Thursday, October 15, 2009

Technological Changes In Legal Education

It may be two years too late for me, but it looks like there are some significant changes becoming available in technology that have the potential to greatly enhance legal education. Currently, I see this emerging primarily on two platforms: 1) eBooks, and 2) the iPhone.

1) e-Books:

I discovered a few days ago that Thompson-West is now selling Bankruptcy in a Nutshell for the Amazon Kindle and got excited as this implies that they will soon offer the rest of their Nutshell series on eBooks as well. Looks like this prediction was on the money as Thompson-West just announced they will immediately begin selling many more law books on the Kindle. Other publishers are bound to follow suit -- both on the Kindle platform and other eBook readers in the future.

Eugene Volokh just finished up an excellent series of posts on the future of books related to law. One of the most intriguing things Volokh mentions is his expectation that legal textbooks will increasingly veer towards self-publishing rather than books from textbook publishers. I think he's right and it makes me wonder if we won't see the same thing happen in other disciplines?

As eBook technology and business models continue to develop, the publishing industry is going to face the reality that the cost of printing and distributing books is rapidly approaching zero -- as are inventory costs. What this means is that anyone with a computer will soon be able to self-publish. Combine that with instant access through wireless eReaders and it creates a perfect storm for dramatic change in the book industry. There are already efforts to develop open-source textbooks. As this self-publishing textbooks becomes easier and more students have a platform to read them from, I expect the open-source movement will gain much more momentum. Between this, MIT's OpenCourseWare, and iTunes U, the cost of quality education is also quickly trending towards zero. While university degrees will still cost considerable money in the near future, I expect these changes combined with rising college expenses to put increasing pressure for alternative forms of education to emerge.

2) iPhone:

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Law in a Flash study aids for the iPhone. Since then, I've purchased these flash cards for my Criminal Procedure and Federal Income Tax classes and am very pleased with them so far. Having them on the iPhone makes for a great way to review topics when I'm riding the subway or find myself with some unexpected spare time. Their constant availability also means I never forget to bring them with me when I head out the door. These flash cards are on sale for 25% off during October. I plan to get the Professional Responsibility and Corporations sets as well.

In addition to the flash cards, I also recently purchased an app that contains the entire 2009 Internal Revenue Code [iTunes link] for my Federal Income Tax class. This $14 app that fits in my pocket has replaced a 4-pound, $42 book.

As an MP3 player, the iPhone can also be used to listen to legal audiobooks. Currently, iTunes U does not have any legal content, but hopefully this will eventually change. If/when it does, the iPhone will prove to be an excellent educational resource capable of playing both audio and video lectures.


Just in the last two years since I started law school, technology has significantly changed in ways that have great potential to change legal education. Already, there are a plethora of books and apps available for eBook readers and iPhones that can aid legal learning and greatly reduce the weight of what law students have to carry. In the future, these technologies should also help drive down prices, allow for periodic updates to books already purchased, and continue to evolve into even more sophisticated learning aids. Perhaps an Apple tablet or similar technology will combine all of these capabilities into one device?

I am thrilled by the continued innovation of learning technologies and expect some form of tablet computer/eBook reader to rival the impact personal computers have had on learning. I for one long for the day when a 10.2 ounce Kindle can replace 20+ pounds of legal textbooks. What's exciting is that these days are essentially upon us.

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