The Lie of the Land

I think September is the true New Year’s. Campus, the city, and life in general feel completely different than they did a few short weeks ago when Simon F. and I chatted about starting a legal education and technology column in Slaw. Since that chat the topic has been on my mind, and as I found myself back in class beginning my second year of the law program at Queen’s, I’ve been noticing that the intersection of these two concepts is a rather large, intriguing, and often humorous one. And that is why I’m kicking off this series with a few observations from my station within the machine.

As Mark Lewis pointed out on Friday, there is “something different” about law students today. While I’m not too sure what law students were like in days of yore, and not too sure either what it’s like to be a living, breathing Millennial (I’m slightly longer in the tooth than that, but not by much), the SSCCTAP diagnosis observed by Simon C. last year sounds about right. The only thing I would add to it is PI: plugged in.

During the first term of my first year at law school I was somewhat puzzled by how uninterested a large number of the students appeared to be in the lectures – between Facebook, MSN Messenger, and text messaging (and sometimes all at the same time) I couldn’t imagine how any of the material was being absorbed. However, what I came to realize is that the extent to which Millennials are plugged in is surpassed only by the extent to which to they multi-task; in addition to finding out what happened at the after-party the night before, scoping out photos of friends of friends online, and organizing the post-lecture meet-up, these students had one ear on the professor the entire time (well, most of them anyway). Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

But what happens when the technology is taken away? Last week during the initial meeting of one of my small seminars the first order of business for the professor was to declare an all-out laptop ban. Yep, that’s right: for 3 hours each and every week between now and November 30th about 10 law students are going unplugged. As the first seminar wrapped up and the professor left the room, those who remained compared anxiety levels in reaction to the news. The general mood seemed to be one of slight-to-moderate discomfort, but I have a hunch that everything will be just fine; even though students can learn a great deal with laptops in front of them, I tend to agree with the instructor that a more immediate learning experience is possible without the Facebook/MSN/email barrier between seminar participants. The ban has the potential to clear the air in a way. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.

The other note-worthy legal education and tech event from first week was that those enrolled in the Advanced Legal Research course will be tested on – wait for it – print materials. It’s true that in first year we were introduced to the stacks, but this move to evaluate students’ facility with paper sources is bound to garner some attention. (I assume that even in the pre-Millennial period law students cared much about marks; at least that’s what I learned from The Paper Chase). What was explained in the first lecture of this course is that once employed in a firm or other setting, it is entirely possible that graduates will be expected to search both online and print materials, a bold statement that someone from outside academe might care to verify. Again, I’ll be sure to revisit this in a later post.

That’s all for now from the belly of the beast.

The question I’ll consider in my next post is whether the tech environment fostered by law schools today benefits or hinders students once they enter the workplace, and whether law school administrators are even thinking about this. Oh, and I might highlight some of the technology actually used as opposed to focusing as I did today on the back-to-basics trend.


  1. An interesting assessment of the current generation of law students. Although I think I’d question the “one ear on the professor” part. Rather than pay attention it seems like most of them rely on the same pirated outline that makes its way around facebook or MSN or whatever. So at least when it’s wrong, they’re all wrong.