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"I don't know why I'm doing this": Teaching tech skills to law students

Mark Ferraretto, Senior Lecturer, Professor Tania Leiman, Dean of Law, Dr James Scheibner, Lecturer, Flinders University

Abstract‚Äč

Technology has had an outsize impact on the legal profession, fundamentally transforming legal research, legal practice and, to a lesser degree, the provision of legal services. We are now on the cusp of potentially another fundamental paradigm shift as generative AI systems continue to mature. Consequently, it is increasingly crucial that law students and professionals understand legal technology, its potential and its challenges.

At Flinders University, our approach has been to expose students to fundamental technology concepts. These concepts include an understanding of decision-making logic, the nature of data and its storage and manipulation. We do this by teaching students how to express legal issues as software applications.

We started on our journey in 2019 using a proprietary technology platform and focussed on building simple legal applications for not-for-profit organisations (NFPs). However, accessibility and affordability issues led us to shift in 2020 to an open source platform. This shift required creating teaching materials from scratch. This shift also facilitated interdisciplinary collaborations with Computer Science staff and students, and with colleagues from Nursing and Health Sciences. Since these topics commenced our students have created approximately 70 legal software applications for over 40 NFPs in our state, across Australia and even internationally. Skills developed by students have opened new opportunities and employment pathways locally, nationally and internationally.

Despite this success, and despite continued encouragement from the profession, students find it hard to see how what they are learning connects with the law and with what lawyers do.

This presentation will report on our experiences over the past 5 years in developing this innovative curriculum, including a self-published online textbook. This presentation will also explore how we are responding to feedback from students and NFP clients, as well as accelerating technological change.