Thursday, 1 November 2012

Digital Lawyer: Should Law School Teach Digital Literacy?

Should lawyers be digitally literate? Should digital literacy be taught in law school? These are the questions I asked myself after episode 4, Series 2 of the Digital Human of the BBC Radio 4. For those interested you can listen to the full episode here.

Obviously because you're reading this you know not how to use the internet. Many people can. But that's using the internet in a functional sense. But shouldn't lawyers know what goes on behind the web's corporate crust? Shouldn't lawyers be literate in programming? What people forget when using the web is: what we use day and daily is the corporate layer. Under this outer crust is the relatively agnostic internet.

Do you never feel like Mark Zuckerberg and all the other techies behind the systems we use everyday are part of a sinister plot to get us to like, share, buy and reveal our personal details on command? It's like they puppeteers controlling the digital strings of the new world we inhabit, all the while we accept everything as it is.

The digital world is undoubtedly changing our lives in ways we don't understand. Yes we can read what is going on in front of us. But we don't know what goes on in the background. We are totally responsive to the flow of news and events. Shouldn't we know how the content and structures that we navigate online are created? Ultimately everything we consumer online is based on what its creators think that we want. Are you happy with that?

So we can ask: does technology control us? We do, to an extent, have control over technology - we can turn off our smart phones, tablets and PCs. However, the reality is often we don't. So yes technology does control us. Day and night we turn to Google to give us the answers, to Facebook to speak with our friends and on Amazon to snag a good deal.

We as lawyers use news sites, online programmes, digital tools and sophisticated software for our discovery process, case preparation and litigation support work. We ask the magic machine for something and it delivers. We follow its advice often unquestioningly. Because of this, we have, as the show's presenter, Aleks Krotoski suggested, become LEGAL TECHNO-FUNDAMENTALISTS.

Therefore as techno-fundamentalists who have incorporated the digital world into the fabric of our legal lives, shouldn't we need to understand better how these systems work? Should we bring a new ethic and practice to the way we interact with the digital world? Shouldn't we start to break down what seems like a conspiracy among those who understand technology against the rest of us who don't?

During the programme digital commentator Douglas Rushkoff said our kids and our grand kids are going to have to be become literate in the ways of programming - they will need to understand the under layers of the internet. In the same way that we got language, people learned not just how to listen but also to speak. We got text and people learnt not just how to read but to write and now that we have computers people need to learn not just how to use them but also how to programme them.

And so, shouldn't this apply to lawyers and to law schools? In the future legal practitioners should not only be able to navigate around the web and social media, but they should also understand the mysterious world behind everything we use - shouldn't they? Ultimately participation in a digital society requires at least some knowledge of how digital tools work. Otherwise, if we don't understand the leanings and biases of the digital world, we can only act passively and responsively - and that makes us no better than ROBOTS.

Do you trust Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs' successors with your life?

What do you make of all this? My conclusions are brief: digital literacy is not yet taught in schools, but it should. It will have to be. It should also be taught in law schools. Lawyers need to question what the digital world is doing. They should know it. They should want to understand what has been programmed rather than just taking a back seat and just taking what's served up.

Already I believe that every law school should be teaching modules on social media; how social media can improve our understanding of the law and of its practice. Then gradually, a deeper and more sophisticated approach to digital learning in law school must be implemented.

Please let me know what you think of all this.

1 comment:

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