The End of an Era, or has IT in Law Schools finally gone Mainstream?

March 1, 2000

The Law Technology Centre which has been based at Warwick University since 1987is now closing its doors. The staff have been relocated and the tasks which itcarried out are being transferred to a new, more widely focused centre, the LawSubject Centre, also at Warwick.

The Law Technology Centre was a pioneering centre which was set up underBILETA and run by Abdul Paliwala for the entire period. It was pioneeringbecause it attempted to provide a common service to all law schools, and toencourage and develop technology to law schools at a time when most law teacherswere openly hostile to technology. Universities are infamously territorial, andthe difficult task of basing such a centre at one university (rather thananother) was always a potential problem to address. Abdul Paliwala worked sohard on this, and was relatively successfully in overcoming it.

There were a large number of tasks which the LTC carried out: roadshows,which they took to almost every law school in the UK; producing newsletters,journals and electronic information services; organising conferences andworkshops; supporting research work in the use of technology in legal education;development of the highly regarded IOLIS teaching software; and also developinga related centre in legal education (the National Centre for Legal Education -NCLE). As well as this, they acted as the mainstay of and secretariat for BILETA.Given the small number of staff, and the relatively short history, the LTC wascertainly a formidable force in encouraging the use of IT in legal education:many of the projects initiated by LTC became fully independent projects in theirown right.

It was also the case that LTC was keen to help break down the barrier betweenlaw schools and the profession, and carried out work to support this in a numberof areas.

The success of the LTC model of support and collaboration can be seen by thefact that it became a blueprint for the development of similar support centresfor all the other academic disciplines: the entire CTI programme funded by theHigher Education Councils was based upon the pioneering work of LTC.

Having been so successful, there is more than a hint of sadness in the endingof the LTC’s funding, and hence the centre. The new Law Subject Centre is toreplace LTC and to take over its role. However, the new subject centre has amuch wider remit – to cover the tasks carried out by both the NCLE and LTC, yetwith less funding than both have originally received. This may be a positiveresult in that technology has become so central to legal education that therehas been a melding of legal education issues and technology issues. I hope so.However, it may be that development of IT in law schools is being viewed (byfunders) as having been successfully completed and of lesser importance than ithas been over the past 13 years of LTC’s existence. This does not seem to meto be the case: law schools are much more technologically aware than they werein the 1980s, but if we want to produce students who have a good, solid ITawareness and match the expectations of their potential employers, we mustcontinue to develop IT as a special element in legal education, rather thansubsume it in legal education.

Whatever happens in this new environment, it is clear that those of usinterested in IT in the law school owe a great debt to Professor Abdul Paliwalaand his staff for their work over the past 13 years. Their commitment and energyin making the LTC such a pioneering success deserves our thanks andcongratulations.