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21 years of Me, IT and a Law School: problems, successes and yet more problems

21 years of Me, IT and a Law School: problems, successes and yet more problems. Philip Leith Queen’s University Lefis Workshop, Oslo, May 2006. Tentative thoughts.

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21 years of Me, IT and a Law School: problems, successes and yet more problems

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  1. 21 years of Me, IT and a Law School: problems, successes and yet more problems Philip Leith Queen’s University Lefis Workshop, Oslo, May 2006.

  2. Tentative thoughts • My presentation is tentative and concerned with why UK law schools seem to have lost the will to research in IT during my law school career. • This is appropriate for a Lefis workshop since we all interact with undergraduates and many of us have a broad conception of what education should be – not just the indoctrination of law students into substantive law, by substantive lawyers.

  3. Computer Science & Law, 1980 • Jon Bing’s work in development of legal information retrieval systems was formative. • Tapper’s work on citation systems as well as his technical understanding impacted upon the development of computer law. • Layman Allen was trying to aid interpretation of the structure of legislation. • Legal Documents were being assembled by Jim Sprowl. • Etc.

  4. 1985 … • Arrival in Queen’s as ‘Lecturer in Advanced IT and Law’ – and the expectation that my computing background would impact upon a law school. • Technology seemed to be just about to arrive in law schools and there were various influential people in the field and well as developments in IT and Law.

  5. Bileta was formed … • … in 1986 and was primarily interested in applying technology to law, with law as only one of the five constituent interest groups: • CAL • Datasets Group • IT and Law Group • Law and AI Group • Internet Group

  6. Computer Assisted Learning & Iolis • “The main weakness in our previous strategy was the bitty and amateurish nature of much of the software available to legal education. A concerted effort was made in the right direction by the LEXICAL project at Queen's University of Belfast under the direction of Colin Campbell and Philip Leith. This provided an easy to use tool for developing CAL … To be effective CAL needed sufficient volume: staff and students needed impressing that it was more than a toy. The LCC has used these lessons well. It is well on the way to providing substantial coverage of the main law courses. Moreover, most of our 50+ authors have not been techno enthusiasts, but computer naive subject experts.” (Law Technology Journal, Vol 4, No 1, May 1995)

  7. The AI ‘bubble’ of the 1980s • The development of the notion of expert systems as ‘rule based’ appeared to link closely with law; • And many projects were being developed in law schools attempting (unsuccessfully, I suggest) to produce legal expert systems.

  8. The spirit of the 1980s – ‘positive problems’ • The spirit of the 1980s was thus generally positive with regard to technologists in law schools. • It appeared that we could: • Impact upon the teaching of law with IT; • Change the way that law was accessed in both a technical a social sense; • Influence developments as academic lawyers. • This was a period of ‘positive problems’ – there were lots of problems to be solved and lots of interest from law schools:

  9. Successes? • Those of us who worked in environments where colleagues refused to use word processing, saw IT as ‘not law’, and generally were negative towards IT know how this has all changed. • The success is that IT is now – in some ways – part of the law school environment in a way which we wouldn’t have imagined in 1985.

  10. But what happened to the researchers? • Most of us moved off into legal areas: • Bing moved primarily into law; • Tapper, too, into Cross & evidence; • Bileta is now mainly an IT Law organisation; • SCL, too, is much more law–centred. • And Iolis – though successful – has not achieved the total impact we hoped it would. • Overall, little technical IT research is being done in law schools.

  11. Bileta even changed its name … • From ‘legal education technology association’ to ‘Law, education and technology association’ with technology the last bit of the equation.

  12. So where did it all go wrong? • Given that we now have: • a magnitude more technology in the world – including, of course, the internet; • law teachers with enough computing power – laptop, desktop, pda – to launch a space mission; • much more understanding of the importance of IT in the world (where the digital is mainstream); • Where did it all go wrong?

  13. Various potential factors … • Perhaps IT research needs implementation and this is more difficult to carry out than previously? • Difficult to believe this – we have lots of programming tools which allow program development without the low level programming of 3rd generation languages

  14. Cultural? • Computer scientists and lawyers don’t communicate much? • This may be true – in the 1970s and 1980s there appears to have been much an attitude from lawyers that they should bring computer scientists on board. Is that still the case?

  15. The ‘done that’ attitude … • IT applications aren’t interesting any more and there’s much more interesting stuff in law? • Perhaps. But there seems to me to be plenty of interesting possible developments.

  16. We annoyed funders … • There were too many promises to funders about what expert systems and AI could do and they are no longer prepared to fund failure? • Probably some truth, but the 1980s were 20 years ago and funders surely have shorter memories than that.

  17. It’s too difficult … • We were too optimistic in the 1980s and the goals we tried to achieve were impossible, for example, intelligent searching? • There was an optimism, but if goals are reduced and become possible, why not undertake this work?

  18. Staffing … • We don’t have technical staff to support us in this sort of work? • Certainly a good member of staff will help drive developments (our 1996 web page and content management systems of late 90s were examples of that).

  19. Expertise • Many of the earlier pioneers in computers and law taught themselves programming or had some kind of background (e.g. Bryan Niblett was both barrister and computer science professor)? • There is certainly a truth in this, as research into Iolis demonstrated.

  20. Expertise … “The City Solicitors' Educational Trust Fund (CSETF) funded a two year project entitled "Implementing Iolis". … The project began in August 1999 and focused on working closely with six partner institutions. The findings during the first year have confirmed that whilst students find Iolis easy to use and a valuable learning tool, a number of barriers prevent the effective integration of IT in legal education. The barriers that are emerging as significant constraints to effective implementation include issues relating to academic expertise and familiarity with Iolis, and the need to provide continuously updated and relevant IT-based materials. “

  21. Conclusion • If we believe that IT is good for law, then it must be good for undergraduates to be taught in law schools where these kinds of activities are happening. • The culture of a law school interested in legal IT must be different from that of one with only an interest in word processing and Google. • So, how do we get that interest back?

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