Monday, June 13, 2016

Are online law schools the wave of the future?

Professor Jeffrey Van Detta (John Marshall - Atlanta) thinks so as he explains in this just published article entitled The law School of the future: How the Synergies of Convergence Will Transform the Very Notion of "Law Schools" During the 21st Century from "Places" to "Platforms" available at 37 U. La Verne L. Rev. 103 (2015). From the introduction:

What will law schools be like ten years from now? Twenty? How about at mid-century--i.e., in the year 2050? Some have been inspired to approach this question from a perspective of a dystopian future. Rather than assume catastrophe, others have tried to visualize how legal education-- almost moribund in its basic approach after the innovations of Dean Langdell at Harvard in the 1870s--is responding to the “disruptive change.” That “disruptive change” results from three principal sources. First, “disruptive change” is being produced by rapidly proliferating computer and virtuality technologies applied in graduate education. Second, “disruptive change” arises from the evolution of the students themselves. New generations of law students have grown up in a cyber-crucible of virtual reality that I choose to call “virtuality.” Third, law practice itself is poised to enter upon a new age in which the virtual law office becomes an increasingly common choice for law-school graduates, as well as more experienced attorneys reinventing their law practices, and the judicial system itself embraces video conferencing as an increasingly attractive solution to a number of persistently intractable problems.


I have been inspired to ask--and respond--to the question of how legal education will evolve in the future by the excellent interchange I was privileged to have with Professor Dr. Feridun Yenisey, one of Turkey's great legal scholars. Professor Dr. Yenisey and I were members of a panel at the international conference Legal Education In The 21st Century, May 5-8, 2014, in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey, co-sponsored by Bahçesehir Üniversitesi, Atlanta's John Marshall Law School, and the Union of Turkish Bar Associations. During my portion of the panel in Ankara, I presented my paper on programs delivered via the Internet for foreign-educated lawyers to study aspects of American law in dialogue with American professors, lawyers, and law students-- particularly the Global Forum for American Legal Studies at my home Institution. During the question and answer session, a Turkish colleague in the audience asked about the future role of online legal education and whether purely online legal education was tenable. Not only is entirely online legal education tenable--indeed, it has been done successfully in the United States since 1998 by Concord Law School--it is the future. I then hazarded a prediction for the next meeting of this particular conference at Bahçesehir Üniversitesi, presumably in the 2020s:


Law schools will no longer be ‘places' in the sense of a single faculty located on a physical campus. In the future, law schools will consist of an array of technologies and instructional techniques brought to bear, in convergence, on particular educational needs and problems.


This paper elaborates on that prediction. In so doing, I share a happy discovery that I made as I was contemplating the present article.


In 1994, Robin Widdison--at that time the Director of the Centre for Law and Computing at the University of Durham in England--published a brilliant, visionary article, entitled Virtual Law School. In that article, Dr. Widdison presented a prophetic description of “the central role that information technology will undoubtedly play in law schools of the future,” providing a “science[-]fiction style” narrative, worthy of a Ray Bradbury, in which he presents a “futuristic” portrait of what a 21st century law student's life and studies would be like in a generation hence. While Dr. Widdison is now happily retired from Durham, his ideas live on. They convey an even greater persuasive power today than they had twenty years ago. I shall quote liberally from Dr. Widdison's article, because it illustrates precisely the kinds of “synergies of convergence” in applying technology to educational activities that I predict will make the law school no longer a place, but rather, a platform, unfettered by the bonds of time and physical space.


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