European Journal of Law & Technology: BILETA special edition

by Paul Maharg on 03/04/2013

The latest issue of EJLT is out, and it’s a special edition, edited by Sefton Bloxham and me, consisting of papers from the 2012 BILETA (British & Irish Law Education Technology Association) legal education stream.  The conference was liveblogged on this blog.  Surprisingly, and against the run of recent conferences, there was a surge of presentations at the legal education stream, which was very welcome, so there was no shortage of material for the edition.  There’s already a collection of papers from other streams, edited by my co-host at the 2012 Northumbria conference, Abhilash Nair, who co-edited with Richard Jones a special BILETA double issue in the International Review of Law Computers and Technology.  Both EJLT and IRLCT editions were peer-reviewed and were compiled in time for the 2013 conference, being held 10-12 April at Liverpool University.  The 2012 conference theme, ‘”Too many laws, too few examples”: regulation technology, law & legal education’, quotes the French revolutionary and lawyer, Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just — more on that below.  So what’s there to read in the EJLT edition?

We came up with seven papers and two commentaries in the end.  The Editorial gives a brief outline of their contents, and also explores aspects of regulation, particularly some of its Enlightenment roots, that could apply to legal education.  The articles are wide-ranging, focusing on mobile learninge-readers and e-publishing and flexible, open learning; the dichotomy between what and how in legal learninglaw school websites and their informationfilm and legal learning; helping students to understand case law using instructional environments, and the use of BAILII and the JISC Open Law project in providing free access to legal primary resources.  The commentaries described the use made of online referencing systems in conjunction with OSCOLA, and  Learnmore, a legal skills wiki focusing on legal skills with multimedia and student-collaborated content.  The journal is, in effect, a cross-cut of the work being carried out in legal education and technology in these isles; and comparison with others in the past (eg here and here) illustrate not just how technology is changing, but how our use of technology is becoming more sophisticated, and more embedded in the social and intellectual structures of our institutions and our personal lives.  That brings many opportunities, but problems too, some of which are explored in the articles and commentaries.

The edition was dedicated to Professor Abdul Paliwala, University of Warwick Law School, who has recently retired.  It is difficult to over-estimate the contribution that Abdul has made to the field of technology and legal education, and a number of us at the conference felt that in recognition of the major contribution that Abdul has made to BILETA over the years, the conference should be an occasion to appreciate that.   There is therefore in this issue of the journal a brief appreciation of Abdul’s major contributions to the field of legal education and technology (he has of course contributed to many others — globalisation and legal regulation of the digital divide, law and economy in developing nations, for instance), together with a comprehensive list of his publications and a CV.

The theme of the 2012 conference was regulation, as we made clear in our brief essay on it for the conference handbook.  But we wanted to expand the idea of regulation beyond a single jurisdiction to global concerns, and beyond  economic efficiency to wider cultural and values issues, and beyond the regulatory concerns of the present to the deep historical roots of the ethical and political dilemmas we face when confronted with regulatory policy and practice.  The words of Saint-Just quoted above go to the heart of at least one dilemma in regulation, pointing as they do to the gap between legislation and action in the world.  The journal’s Editorial explores this, describing some aspects of Scottish versions of civic humanism and Stoic thought, a tradition that was integral to Saint-Just’s intellectual repertoire.  If the tradition faced major political challenges in the new republicanism of France in the 1790s, in Scotland the Stoic tradition faced its first major modernist challenges with industrialization and commercialization that was beginning to take place in Scottish society on an unprecedented scale.  In the work of Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson and others we can see attempts to define regulation and regulatory activity not merely as governed by the market or by actions of economic necessity.  As we say in the Editorial with regard to Ferguson, his

appeal lies not only in his refusal to let philosophical systems blind him to the stark realities of capitalist shifts in later-eighteenth-century Scotland, but also in his refusal to admit that a complex and sophisticated philosophical tradition two millennia in the making had little of worth to say to him or his society. Many of the revolutionaries in Paris would have agreed with him regarding the tension, but committed to direct action like Saint-Just they took brutal courses of action to the challenge of resolving the dilemma presented by the Stoic doctrine of necessity. The critical question they failed to answer regarding the doctrine was not the moral concept itself, but its implementation and continuation in the world: put simply, at which point does necessary action become unnecessary? At which point did the title ‘Committee for Public Safety’ become a chillingly ironic comment on those issuing its orders? Ferguson was not averse to action – he was Chaplain to the Black Watch regiment, and saw battlefield action in Flanders, and this (together with an understanding of the Highland culture of his birth, based as it was on honour) probably contributed to his understanding of the crucial moral value of ‘choice, practice and conduct’. Those qualities lie at the heart of regulation of any activity in our society. Stoic exempli are an essential element of them, for such examples inspire us, guide us, give us the moral direction, the moral habit and the moral strength to follow, to innovate, to think critically and not just about regulation and law but about the basis of fairness and unfairness, what the historian E.P. Thompson called the ‘moral economy’ of our society.[1].  The Stoic philosophy underlying Saint-Just’s words should inspire a new view of regulation. It should inspire us to try again; to fail again; to fail better.[2]

So much of current regulatory discourse veers towards arguments of economic efficiency and consumerist option.  In its place I’d argue, as Ferguson did, for the crucial moral value implicit in choice, practice and conduct, and for the analysis and understanding of that to be close to the centre of legal education.

  1. [1]Thompson, E.P. (1971). The moral economy of the crowd in the eighteenth century, Past and Present , 50, 76-136.
  2. [2]Žižek, S. (2009). In Defense of Lost Causes. London & New York: Verso, 7, 361.

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