E-Learning Changing the Face of Law

Richard Susskind of the Times Online has a piece this week on how the College of Law‘s Legal Practice Course is delivered with video, slides, and audio – which can all be paused and started at a student’s leisure in their own home.

He also mentions the online initiatives at the BPP Law School and the University of Strathclyde. The latter actually has students role-playing as solicitors dealing with a real problem in a virtual law firm.

Susskind closes saying,

Sceptics protest. They say that a law lecture should be a communal event at which students are professionally socialised. It would be regrettable, of course, if law students were never to experience the thrill of assembling with peers in a fine hall and listening to an outstanding live performance. But we should not preserve the old ways in the delusion that such performances are commonplace. Unless the lecture is genuinely outstanding (a rarity, students say), the convenience and flexibility of e-learning will trump the benefits of the communal learning experience.

I’ve been fortunate to have some outstanding lecturers, who I would only reluctantly replace with an online video. The upside would be the ability to easily invoke an encore. But some of the best law lecturers I’ve seen are interactive, responding directly to visual stimuli from the audience – not just verbal questions. There is something to be said about connecting directly with academics with whom you have some affinity to.

That being said, I know several of my peers that do quite well academically and never attend a single class. They get everything they need for the exam from lecture notes, summaries and texts. For them, lectures are the reason why their law tuition fees are so needlessly high.

To meet all of these different needs, I’m pretty sure we’ll eventually see some schools coming out with more emphasis on online delivery. For remote and rural communities, it might actually be a preferable strategy in looking to meet replacement lawyers in smaller towns.


  1. Susskind begins with:
    “The conventional law lecture will soon be superseded by e-learning.”

    I don’t think so. At least, not here. Susskind seems to be talking about true “lectures” where the instructor simply retails information and the gathered students do their best to transcribe the words. (Even before tape recorders got small, I could never understand why a class faced with a droner wouldn’t simply take a whip round and pay a stenographer to do the dirty for them.) But Susskind will know — must know — that a live and lively interaction among people is an incomparably better form of education than canned lectures, even if delivered by good actors (which seems unlikely).

    Are our law school classes all “live and lively interactions among people”? No, of course not. But the aspiration is there in the professoriat. And as with most endeavours, those that fall short of the mark are nevertheless better than those that aspire to nothing much at all.

    This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think there’s no value in e-learning. Quite the opposite: I think it’s greatly undervalued and under-used in the law. The problem, as with any form of pedagogy whatsoever, is, well, the pedagogy. Videos, podcasts, interactive materials — they have to be done well and done according to a thought-out plan. “Lecture” doesn’t begin to describe it.