Parallel session 3, day 1 UNSW legal education research conference

by Paul Maharg on 04/12/2017

This session is entitled Technology: disrupting legal education?  First, Lyria Bennett Moses, from UNSW on ‘The need for lawyers’.  I came in late (tea break…), but Lyria is talking about the use in admin law of data for machine learning and expert systems delivery of judicial roles and decisions.  Lyria teaches expert systems: key message is that in spite of the machine learning, we still need lawyers.  Who could argue with that.  I think the main argument here is that we need a lot less lawyers, and the concept of disintermediation applies here.  She raises the useful point that we need to know what skills we need to work alongside the robot; and that what we need is maybe less content and more context.  This is a useful idea re learning and teaching contexts for learning technological skills and knowledge.  Amongst other things she talked about the mini-curriculum review.  She advocated for less how-to skills in technology, and more deep critical skills in analysing and challenging how tech is used in the profession.

Next, Tania Leiman, on Equipping the legally literate leaders of tomorrow.  Distinguished between between the expansion of legal services market expansion, and the shrinking of legal practice market.  There are limited license practitioners who work closely with technology.  She asked, what is the purpose of legal education, now?  Do we all have to have the same purpose?  Would it be the same as the students’ views?  External stakeholders?  Who does legal education help?  Does it help our communities understand law?  Contribute to a democratic society?  What legacy is legal ed creating, and is this the legacy we want to create? Exclusivity, prestige, status, competition?  Or the opposite of these, with a focus on innovation. She raised the issues of bespoke teaching vs standardisation; is it a place/space or a service?  Lots more questions of the same.  Tania finished by saying that we need to think of equipping students to know what to do when no one around them knows what to do. They need courage, compassion, creativity, critical thinking collaboration.

LIvely time at questions.  In fact all sessions have been remarkable for the engagement of the audiences – including at mine.  I think it’s a good sign of vigorous interest and life in the sub-discipline of legal education.  As I was taking in the lively to and fro, I remembered a seminar I attended years ago at TU Delft.  Presenting was a team of consultants and technologists working on a program that taught Dutch battlefield medics triage.  An avatar would approach one of several prone bodies, touch it, and down would drop a menu of vital signs, and further drop downs were possible.  Dutch medics in the audience were not amused.  This training, they said, would result in poorer triage diagnosis.  It simply wasn’t training in what battlefield medics did in their professional practice.  I found the debate, then and later, extraordinarily resonant – and a caution as to what we think we do when we design curricula, courses and classes.

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