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JILT 2004 (2) - Paliwala

Subtech 2004: eAwake in Seattle, University of Washington Law School, 21-23 June 2004

By Professor Abdul Paliwala



The Eighth biannual Conference on Substantive Technology in Legal Education and Practice, a mouthful nicely shortened to Subtech, was a successful follow-up to Warwick two years ago. The conference is an invitation only international gathering of academics who are particularly interested in IT applications in legal education and its interaction with legal practice. Marc Lauritsen defined Substantive Technology as “tools and systems that embody the substance of technology – rich knowledge” such as courseware, legal practice systems and artificial intelligence as opposed to generic technologies such as PowerPoint. Subtech is a refreshing antidote to Law in IT conferences, including BILETA, which are increasingly dominated by Information Law.

There was a mood of retrospection, but one which tried to use the past to build the future. This began with Ron Staudt who said his predictions about wired law schools and wired legal practices were only half fulfilled. While technology has become ubiquitous in law schools and practices, this had not resolved unmet legal needs in the US. Mike Norwood and Brian Donnelly suggested how retrenchment in the US had adversely affected information technology based law clinics. Yet, this pointed the way to a future in which the Internet provided possibilities of building communities of people with interest in social justice. Abdul Paliwala’s comparative retrospective suggested that the lessons of history were that technology had to be an active rather than experimental, pedagogically informed to promote reflective learning, and collaborative at national and global levels in an era of global commodification of learning. Nick Terry’s inspiringly entertaining “Who Killed eTeaching?” cast the blame on all and sundry including the American Bar Association for negativity, WEXIS for oligopoly, Microsoft for crude PowerPoints, students, universities and law firms for lack of imagination and law teachers for obsession with content at the expense of pedagogy. The important thing was to see technology as a device to combine imaginative teaching with imaginative research.

A number of papers underlined the possibilities for optimism. John Mayer of CALI outlined an ambitious project, which would enable law staff and schools to share ideas, information, resources and courseware in distance learning. Paul Maharg and Patricia McKellar’s exciting paper demonstrated and explored the pedagogical implications of video lectures in virtual learning environments, emphasising the necessity for convergence between media and between the e and the personal. David Linnan and Marilyn Le Brun’s papers outlined ways to ensure cultural specific elearning for Asian students. Fernando Galindo outlined the ambitious LEFIS project for collaboration between law faculties in Europe. The papers on law clinics by Peter Wahlgren, Blair Janis and Brian Donnelly seemed to suggest a great deal of new experiences in clinical preparation.

Of the significant number of papers on the world of practice, Alan Paterson’s contrasted low budget US with higher European expenditures on access to legal services to suggest that financial constraints led US institutions to be more innovative than Europeans. Patricia Hassett described the TRAC system, which provides access to interesting sociological data for litigation. Skip Walter described the Brave New World of the Attenex Corporation in which takes the art of law firm audit trail to new dimensions using social network analysis tools so that law firm managers can visualise not only what a particular fee earner has been or not been doing but the pattern and intensity of her interactions generally or in relation to any matter. Ethan Katsch discussed online dispute resolution systems such as Square Trade and ways in which law schools could use them.

It is of course difficult to do justice to the range of papers presented, and to the conference as a whole, but Peter Martin attempted this in his conference summing up. He suggested firstly, that Subtech had not been true to its aim of being internationally inclusive (retrograde compared with Warwick in 2002). It had been more about academics and less about lawyers and the public. In terms of substantive technology, we had not been sufficiently in the world of law to capture the range of momentous changes that were taking place in citizen spaces and in areas such as digitalisation of legal systems such as social security. Yet, he lauded Subtech as an evolving discourse, which no doubt will take on new dimensions at the next conference in Oslo in 2006.

Professor Paliwala teaches in the Faculty of Law at the University of Warwick.
He can be reached at


This is a Conference Report published on 30 November 2004.

Citation: Paliwala, 'Subtech 2004: eAwake in Seattle, University of Washington Law School, 21-23 June 2004', 2004 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).<>.




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