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Wander into a law school today, and you can’t help but notice all the iMacs, laptops, fiber-optic cables, video-equipped moot court rooms, and Internet connections. But technological change in the legal academy isn’t just about gadgets and gigabytes. Rather, the same trends that have led law schools to upgrade their hardware are also forcing them to rethink how to teach the software code (formerly known as “law”) to their students. “All law schools are trying to raise their profiles and seize the moment,” says David Post, a senior fellow associated with Northern Virginia’s George Mason University School of Law. Washington, D.C. law schools are intent on keeping up with the pack — as well they should. America Online, the consummate Internet company, is just down the road in Dulles, and all of Northern Virginia is littered with Internet start-ups. On the other side of the District line, Congress, the courts, and downtown lawyers are grappling with everything from copyright protection to health information and Web-browsing privacy to the racial “digital divide.” Washington, D.C.-area law schools have taken notice. “We think that we have a tremendous advantage that few schools have of being close to the policy center and the technology center,” says George Mason Dean Mark Grady. And George Mason is capitalizing on that advantage. MORE THAN A THINK TANK Just over a year ago, with a $1 million grant from the Virginia state legislature, George Mason started a new Center for Technology and Law meant to “open up a dialogue between policy leaders and technology leaders” by framing issues before they are fully introduced into society, says Grady. The center aims to get people who work on the business end of technology together with people who think about and regulate technology in the government, to “ensure that the law evolves to keep pace with changes in technology,” according to the center’s Web page. But the Tech Center is not just a think tank linked to the law school in name only. Rather, using the tech center’s resources, the law school is trying to integrate technology throughout its curriculum, both by infusing existing courses with technical issues and applications, and by minting new courses that focus on technology. The school’s curriculum committee is gearing up to offer a law degree with an emphasis in technology that will earn students a special diploma. According to Grady, the changes are already having an effect on the school’s reputation. “An increasing fraction of our students see that the new economy is the place to work,” he says. And, just as important, he adds, “Technology employers are seeking out our students.” While George Mason’s Northern Virginia location may put it close to the geographical center of the area’s technological boom, other law schools in the area have their own advantages to build on. Washington, D.C.’s Catholic University, for instance, has traditionally had a strong telecommunications program, and is leveraging that into computer law. “We are moving towards a greater emphasis on technology, and that means communications law and the Internet,” says Professor Harvey Zuckman, director of the Institute for Communications Law Studies at Catholic University. Similarly, George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. is moving in from its traditional strength in patent and intellectual property law. At D.C.’s Howard University School of Law, according to Professor Lateef Mtima, “Our cutting edge is in civil rights and social policy,” but students “will be pleasantly surprised to see that we are a bit more than just competent on technological issues.” In addition to intellectual property basics, Mtima says he also tries to focus on how technology affects civil rights. He notes that the Internet can both eliminate and exacerbate racial prejudice. For instance, electronic commerce may provide a way for African-Americans to compete without the handicap of racial prejudice in the marketplace. On the other hand, he notes, a lawsuit is currently pending against Internet delivery service Kozmo.com for allegedly failing to serve predominantly minority neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. RAISING THE COMFORT LEVEL The Washington School of Law at American University in D.C. is also concentrating on technology. Under the supervision of Professor Walter Effross, the school this semester is launching its Program on Counseling Electronic Commerce Entrepreneurs, or PCECE. The program is designed for law students and lawyers as a supplement to regular law school classes, offering a schedule of short-format lectures and discussions. Topics focus on some of the more practical issues that lawyers are likely to encounter. Class titles include “Breaking Into — and Breaking Out In — E-Commerce Law and Practice,” “55 Keys to CyberSuccess,” “Competitive Intelligence Online: Taking Full Legal Advantage of Publicly Available Information,” and “CyberSafeguards: Ensuring & Insuring Dot-Com Security.” The lecturers are practitioners who are “focused on technology issues on a minute-to-minute basis, not just a day-to-day basis,” says Effross. The goal of the program, he says, is to get lawyers comfortable with both technology and with technology and law issues. He adds, “To do e-commerce law, you don’t need a degree in computer science.” But despite the school’s commitment to the supplemental technology and law program, AU does not offer a survey or gateway class in computer law. Instead, says Effross, the issues are “distributed throughout the curriculum.” But he adds that there has been no facultywide coordination on the issue. As for D.C.’s Georgetown Law Center and George Washington, both offer survey classes dealing with computer law and cyberlaw, as well as more specialized courses in intellectual property, copyright, and patent law. With almost all of the D.C. schools gearing up for the high-tech future, is there a sense of competition between the schools or professors? No, says George Washington’s Professor Dawn Nunziato. “I think of it as running in a pack. There’s no keen sense of competition.” Indeed, this fall she and George Mason’s Professor Post (who also works at Philadelphia’s Temple University) will teach their cyberlaw class jointly. In the rush toward technology, though, one D.C. law school has decided to keep doing its teaching the old-fashioned way. At the University of the District of Columbia Law School, “There’s really not much [technology and law concentration] here because the focus is on clinical education and working with the public,” says Brian Baker, director of the law library and an assistant professor at UDC. “The focus of our law school is so different from other law schools that you really won’t find that.” UDC’s mission, he says, is first to train lawyers to advance the public interest, and second, to improve the lot of citizens. WHAT IS CYBERLAW, ANYWAY? Taken as a whole, computer law is more than just intellectual property. Instead, it touches on issues like privacy, free speech, civil rights, jurisdiction, contracts, drafting, legislation, regulation, evidence, crime, and even civil procedure. But that starts to look like pretty much the whole law school curriculum, not just a technology and law curriculum. The question becomes, just what is computer law anyway? “I don’t know what technology law really is,” says Post of George Mason. He’s not alone in trying to figure out whether technology and the law constitutes a whole new field, or just application of law in new areas. “Cyberlaw is not really a field of law — it really encompasses all law,” offers Susanna Fischer, who teaches computer law classes at Catholic University Law School. “Some people believe that the same legal issues apply to cyberspace, so what’s the big deal.” She adds that she’s not one of those people. “Computer law is not a subject like torts. It’s a survey course that touches on a large number of very complicated questions,” says Julie Cohen, Georgetown Law Center’s computer and law professor. George Washington Law School’s Professor Nunziato, who teaches cyberlaw classes, notes a question posed by a federal judge: There’s no course on law and the horse, so why should there be one on law and technology? The issue of whether technology deserves its own courses or instead is better addressed within the existing framework of law school classes remains unresolved. In Washington, D.C., schools seem to be taking both approaches. But even the most concerted efforts by administrators to integrate technology into the curriculum may prove challenging, given the independence with which law school professors have traditionally conducted their classes. In general, says Post, infusing technology issues into traditional classes is “now less a law school decision than a decision by individual faculty members. It’s happening on an entirely ad hoc level.” In the end, despite all of the newness of technology and law, chances are that law professors are going to discover obstacles in teaching technology law similar to those in teaching other subjects. “There’s a lot to get into these heads,” says Howard’s Mtima. “Often, we must delicately interweave it.” Evan P. Schultz is associate legal editor at Legal Times.

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