BILETA Conference loose ends & reflections

by Paul Maharg on 20/04/2012

Loose ends first.

  1. Abhilash are aware that the BILETA postgraduate prize wasn’t awarded this year at the conference dinner.  We’re putting together a proposal for the postgrads who submitted papers (the quality of which impressed quite a few folk), and that will be up on the social networking site early next week.
  2. There will be two collections of special issues given to conference papers: the European Journal of Law & Technology, and the International Review of Law, Computers & Technology.  The first will be given over to legal education (the first legal ed issue for this journal), and Abhilash will edit the second (which may be a double issue, since it will cover all other streams at the conference).  I’ll be editing the first issue with the outgoing conference Chair, Sefton Bloxham.  It will take the form of a festschrift for Professor Abdul Paliwala, who retires from the Executive this year.  Abdul was one of the original founders of BILETA, along with Bruce Grant and Professors Alan Paterson, Philip Leith and Chris Reed, and the edition will celebrate his contribution to legal education and technology in the UK and Ireland.  Again, more on the shape and form of that on the conference networking site in due course.

First, stats.  We had two keynotes (Susskind & Reed), one panel and 62 papers.  There were 91 attendees, of whom 25 were postgrads.  Venue worked well.  Staff there were excellent, food much better than average conference fare.  Breakout rooms a bit wee for some of the fuller sessions, but otherwise fine.  Technology worked, and was well-supported.

Finance.  The conference washed its face, as the saying goes, which was a huge relief to Abhilash and me because the figures weren’t looking at all good before Christmas.  We managed to keep the cost to last year’s conference fee level, but only by bringing in more sponsorship.  Sponsors are becoming more critical to the success of the conferences, and at some point in the future the BILETA Executive may well want to consider the stucture & funding of the conference.  I don’t think the current model is sustainable for much longer: either the fee must rise substantially or the conference structure changes, or other sources of sustainable funding are found.  The last probably needs a major initiative on the part of the Executive.  The conference isn’t an earner for local organizers when the time & effort of academics & admin staff is factored in, so it’s probably more equitable that BILETA organizes major and sustained funding sources (even if this is only for limited periods of time).

Technology is the common denominator in all BILETA conferences; but the conference is marked by the variety of its streams – privacy, internet governance, legal education are just some of the possible streams.  There’s always a risk that one or other of the streams will predominate, or that the conference will just be too disparate, a collection of niche interests rather than a true academic collectivity.  The 2012 conference seemed to steer a course between these two problems: most of the people I talked to felt that the conference was successful in bringing interests together, and ensuring that no single stream dominated the programme.  The legal education stream was one of the most successful in recent years, with a focus on mobile learning, but an interesting focus also on regulation.

The conference theme, as conference themes go, was certainly a success.  It attracted attention to some of the key regulatory issues that we wanted to focus attention on, and did that across the disparate streams that commonly make up the BILETA conference.  We’ll be enlarging on the theme in conference publications.

The conference social network worked well, considering the numbers involved. More on that when we get Ann Priestley’s final report in a couple of weeks.

And that’s about it.  Next year, Liverpool U – see you there!

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