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It’s September, and in most law schools across the country, law-and-technology courses are in season. Law students can enroll in “Computer Law,” “E-commerce Law,” “Cyberspace Law,” “Information Technology and Law” and a plethora of other tech-law courses where law professors explore the bewildering array of regulatory and constitutional issues posed by the explosion of the Internet. But in a few law schools, some new courses are entering the curriculum: courses that focus not on the law of technology, but rather the technology of law. A still small but growing number of law professors believe that these days, law students need to know more than simply how to use abstract legal doctrine to guide the development of cyberspace; they also need to know how to use computer and Internet technology hands-on for the benefit of their clients, their profession and their communities. Given that technology is ultimately a tool, they believe it is something not just to be contemplated and controlled, but also to be used. And using technology — whether a can-opener or the Web — helps people understand technology’s potential and its limits, its possibilities and its dangers. What’s true of people in general is especially true of lawyers. It stands to reason that attorneys who may end up advising governments or high-tech clients in the private sector will have a more nuanced understanding of practical legal options and appropriate regulatory strategies if they have some direct experience of the underlying technology. If law schools and law professors start equipping law students with that knowledge now, law and society will reap the benefits of this strategy later. Of course, everyone realizes that there are limitations to how much lawyers or would-be lawyers can or should use technology themselves. For instance, experts or future experts on telecommunications law cannot be reasonably expected to master the intricacies of television production, cable wiring or radio-signal propagation. But computers and the Internet are different. Unlike TV and radio, which require great heaps of expensive hardware to produce and maintain a signal, the Internet is truly a mass medium — one where everyone can communicate at relatively minimal cost. In this context, the degree of practical familiarity with the workings of the technology that one might reasonably demand from lawyers and law students is significantly higher. While the jury is figuratively still out on the technological competence of the contemporary bar, there are signs that the technology literacy of law students is on the rise. Walk into any law school class anywhere in the United States these days and one is likely to see laptops on desks, PDAs on belts, PowerPoint on screens, etc. The classroom is literally awhirl with technical activity. PASSIVE TECH KNOWLEDGE The problem, however, is that for the most part, law students are absorbing computer technology rather than actively working it themselves. They can do word processing on their computers and send e-mail, and they can surf the Web and play solitaire online (all too often, in class!), but at the end of the day they are largely spectators rather than active participants in the development of this new medium. They have little competence in constructing software and only minimal skills at designing and posting online legal information. This is where some law professors are coming in. In recent years, faculty at several U.S. law schools have started to offer courses specifically designed to teach their students how to work the Internet and associated computer technology. These courses are not “Law Office Management” offerings; most academics (and even the majority of lawyers) would likely agree that teaching law students how to use the latest version of DoThis 2.0 to organize their calendars or calculate their billable hours would be a waste of time. Rather than teach the details of proprietary software, these professors are training their students how to work online and use computer technology creatively to advance the law, help their clients and enhance their own understanding of legal concepts. At Columbia University Law School, for instance, Professor Conrad Johnson teaches a unique online legal clinic which is not a clinic on online law (of which there are now several across the country), but rather a clinic in which law students actually work shoulder to shoulder with public interest lawyers in an online environment. Students in Johnson’s class learn technology by using it: They use the Web as a method of delivering legal materials, as a medium for case supervision and as a tool for collaborating with student colleagues in various field offices. The students also use the Web as a shared learning environment in which they interact with their colleagues, as well as with faculty and attorney collaborators, and as a “lab” for experimenting with knowledge management, intranets and extranets. NOW PREMIERING: ‘A.I.’ At the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, there are currently two courses in which professors are actively teaching the “technology of law.” Debuting this year, Professor Kevin Ashley’s “Artificial Intelligence and the Law” combines a first-semester seminar with a second-semester practicum. The practicum provides a chance for law students to build something that works and helps them to think critically about the process of legal reasoning. Ideally, in the seminar, students have worked through a detailed example of some aspect of legal reasoning — for instance, making an argument about whether one is an employee or an independent contractor. They have read the legal sources that bear on the issue. Now they can play with representing some of that knowledge in ways a computer can manipulate, for example, the statute that draws the distinction between employee and independent contractor, the legislative purposes for which it does so, the restatement provision that defines the concept of an employee and some precedents in which courts interpret and apply these rules. Students also play with algorithms to determine how the computer can manipulate that knowledge in an intelligent way to solve the problem. This may not sound easy, but by collaborating with the computer science graduate students in the practicum, it can be done, and suddenly a computer program is making legal arguments about who’s an employee! ONLINE LEGAL EXPRESSION In “Neteracy for Lawyers,” another University of Pittsburgh law course, now entering its third year, I teach law students how to create online legal content for the Internet or intranets. Here the focus is much more on legal expression than on legal reasoning per se. The students learn that the Internet requires them to learn to “read” and “write” all over again: The Web is a fundamentally new medium, and styles and rhetorical conventions that might work in print will not necessarily work online. They are reminded that the Web enables them to manipulate expressive variables — such as design, color, sound and video — that rarely get off the ground in print, but that are very powerful when it comes to crafting persuasive presentations and arguments. Neteracy also sends a subtler message to the students: Lawyers have an obligation to contribute to the quality and quantity of online legal information so that the Internet becomes a useful and credible public legal information source. In its original incarnation, Neteracy was largely a primer on HTML. More recently — as HTML editors have become more capable — it has broadened to include sections on online information architecture, online writing techniques and even (poaching on Ashley’s territory) artificial intelligence and intelligent agents. Students in the course learn by doing; drawing on the Web’s unique ability to distribute timely information rapidly to mass audiences, they have created elaborate Web sites exploring such current issues as the International Criminal Court, cyberstalking, school vouchers, espionage law, real estate assessment and telecommunications issues. These products are essentially a new form of legal literature: Not articles, notes, judgments or briefs, they are part analysis, part exhibit and part pathfinder. They are also designed to be dynamic and interactive — to allow for changes and updates over time, and to elicit and facilitate input from readers. Creating these sites gives law students new perspectives on the underlying issues by forcing them to research new kinds of material mined from new sources and to synthesize it in new ways. Working on the projects shows the students how the ability to manipulate technology can advance and inform legal debate, and suggests how they might, in the future, marshal and deploy similar resources on behalf of clients and constituencies that need solutions to legal problems. BENEFITS OF TECH SKILLS Some of the advantages of coming out of law school with a combination of legal and technical skills have already become apparent to employers. For example, judges and law firms in the Pittsburgh area have recruited Neteracy students to help them in creating an online presence, or manage some other online initiative. These students literally bridge the gap between lawyers and information technology professionals. Being “bilingual,” they can translate between these two constituencies and build on the strengths of both. Down the line, as their own appreciation of technology becomes more nuanced, law firm partners will come to appreciate that students with hands-on tech experience also have advantages when it comes to working with high-tech clients and developing high-tech legal policy. If law students are really interested in learning about technology, and if employers are interested in hiring them, why then aren’t there more of these courses in American law schools? The answer may lie “less in our stars than in ourselves.” Law professors are not well-positioned to teach this type of material. Most are not good technologists; most took arts and humanities in college and were never particularly good at math or science. They put up with technology rather than celebrate it. They’re ultimately more comfortable studying it — and its legal ramifications — than actually working with it. And then there’s the old dichotomy between theory and practice. Despite the fact that there is always an ongoing dialogue between them, legal academics instinctively prefer the former to the latter. It’s interesting that Columbia’s hands-on technology course is a clinical course; law professors working on the clinical side are used to doing things actively with law. But perhaps law professors should put more effort into technology instruction. Although a sideshow at the moment, the Internet is on its way to becoming a main stage for the future practice of law. More than just a space where a court posts its rulings or a firm advertises its services, the Internet is already becoming a location where legal work actually takes place, where lawyers interact with clients, where they argue before courts, where they deliberate over cases. As this trend continues and even accelerates, lawyers will need to embrace new media and new technologies more forthrightly than they do now. Their clients will expect them to do that; having grown up on video games and wireless networks, young lawyers themselves will want to do that. One day, working with computers may be second-nature to attorneys, just as writing is now, but until that time comes there will be a place in law school for teaching technology — one law student at a time. Bernard Hibbitts is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. He is also founder and director of JURIST, the legal education Web portal (jurist.law.pitt.edu).

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