computers in classroom


Stacia Stein
Stacia Stein

I should have known from my choice of Hepburn & Tracy movies that I was destined to be a librarian. Adam’s Rib, where the two played married lawyers on opposite sides of the courtroom, was enjoyable, but Desk Set, which took place in the library of a broadcasting network in New York, was always my favorite. It is a classic story of technology vs. humans—with a little romance and holiday spirit thrown in for good measure! Bunny Watson, as portrayed by Katherine Hepburn, was so knowledgeable. She knew every resource in the library and had ready the answer to every question—even faster than a computer!

Librarianship has come a long way since the Desk Set[1] days, when technology and humans vied for supremacy in a library. Computers and technology are now integral to research.

As a prelude to this year’s ABA TECHSHOW, Chicago-Kent School of Law hosted a roundtable discussion on March 16th called “Teaching Technology at the Academy: Are We Finally at the Tipping Point?” The roundtable featured four panelists who each approached technology in law school in a different way.

Oliver R. Goodenough of the Vermont Law School Center for Legal Information discussed technological innovation in law. Professor Goodenough took us through the 3 stages of technological innovation: (1.0) technology imposes the current human players within the current system; (2.0) technology replaces many of the human players within the current system; (3.0) technology overturns much of the current system and replaces it with something else. Most of us comfortably inhabit the technology 1.0 world, but the 2.0 world is already happening.

Professor Goodenough cited examples of predictive coding in e-discovery, big data analytics such as Lex Machina, and tools such as LegalZoom and the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction’s (CALI) A2J software as examples of technology 2.0 in progress. Professor Goodenough then went on to point out that law is computation. Like a game of Chutes & Ladders, legal problems can be solved, results can be specified, and decisions can be made systemically and on the basis of rules. A computational theory of law will allow for a law that is specific and applied in computer friendly code. Moreover, computational theory of law would foster accessibility and predictability of the law.

Next up was Daniel W. Linna, Assistant Dean for Career Development and Director of LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation at Michigan State University College of Law. Professor Linna spoke of the opportunities technology affords in providing access to justice. According to Professor Linna, the legal system is broken and we need a 21st century legal services delivery model. In order to leverage technology, the profession as a whole must overcome conceptual barriers—such as the idea that the practice of law is like creating art.

Professor Linna suggests that rather than potential works of art, legal matters might better be approached as processes that can be perfected. Applying lean process improvement to legal services delivery could result in the provision of more efficient and higher quality legal services. Such process improvement might also lead to greater job satisfaction, as lawyers will feel like they are adding value. A lawyer’s deep, substantive legal expertise can be complemented by design, technology, and analytics. Professor Linna cautions that the legal profession is at risk of being irrelevant unless we step up our game and do better to serve the public.

Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Ronald W. Staudt, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Access to Justice & Technology, focused more particularly on teaching technology and considered the core competencies law schools ought to teach. The fundamental core competency is to understand risks and benefits of technology and to be able to use technology appropriately. However, relevant technology is not the same for all sectors and is constantly evolving. Moreover, legal technology literacy is not the same as general technical literacy. Chicago-Kent has long been at the forefront of technology and law and Professor Staudt has been piloting legal technology programs there since the 70s. Although none of the early programs ever took off, success was imminent.

In 2004, Chicago-Kent partnered with CALI  to develop A2J Author, an access to justice  software tool with a user friendly interface that assists in the completion of court documents. Since 2005, over 3 million A2J Guided Interviews and 1.8 million docents have been assembled via A2J Author. Students at Chicago-Kent are able to enroll in a Justice & Technology Practicum. As the technology trend entrenches itself, other law schools have begun offering A2J courses. This practical experience prepares students to interact and work with technology so that they can shape the future of the legal profession.

The final panelist, Robert B. Ahdieh, Vice Dean, K.H. Gyr Professor of Private International Law at Emory Law, reflected on technology in the Emory Law curriculum, citing three specific examples: (1) short courses focusing on essential-to-practice non-legal skills, such as project management, leadership, and economics; (2) an 18-24 month post-graduate program, in partnership with UnitedLex, with an emphasis of introducing the technological tools used in litigation and transactional law; and (3) the Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results (TI:GER) program, started five years ago, in collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology.

TI:GER is a two year program in which law students are put on teams with business school students and PhD students. The technology is developed by the PhD student, the business student promotes the product, and the law student engages in a wide variety of legal issues that can arise when taking a new technology to the market place, including filing patents and developing a business plan.

After a break, there was robust discussion on technology’s role in law schools in light of ABA guidelines requiring schools to educate in practical skills and ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1, which requires lawyers to maintain competence in relevant technologies. While there was general agreement that law students enter law school with a solid baseline of tech skills, there was no agreement on how legal education ought to build on those skills, nor was there a clear consensus on what the legal technology competencies are or should be. The consumption of legal services and the value of the JD were also hot topics, with panelists and audience members reflecting on whether people want to go to law school to work with forms and computation and whether they even would need a JD to do so.

There were a significant number of librarians in attendance at the roundtable. Although the role of librarians in bringing and teaching technology in law schools was initially ignored, the panel eventually acknowledged and applauded the contributions of our colleagues who have “consistently been at the forefront” of technology. As moderator Ellen Suni, Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School for Law, noted at the outset of the discussion, “You don’t need to be an expert in technology to add value to teaching technology.” In recognizing the opportunities afforded by and the importance of technology, a law librarian can make a valuable contribution to the library and the profession.

[1] Desk Set (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 1957). A Hepburn and Tracy classic of librarianship, technology, and romance!