the necessity of including information technology as subject in law curriculum
The escalating use of technology in diffusion of legal information and in legal practice has presented new opportunities for legal education. Alongside the use of technology tools in legal education, there is a pressing need to integrate legal issues presented by the new technology into the curriculum. This paper brings forth the reasons necessitating the incorporation of information technology into the University curriculum to better achieve the goals of legal education in the 21st century.
We have now stepped into the sixth year of the twenty-first century, and there can be no doubt that information technology (IT), particularly, Internet has revolutionised the face of Indian society. IT has changed the way the world functions and we are experiencing its widespread impact in every sphere of activity.
In recent years, technology is enabling lawyers to complete more work at their desks, with less dependence on support staff and the library. An increased number of advocates are drafting documents on the computer instead of a writing pad. They trace legal authorities on the Internet instead of going to the library. Moreover, client expectations are re-shaping what it means to be a competent advocate. As clients are able to find information on the Internet and use their computers to correspond with others, they expect their lawyers to have these skills as well. The pervasiveness of information technology has "raised the bar" on the level of technological competence clients expect from their lawyers. This change in how lawyers work and are expected to work is re-defining professional competence.
Even while the practise of law has been revolutionised by IT, the law curriculum under the University has not incorporated it as a subject in either the five-years or the three-years courses. There is an urgent need to take some positive steps in this direction, as the ways in which technology has changed and will further change the practice of law are as fundamental as any the profession has faced, and cannot be assumed away from the curriculum as matters for non-lawyers and technology specialists. Thinking like a lawyer is no longer enough; a lawyer must also think like an information handler in an information age.
II. The goals of Legal Education in the 21st Century
The primary goal of legal education is to prepare students for the practice of law. It has been recognised far and wide that good lawyers possess four competencies: knowledge, skills, perspective and personal attributes. Therefore, the underlying rationale behind structuring a law curriculum is to ensure that a student is equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills at the time of graduating. It needs no mention that the IT revolution is fundamentally changing how information moves in legal processes. Without a basic understanding of that fundamental shift, a new lawyer will be increasingly unable to understand how information flows in legal processes. It has been truly said: "Even though computers will not replace lawyers, an attorney who uses a computer may replace one who doesn't."
Thus, legal education in the 21st century should focus not only on the imparting of substantive knowledge and analytical abilities that a lawyer needs but also prepare students for a global scenario, making them aware of the technology in law and commerce and provide a truly professional training for preparing lawyers for the future.
It is the above objectives, which need to be kept in mind while addressing the need of including IT as subject in law curriculum.
Technology is redefining the skills required for lawyers to achieve professional competence. Law firms are employing technology to reduce the need for support staff, increase communication speed within and without the firm, manage large amounts of information, and expand research capabilities. Thus, all new lawyers will require at least some technological expertise to function effectively in their law practices. Recognising this need, skills training has become a central focus of legal educators across the world. Most recently, in 1992, an American Bar Association (ABA) Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession published the influential MacCrate Report, which identified ten fundamental lawyering skills and directed law schools to work with practitioners to ensure that lawyers acquire those fundamental skills before representing a client. The Report recognized that law schools and law firms both play a role in providing skills training to new attorneys.
At a recent ABA Techshow, Richard Granat, a noted legal systems consultant, described the new technology skills essential to law practice as follows:
o Electronic Information Retrieval Skills – The ability to design, create and retrieve information from databases for clients.
o Electronic Communication Skills – Knowing when and how to use e-mail to communicate with clients and colleagues.
o Electronic Publishing Skills – Capacity to produce multimedia legal documents and file or deliver them electronically.
It is obvious that the law curriculum must provide some exposure to students in the above skills to equip them suitably for modern law practice. At present, the University Curriculum covers practical training subjects, which focus on the development of problem-solving skills, legal analysis, and the ability to effectively engage in legal discourse. However, the new technology skills listed by Mr. Granat do not find any mention in the syllabi.
Alongside the use of technology tools, it is also imperative to understand the legal framework encompassing issues arising from the widespread use of information technology.
The Indian law in this regard is contained in the Information Technology Act, 2000. It was passed by the Legislature with the objective to provide a legal infrastructure for e-commerce in India, which was a pressing need in the context of the multifarious challenges posed by globalisation, privatisation and deregulation. The Act is based on the UN model law and accords legal recognition to electronic records and Digital Signatures and contains provisions for authentication and identification of electronic records/documents and necessary enforcement mechanism. This enactment is also affecting other laws such as Evidence Act, 1872, Indian Penal Code etc. We in India have had the vision to become the 12th nation in the world to enact a cyber law.
It is pertinent to note that the Act has not been included in the present curriculum under the University. As such, students are not left with any option but to opt for diploma courses from autonomous institutions. This defies the very purpose of providing a professional law degree when a substantial percentage of students (the future lawyers) remain ignorant about the legal provisions pertaining to use of information technology.
In the wake of the IT revolution today, it is abundantly clear that Computers and the Internet will play an important role in training students to be lawyers in the next century. It is therefore proposed that a subject on ‘IT and the Law’ must be introduced in the first-year of the five-years and three-years law curriculum and be progressively developed during the period of the entire course. The subject should be designed to serve the twin task of providing an overview of the role of technology in the practice of law through lectures by law professors, guest speakers and practising law professionals, and of giving students hands-on experience with computer software and other technologies found in firms and courtrooms. This proposed subject must encompass the following aspects:
(a) Computer Assisted Legal Research – This is the most widely used technology by law schools across the world today. Law students should master the skills on legal research using online databases like MANUPATRA, LEGAL PUNDITS, WESTLAW, and LEXIS NEXIS etc. This method develops student skill in retrieving information online. The search capabilities in an electronic environment allow for more efficient information retrieval. As more information is stored digitally, information retrieval skills will become increasingly important to the practice of law.
(b) Use of e-mails – It is increasingly becoming another form of written communication and the ability to communicate effectively in writing is an essential skill students should learn in their practical training. Students should be encouraged to write memos, client letters and briefs and also e-mails in a professional manner.
(c) Electronic Drafting and Presentation – We are in an age where lawyers are increasingly drafting documents on the desktop rather than on their writing pads. Students should learn to create legal documents in Word or WordPerfect, Power Point Presentations or in a web-based document. Thereafter, the document can be distributed through e-mail, posted on the network or course web site, or handed out on a floppy disk.
In view of the shrinking of time and space due to the expansion of use of information technology, the above skills would enable the students to stand in good stead in the competitive world.
Further, the provisions of the IT Act, 2000 must also be taught to the students along with the above to enable them to appreciate the legal issues emerging from the widespread use of technology.
Lastly, while I firmly assert the need for including IT as a subject in the curriculum, I am also aware of the institutional and other problems associated with its effective implementation. While the use of technology may be advantageous to the students and equip them better for modern legal practice, inadequate law college facilities may pose daunting obstacles. The use of technology depends upon the college’s infrastructure, including the staff support for computers, competence of the faculty to learn to use technology etc. Deficiencies in any of the areas may limit the ability to integrate technology into the curriculum. It is therefore suggested that we take the first step by introducing computer labs in law colleges and training support staff and teachers.
 Kenneth J. Hirsh & Wayne Miller, Law School Education in the 21st Century: Adding Information Technology Instruction to the Curriculum, 12 Wm. & Mary Bills Rts. J. 873.
 See Paul Brest, Plus Ca Change, 91 Mich. L. Rev. 1945 (1993).
 According to the MacCrate Report, successful lawyers possess the following skills: (1) problem solving; (2) legal analysis and reasoning; (3) legal research; (4) factual investigation; (5) communication; (6) counselling; (7) negotiation; (8) litigation and dispute resolution procedures; (9) organization and management of legal work; and (10) recognizing and resolving ethical dilemmas.
 These changes will inevitably have real-world consequences, raising questions of competence, negligence, and relevance.
 See Michael R. Arkfield, The Digital Practice of Law 23 (5th ed. 2001).
 Maria Perez Crist, Technology in the LRW Curriculum – High Tech, Low Tech or No Tech, 5 Legal Writing: J. Legal Writing Inst. 93.
 Shelley Ross Saxer, One Professor’s Approach to Increasing Technology Use in Legal Education, 6. Rich J. L. & Tech. 21.
 Technology's impact on the legal profession is of increasing concern. Commentators on law practice management suggest that the key to future survival is productivity, and lawyers are urged to master information technology to increase their productivity or risk extinction. See, e.g., M. Ethan Katsh, The Electronic Media and the Transformation of Law (1989).
 See Lucia Ann Silecchia, Legal skills training in the First Year of Law School: Research? Writing? Analysis? Or more? 100 Dick. L. Rev. 245.
 See Mac Crate Report at 138-140.
 See MacCrate Report, supra note 28, at 125. It suggested that law schools could use the "Statement of Skills and Values" in the Report "as an aid in curricular development," id. at 128, and that law firms could use it as an aid in developing continuing legal education programs or new attorney training programs. See id. at 129- 30.
 Richard S. Granat, Re-Training Lawyers for a Digital Age (March 28, 1998) <http://www.digital-lawyer.com/retrain.html> (from a presentation at the 12th Annual ABA TECHSHOW 98).
 The current curriculum prescribes papers on moot courts, pre-trial preparations and participation in trial proceedings; drafting, leading and conveyancing exercises; Professional ethics, accountancy for lawyers and Bar-Bench Relations; Deals with Public Interest lawyers, legal aid and para-legal lawyers.