Legal Education in the Digital Era: Opportunities and Challenges
In the history of mankind, very few developments have been truly “disruptive.” The notable ones would include: the Agricultural Revolution; the Industrial Revolution; and now, in our day and age, the Digital Revolution. These were “disruptive” because they marked a major turning point in history and fundamentally transformed almost all aspects of life.
This article will focus on the Digital Revolution and its impact on legal education. The term “Digital Revolution” is more aptly defined as the change from analogue, mechanical and electronic technology to digital technology which began with the adoption and proliferation of digital computers and digital record keeping. The term is, however, also implicitly used to refer to the sweeping changes brought about by digital computing and communication technology. It is in this latter sense that the term Digital Revolution has been used in this article.
The Digital Revolution has been significantly disruptive. It ushered in the “digital era.”
This era has been marked by the introduction of the personal computers and other subsequent technologies which have enabled faster and freer production and transfer information. The legal education sector has not been unaffected. The sector now stands on a digital cross-road. Law Schools are faced with two major options: to either hop on to the digital train and appropriate the benefits thereof; or to be left behind by this train which is surely progressing through the rail tracks of history.
The Digital era presents both opportunities and challenges. This article highlights some of the ways through which Law Schools in Kenya could appropriate the benefits of the digital era. It also highlights some of the challenges that are likely to be faced, and ultimately offers some suggestions on how these challenges could be mitigated.
First, increased ability to create and transfer information should enable Law Schools to increase access to legal education. The number of students admitted to Law Schools (especially the public ones), has traditionally been pegged on the capacity of the school’s physical infrastructure. Computing and internet capability now present the possibility of e-learning. Whereas some law courses are practical and therefore require physical interaction between the students and professors, it is, nonetheless, possible to isolate the purely doctrinal ones which are appropriate for e-learning. This will not only help increase access but also help lower the cost of legal education.
Second, the digital era should facilitate pedagogical improvement. Law Schools are stubbornly old fashioned. Most are characterized by old-style teaching methods and modes of instruction. Instead of the traditional huge casebooks which are expensive and cumbersome, digital revolution presents the possibility of the development of digital course material. These should be cheaper and also easier to review. Beyond lecture room interaction, the digital era could also enable the hosting by professors of web-based course platforms to facilitate discussions outside class, thus improving the delivery of course content.
Lastly, introducing students to computing and other technologies during their law school days should, ultimately, lead to the production of better and more relevant lawyers. The modern work-place is digitized. How can students fit in a digital work-place environment if their law school environment is analogue?
Challenges and Solutions
Inevitably, there will be challenges. Key among these are the cost of digitization and possible resistance by the determined “analogue personalities.” The cost could be mitigated through the employment of digital commons and other forms of resource sharing. This would enable the creation, distribution and communal ownership of digital educational resources. Willing Law Schools could come together and form a consortium towards this end.
Resistance could be overcome through persuasion and the sprinting ahead by those who are ready. This way, the resistant would, thanks to the pressurizing effect of the mantra “if you cannot beat them, join them,” be compelled to hop on board the digital train.
The digital era is here to stay. Law schools have no option but to find ways to appropriate the benefits thereof so as to improve the quality of legal education in Kenya. There are some challenges, but these can be mitigated.
By: Dr. Jackline Nyaga (JD (Colorado); JSM (Stanford); LLM (LSE)) Ag. Dean, Riara Law School