

Never forget the decision by which the mover who did not deliver anything, and who destroyed everything, did not owe damages for anything![16].

Never forget the fatuous argument that 'hoisting includes dropping'![17]

Never forget the argument that: , asking permission to destroy a building; , receiving permission to destroy a building; and, destroying a building, were not taken as evidence that the party that did these things (a party which had already held the property for three years) did not intend to withdraw from a bargain to keep property![18].

Never forget that a device where three wheels were taken off the front of a hay rake (which had a line of six wheels set one behind the other), and set parallel to the front three wheels, was not considered to infringe the patent of a device where three wheels were taken off the back and set parallel to the three wheels in the front![19], and, finally,

Have the intellectual courage, as engineering students, to admit that if the Hong Kong intellectual property decision is correct, that: despite no operational material variant, the 'Smooth & Silky' does not infringe the patent of the 'Epilady', then: our student debaters' own design for another non operationally material variant of the original device is 'non-infringing', as well, and we should all buy shares in a company to make it![20].

5. What is IT Good For and How Can it Be Useful in the Study of Law?

5.1 The Policy Debate on 'Quality of Teaching and Learning'

What is 'Teaching and Learning Quality'? It is inevitable that any discussion about teaching method today must address the issues of 'Teaching and Learning Quality' now under review in the universities of Hong Kong and the Commonwealth. There was not one student, whose performance in the debates you can click on and review here, or whose work in outlining case reports, even including reports of historical case law, who did not object that legal case material was too difficult. Nor do I doubt that that was true, at that time.

By the same token, you can also be sure that most of the English language texts that engineering students take for granted would be completely unreadable to me! But the first thing any student learns is not to dwell on the jargon and to get to the point of what the text is telling you. Judges and case reporters may sometimes not use the best English for what they have to say. But all of us, as students, have soon learned to get to the bottom of their reasoning by concentrating on what are the FACTS, the PROBLEM, the ISSUES, and the possible RESOLUTIONS in the problems expressed in the text before us.

The student who takes the lead in arguing 'infringement' in the 1997 'moot court' debates of the Improver case was always the first into the back row at the top of the lecture hall. His counterpart, so vocal in those debates on the side of 'not infringement', also managed to keep out of sight throughout course tutorials[21]. Again, the two students taking opposite sides in the Humphreys Estate debate, the one delivering an impressive tirade in favour of the Government, without pause and without aid of notes, the other taking the side of Hong Kong Land with so much charm that a visiting law professor judge urged her to become a law student, were never to be seen or heard from in classroom discussions[22]. Had these debates not taken place, I would frankly, never have known what these students had learned from the course.

Hong Kong students seem to have an entirely different notion of what 'Teaching and Learning' is from accepted notions in the older, traditional schools in England and America, so that the concerns I have just expressed might never arise for them. 'Teaching' in the Hong Kong secondary school vocabulary, seems to be the efficient, well-organized, and anonymous, transmission of data. 'Learning' is then acquisition of such data, or the formulas of how to apply it, preferably, without ever exchanging a word with the instructor[23].

Asking the student to give a verbal answer of how to apply recognized legal concepts or how to apply doctrines and rules of law, on the other hand, tends to be regarded as 'unfair'. To do that the student must come out into the open, deal with reasoning, that is not data oriented, and perhaps reveal that his, or her, English is less than perfect.

'Unfair' in the Hong Kong student vocabulary tends to mean anything that violates the principles of how professional testing organizations, HKAL or HKCEE, conduct large scale standardized testing. Consequently, what students expect, and demand, is anonymity, uniformity, packaged courses, model questions, model answers, and curved results[24]. If university lecturers adhere to these principles, even the most mediocre student knows that he is guarantied equal opportunity with every tycoon's son or daughter to memorize and repeat his course material, and compete, score for score, for the key jobs of Hong Kong.

The liberal arts ideals of education, on the other hand, ideals that stress individual thinking and development of the personality, ideals that many traditional university teachers, including myself, still firmly adhere to, tend to violate every one of these precepts.

Reticence of our students to engage in a teaching and learning dialogue is implicitly acknowledged in a recent edition of our official school paper, Genesis. In describing a new classroom learning tool, the school paper tells us that it:

. . .allows students to respond electronically, and in private. . . . allowing students to respond privately and at ease removes the threat associated with speaking publicly in lectures[25].

That method may be fine for learning physics. But it will not do for learning law. As the inventor himself, acknowledges: 'genuine learning takes place when students are actively engaged in thinking and problem solving.' There is no such thing as law learned 'privately' and 'at ease'. law is 'found' by an adversary process, by persuasion. IT can be a very useful support, but it must take us beyond an initial set of bullet points. You do not teach law, or any humanistic or social science properly as only a collection of 'black letter' rules and regulations. The value of electronic aids will be found in their usefulness in illuminating the research and decision making process, as hopefully the CD-ROM under review here may do.

5.2 IT in Promotion of Verbal Skills

Are the 'moot court' Debates, and CD-ROM Case Outlines, a Proper Model for 'Teaching and Learning'? Then what is the proper model for 'Teaching and Learning' in the 'tertiary' institutions of Hong Kong? And what really goes on in our classrooms? Should any other university instructor take these outlines and debates as a model for classroom instruction?[26].

What part can Information Technology play in circumstances like this? Some forms of electronic classroom feedback and reinforcement may be appropriate and desirable for lecturers whose material lends itself to this form of response[27], and it may also serve to involve the student in the lecture and sustain his attention span. Naturally, Information Technology is also essential in providing a medium for 'distance learning'.

But, such use does not ordinarily contribute to live classroom participation. A 'student oriented'[28], interactive use of information technology may be a fruitful way to augment access and delivery of information, as described above. It is a natural development in a University of Science & Technology.

However, learning based on problem solving (as in the case of the law course for business and engineering students discussed, herein) deals primarily with verbal reasoning, with use of information, but not simply its acquisition or application in quantitative reasoning. Information technology that supports the interaction between student and teacher can contribute to this form of learning. The danger is that reliance on a mechanical form of information processing can leave the student helpless to reach reasoned conclusions on his own, especially when the support system is not there.

Therefore the question arises:

'Can you also pursue individual educational goals with a massifying, media reverie producing mechanism?'

'Do we have to accept inducing only tactile and anonymous interaction with the student audience?'

The video clips included in the CD-ROM are the demonstration of the success story of a traditional tutorial class, not its replacement by MTV. What you will see here is engineering students (in a law course required for certification by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers) debating leading cases in Hong Kong business law. (That is revolutionary by itself!) Subtitles have been added to outline the issues that arise in the each team's arguments. However, the intent here is not to provide memory aids for future testing. It is rather to serve as a prompter mechanism both in classroom discussion, and also to encourage students to address the lessons of problem solving. That will be the ultimate test, 'Can interactive multimedia be used to get the new class of students on their feet for student moot court debates yet to come?'.

158 students took part in the debates in 1997, 95 took part in the debates in 1998, with another 190 preparing case reports outlines for this CD-ROM project, the results can be judged from the incidents cited above. 192 students, including some overlaps, took the traditional final exam in 1997, only 8 did so in 1998.

The course grades reflect a normal distribution curve for 350 students. But, the debates grades, and those for the course projects, were frankly better, as you will be able to see from the videotape clips contained in the CD-ROM that they might be. It was an experiment that worked. But it is frankly highly impractical to try to organize events of this magnitude, especially during the final exam period.

Not one of these students had not previously complained that the language of the case reports was too difficult. But you will be able to see the results. Not bad, I would say, for what the newspapers have been telling us about the declining level of English language proficiency of Hong Kong university students[29 ]. While clearly many of these students needed more practice in classroom use of English. Not one of the students who took part here could not make himself, or herself, understood, and did not have a fairly good grasp of the concepts of law and legal issues at stake in the cases under consideration. What is more, the students did not simply rely on the cases they had studied during the year, they researched and studied the underlying cases as well.

The difference these debates and the CD-ROM have made was to give at least these 285 engineering students the opportunity of putting their talents to work, in teams, to give a practical demonstration of their abilities to brief a case, analyze the legal issues, and seek solutions to the problems presented in the case law they have studied. In that respect they fully demonstrated the course objectives of preparing the student to solve a legal problem. In other words, the course attempted to take the student through the process of problem solving itself, rather than have him merely look at it from afar.

Obviously the recognition that a course grade was at stake made a difference. As observed above, there is an implicit identification of competition with academic achievement in Hong Kong. Did these students accomplish the goals of the course? I think the videotapes and the CD-ROM speak for themselves!

5.3 A New and Advanced Proposal

Yet there is an inherent handicap in what can be included in a CD-ROM. Expository writing does not quite fit in. After all, a CD-ROM is not a book. It's very use is a demonstration that we have determined that a multimedia approach is preferable, no, is necessary, to address the specific teaching needs of a generation of students brought up on TV and computers, and particularly students who are learning sophisticated verbal subjects in a second language.

As noted above, a distinctive feature of the CD-ROM is the inclusion of video clips from the last two year's moot court debates, in which this year's students can view the achievements of former year's students. They can see for themselves how a typical class of Hong Kong students can stand on their own feet and deal with verbal solutions to current legal problems. You have to remember that the authors and speakers here are not humanities, social science, or business students, for whom verbal talents and the case method are a general aspiration, if not always a reality. The creators of this law teaching software are engineering students, who according to their JUPAS scores have the lowest university entrance scores in Hong Kong, both in English and in Chinese.

5.4 VCD Project

I now propose to take the lessons learned from this year's project a step further: For future classroom and teaching use, I propose the development of VCDs that do not stop with presentation of student work, but go the further step of employing multimedia techniques for the presentation of professional educational and research results, i.e., employ IT not to stop with PowerPoint, but to present discursive expository material, in similar 'painless' fashion:

  • This project would attempt the inclusion of animation, music, voiceovers, and videos to accompany and explain a professional educational text;

  • This project would attempt to employ the multimedia techniques of the advertising and television world, techniques which we know best for their subliminal persuasive abilities, but which would be employed here to help awaken conscious, verbal, reasoning talents and abilities.

Ultimately, I think these media packages can also be made bilingual, like a movie with subtitles, it can assist the audience to follow in both languages, developing a sensitivity to technical terminology where the second language is necessary.

5.5 Role of IT and Multimedia in the Classroom

I do not advocate complete abandonment of the classroom and university to internet and distance learning electronic delivery. Rather, I suggest that employment of electronic media, as supportive IT systems in the classroom, can enhance educational delivery of ideas and interaction which is otherwise encumbered because of failure to comprehend the written word in complex texts, particularly in a second language.

6. Conclusion: Specific VCDs for Recruiting and Introductory Lectures

In short, what I propose is multimedia IT development that serves to recruit and initiate the student into higher levels of discourse and understanding. Properly employed, I suggest that this approach will contribute to efforts such as we have seen in the recent project of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology Physics Department summer school for 6th formers proposal. Topics suitable for this treatment, always as the basis for later further discussion, include:

  • Why do we study law? Why is law important in business and engineering?;

  • What is problem solving? Law, business, engineering, etc.;

  • What are contracts? What is professional negligence? What is Business Law?; (All the rest of business law follows from the first two.);

  • Law and current events. 'How did Hong Kong get into a constitutional crisis?' 'What difference does 'rule of law' make for international business?' Etc.

For my own part, I believe that a course that is worthwhile has to attempt to realize a meaningful expectation. That does not mean to sit idly by when obviously intelligent students would rather just continue the standardized testing routine that made them successful university entrants in the first place. From the early days of the course, I could not have anticipated these results. However, the results seem to suggest that something must have been right about the course.

Some time ago a dean suggested that I prepare a 'Teaching Portfolio'. If we are not to be guided solely by our students' notions of what 'Teaching and Learning Quality' is, he seemed to say, we need some insight into what you are doing and its results. Well, Mr. Dean, I think you have my 'Portfolio'.


1. Students of 'Engineering Law,' CD-ROM Production Team under Romeo Yip, 'Student Manual to Hong Kong Business Law in a Nutshell: Excerpts from the 'moot court debates' and student team project outlines of leading cases in Hong Kong Business Law, (Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, 1999). Available from the HKUST Souvenir Shop, HK$15, .

2. O. Lee, Hong Kong Business Law in a Nutshell: Cases and Materials on Business Law & Practice (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Juris Publications, 1997).

3. See, e.g., the dilemmas in interpreting what the facts are and what they reveal about intent of the parties in the cases cited in Section 7. below.

4. Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99, 59 A.L.R. 1253 [1928], reargument denied 249 N.Y. 511, 164, N.E. 564).

5. Almost a thousand years ago, Englishmen began to appeal to the king for 'equity' (i.e., 'natural justice') when decisions of the 'common law' courts (applying the customary law of England) seemed too harsh. Equity courts soon developed their own 'principles'. Courts of equity were separate from courts of common law until 1873. Since then both sets of rules apply in the same courts, and equity has been extended to Hong Kong. In 1925, legislation formally recognized that where there is a conflict between the common law and equity, equity prevails. Cf. Hong Kong Laws, Cap 4, High Court Ordinance.

6. South China Morning Post, Sunday Morning Post (Hong Kong), October 4, 1998, p. 4: 'Love cheats for 'labour camp'.

7. I am glad to report that the new Director of that office did not think that this punishment fit the crime.

8 . Chiang Monlin, Tides from the West (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Pr., 1947), p. 256.

9. See references in Hong Kong Business Law in a Nutshell, pp 236ff.

10. Attorney General of Hong Kong v. Ng Yuen Shiu, [1983] All E.R. 346. See the fuller discussion in Hong Kong Business Law in a Nutshell , pp. 20ff. - The student team preparing company law outlines for this CD-ROM Manual encountered a similar situation where a court refused to allow a company to apply advantageous sections of statute law, because adhering strictly to the logic of the written law alone would permit either an absurd or unreasonable result. In a referenced American case, Hammond v. Straus, 53 Md.1(1880), the court denied a company's de facto existence (i.e., recognition that as a practical matter it had dealt with its creditors as a company) because the company did not exist de jure (i.e., it had not complied with the requirements in the statute law for formation and registration). Nevertheless, the court was forced to apply the equitable doctrine of estoppel , to prevent the non-existent company from denying that it existed in order to escape being sued by its creditors. In other words, while the court could not declare that the 'company' existed in law, at the same time, it would not permit the company to escape corporate liability when it had benefited from the powers and privileges of corporate existence, but, by neglect of a duty, had failed to comply with legal obligations.

11. Ibid., at 352.

12. Their Lordships attribute the origination of the phrase in this context to Denning, M.R., in Schmidt v. Secretary of State for Home Affairs, [1969] 1 All E.R. 904, at 909, Ibid., at 350.

13. Ibid., at 351.

14. Ibid., at 350. Once again, we are indebted to Lord Denning, whom their Lordships follow in R. v. Hull Prison Board of Visitors, ex p. St. Germain (No. 2) [1979] 3 All E.R. 545, [1979] WLR 1401.

15. Paraphrased from Denning, L.J., in Candler v. Crane Christmas & Co., Ltd., 1 All E.R. [1951], 426. Lord Denning must have been one of the most courageous of English judges of our era - but even he felt compelled to quote from a precedent case already 90 years old at that time, in order to make his point.

16. See: Nanyang Credit Card Co., Ltd., v. Ying Wei Cargo Services [1993] HKLR 281; [1994] HKLY, case no. 185, where a written-in exemption clause, 'no damages to our company', was held to exempt from both breach of contract and negligence damages.

17. Ibid.

18. See: Attorney General of Hong Kong and Humphreys Estate, Ltd., [1987] 2. W.L.R. 343 (Privy Council).

19. See: C. Van der Lely, N.V. v. Bamfords, Ltd. , [1963] RPC 61 (HL).

20. See: Improver Corporation v. Raymond Industrial, Ltd., [1991] 1 HKLR 251 (C.A., 1989); cf. also
'Excerpts from End of Term 'Moot Court Debates' ', HKUST , law, Fall Term, 1997.

21. 'Excerpts', Ibid.

22. 'Excerpts', Ibid.

23. In a recent case study on law student learning in English at the University of Hong Kong, three language use researchers conclude:

. . .by the time students reach the end of their secondary education and probably well before that point, they have internalised a set of unstated survival strategies for choosing which language to use [Cantonese or English] or, indeed, whether to communicate at all in a given situation.

R. Corcos, D. Churchill and A. Lam, 'Enhancing the Participation of Law Students in Academic Tutorials,' in D. Kember, B.,H. Lam, L. Yan, J.C.,K. Yum, and S.B. Liu, Case Studies of Improving Teaching and Learning from the Action Learning Project, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, 1998, p. 358.

24. These conclusions are not based upon a formal scientific survey, but do derive from years of listening to student comments, both personal and anonymous.

25. Genesis (HKUST), April 1, 1998, p. 2 [emphasis added].

26. Cf.: O. Lee, with the Multimedia Assistance of James Pei Man She, 'I WANT TO SEE - NOT TO BE SEEN!' Teaching 'Moot Court' Debating Skills through Interactive Multimedia, Quality in Teaching & Learning: A Celebration of Best Practices in Hong Kong Higher Education, First Conference to Promote Teaching and Learning, Organized by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University under the auspices of the University Grants Committee (Hong Kong), December , 1998, Conference Proceedings, forthcoming;

27. Professor Nelson Cue of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology has recently given presentations on his use of electronic feedback and reinforcement: 'The Use of Multimedia in the Classroom,' at the Business & Technology Forum on Multimedia & Networking - The New Direction for Information & Learning, 23,24 October, 1997, Tech Center, Kowloon, Hong Kong; and 'Immediate Feedback and Reinforcement in the Classroom,' in the special invited session on 'Pedagogical Techniques for Classroom Communications Systems (CCSs),' at the Winter Meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers, 4,8 January, 1998, New Orleans. For the latter see the abstract in AAPT Announcer (1997,98 issue).

28. At a recent 'Principals' Day' organized by the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, in order to discuss practical issues of information technology in the classroom, Yip Chee,Tim , Vice Principal of Pui Ching Middle School and Chairman of the Hong Kong Association for Computer Education referred to information technology as 'changing a teacher oriented one way education system into a student oriented, interactive culture'. Genesis (HKUST), April 1, 1998, p. 2: 'Principals and University Get Together To Enhance IT in Education.' 'Teacher oriented' may be a proper description of the received form of delivery in a Hong Kong schoolroom. However, as this paper attempts to explain, 'student oriented' interaction, in the sense that is useful for the kind of problem solving course under discussion, is generally not 'student initiated'. It takes a good deal of faith and experience for the tutor to make tutorial discussion work profitably.

29 . Based upon, e.g., Joint University Programmes Admissions System [JUPAS], '1997 Admissions Grades Achieved by the 'Median' & the 'Lower Quartile' Applicants in Programmes Offered by the 7 Institutions,' Hong Kong, 1998. This summary report shows appallingly low scores for engineering students, both in English and Chinese, which must relate to emphasis on other courses for success in the standardized testing. On the other hand, the debates and this CD ROM attest to the fact that when practical use of English itself counts, even if only in pursuit of grades, the same students are able to 'learn very quickly'.

This is an IT Review published on 29 February 2000.

Citation: Lee O, 'IT, Law, and Verbal Skills:A Review of a CD-ROM Project, Hong Kong Business Law', IT Review, 2000 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT). <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

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