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JILT 2002 (2) - Joseph Savirimuthu


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Conference Report

Joseph Savirimuthu
Lecturer in Law
Director of Legal and Business
University of Liverpool

1. Introduction

In Internet Galaxy, Manuel Castells observes that the information age challenges us to find avenues through which we as 'educators' can empower each individual in this new global communication enterprise with the capacity to process information and generate knowledge so that we may be able to realise our goals both as individuals and as members of a new global community. It is a question that was foremost in the minds of the delegates gathering to take a leap into the virtual world of legal education and practice. This was not a colloquium designed to rehearse the well-worn search for reinventing technology. SUBTECH had now evolved and matured since its early days. In the opening address to the gathered delegates Abdul Paliwala reflected on the general shift in emphasis within SUBTECH from:

'how to do it, to the pedagogical, intellectual and organizational issues'.

Daniele Bourcier provided delegates with an opportunity to reflect on why some us in education may have not have gone beyond realising that 'technology' is more than a tool in education. Daniele correctly, to my mind, reminded us that the word 'substantive' when used in the context of 'law' and 'technology' or 'education' and 'technology' are arguably two sides of the some proverbial coin. It is a penetrating idea that gets away from the tired clich? - the message is the medium. On a less philosophical bent, Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger adopted an organic theme focussing on the parallelism between SubTech and bugs in our computer's operating systems.

These opening addresses conveyed a sense of optimism, freshness and creativity and they were more than matched by the breadth and quality of the presentations. Given that there were a number of parallel sessions as well as individual group discussions it is not possible to provide a comprehensive nor a detailed account of this conference. That said, I merely refer to some highlights which are suggestive of the richness of the contributions and the informal discussions and dialogues that carried through the entire occasion. Readers will find on the website transcripts of the various breakout sessions that will complement the summary of my impressions of the gathering in Warwick.

2. Wednesday

During the first day, the presentations by Peter Martin, Andrew Johnson, Dennis Aganyo and Paul Maharg reflected the way pragmatism can be conjoined with enthusiasm, civic justice and creativity.

Peter Martin introduced delegates to the prospects that digital technology presented for increasing access to education. No more it would seem that 'education' in the information age be limited to the 'elites'. In his paper From Seats of Learning to Globally Distributed Virtual Learning, Peter shared his experiences and his ultimate vision that the though barriers to increasing accessibility still remained, through creative use of the hidden potential of technology curricula and institutions could be restructured to facilitate a network of global learning nodes.

Andrew Johnson demonstrated some of the gains made by the private sector in making the virtual learning environment a reality with tangible benefits. One of the recurring criticisms of the present legal education system is that of the widening gulf between 'theory' and 'practice'.

Both Paul Maharg and David Grantham provided the delegates with a graphic display on how this gulf can be bridged from both sides of the legal spectrum. Though, they may have differed in their view of whether the concept of pedagogy was an accurate characterisation of the learning process many would have recognised that the substance of transactional learning requires a experiential and interactive process which requires all parties to adopt a proactive attitude towards learning.

3. Thursday

It was encouraging to find that academics and legal researchers were keen to bridge the divide between 'theory' and 'practice'. Many will recall Marlene Le Brun's views on pedagogy and will continue to revisit her central insights. Sefton Bloxham, shared with one of the groups, his experience in giving undergraduates 'hands-on' practice of electronic litigation in the suburbs of Lancaster. Its cognate would be the fictional community that postgraduates in Glasgow have become familiar with under the tutelage of Paul Maharg. Readers will find the transcript of Group 3 particularly useful in assessing the role and utility of technology in education.

On a more general note, that these individual efforts are not mere 'fads' was underscored by the Anglo-American experiences in law firms. Marc Lauritsen provided the intellectual and conceptual background against which knowledge management systems were now being utilised to cope with day-to-day law practice. Mark Ford and Terry Crum provided two contrasting but highly effective approaches to maximising the potential of technology to deliver what Danielle terms 'substance'. Those with a consumerist perspective would argue that clients are now brought ever closer to the decision making process and given value for money.

4. Friday

In the information age knowledge is potentially commodified. It has clear implications in the supply chain of information. Thomas Bruce enabled us to better understand the dilemmas arising from the situation of public goods in the private sector. By better understanding the business model, he suggested, we would be able to make this model work better for the wider stakeholding community.

Sarah Carter, reflected on her sole crusade in the Garden of England in having to overcome one of the key problems in increasing access to education, that is to reinvigorate political commitment to the interests of the stakeholders. It may be that with gradual withdrawal of public funding both the academic and practitioner community may ultimately find a creative solution to the current problems of underfunding.

As Kittisak and Albert showed in their papers, the problems of increasing access of legal information to the public is a challenge that is now becoming visible with the increase in electronic legal publishing. As John Mayer asked: 'Do we have the will?' This is indeed a challenging question which does not present any ready made solutions.

One possible way forward may be to draw on the keynote address by Richard Susskind which was entitled Clicks and Mortals: Transformations in Legal Practice and Legal Education. One lasting impression is his reference to 'clicks'. This would at first blush seem to be a trite and almost seemingly irrelevant feature. This verb when viewed as a noun conceals an easily missed point about what the entire conference seems to be about. Our institutions, regulations and systems of pedagogy were the product of an Agrarian-Industrial society which was and continues to be wound up with idea of print. Equally, the Industrial period of Dickens was (and is?) distinguished by a regimented approach to pedagogy. We are in a period of transition. Abdul in his welcome observed that this transition would lead to:

'The tensions developing between these forms are likely to have an impact at a variety of levels including changes for students, academics, clients and practitioners, changes in the nature of law schools and legal practices and changes in the global delivery of legal education and practice'.

It is perhaps a sobering reminder, following the events of the last day and those that preceded it that we should, in adopting Manuel Castells' line, resist the temptation to undertake fundamental restructuring. Rather, we need to reflect on the form this new pedagogy must take so that it complements the potential that the information age makes available to all of us. SUBTECH provides its delegates with that opportunity.

This is a Conference Report published on 16 August 2002.

Citation: Savirimuthu J, 'SUBTECH 2002: 7th International Conference on Substantive Technology in Legal Education and Practice', The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT), 2002 (2) <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>.