Computer Application and Clinical Education in Law

The worldwide high technology movement already has had, and will continue to have, a profound effect on both the legal profession and legal education. Although many highly specialized and sophisticated technologies are of importance to lawyers including, for example, modern medical techniques used to evaluate physical injuries and modern chemical analysis techniques used to evaluate all types of evidence, computer technology stands apart in terms of its general impact on the practice of law and its adaptability to assist in the teaching of law. Video technology, used above or in conjunction with computer technology, is also important, particularly in terms of its applications as a teaching aid. As a result, law schools today must be prepared to introduce students to the uses of new technology in the practice of law and law teachers must become familiar with the uses of new technology in teaching law.

With respect to computer technology, a minimum goal for law students must be basic “computer literacy” in applications relevant to the practice of law. This effort fits logically into a clinical programme as computer literacy can be seen as an important part of the mechanics of carrying out key functions of lawyering. Basic computer literacy includes at least some familiarity with common computer applications for law practice, such as word processing and case file control, and the use of computer-based data banks for legal research. In addition, law students and law teachers should begin to consider new and innovative computer applications for the practice of law, by modifying existing applications used in other fields and by developing new applications unique to the legal profession. Of course, study in these areas will be limited by resources and availability of equipment. Experimentation with more complex applications may be beyond the competence of most law students and law teachers; nonetheless, the time has come for legal education to provide students with at least some appreciation of the existing and potential future uses of the computer in the practice of law.

Computer applications for the legal profession, although perhaps not at the forefront of developments in computer technology, are being developed at an increasingly rapid pace. In countries with major markets in personal computers such as the United States, the computer has become the dominant office machine in law practice with applications ranging from office management to legal research. With the present growth in the computer market in India, one must assume that the computerization of law practice in India will also begin to develop rapidly in the not-too-distant future. Accordingly, the law schools in India, and particularly those with clinical programmes offering instruction in the lawyering process, must begin to identify at least the most important applications of computer technology to the practice of law and provide students with the opportunity to become familiar with these applications and their potential.

The use of computers for word processing in one sense simply extends the development of typing machines. First there was the electric typewriter, then the electronic typewriter, and now computers programmed to perform typewriting functions. Text is typed into the computer memory on a keyboard, an appropriate formatting option is chosen, and a clean correct copy of the document is produced by a printer or an electric typewriter attached to the computer. Without going into all these features available in a word processing programme, two stand out as most important to the practice of law.

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