[From book launch on 3 August 2023]
I am very grateful for NSW Chief Justice Andrew Bell [pictured, above on left] for taking time from his busy schedule to launch this book [video-recording here or via the Sydney Law School podcasts on Youtube]. Perhaps I should have asked instead for such a favour for my next volume just into press, on Corruption and Asian Investment Arbitration, given His Honour’s longstanding shared interest in cross-border dispute resolution. But the Chief Justice also was a valued lecturer for Sydney Law School over many years, and I was struck by the remarks made about online legal education in another book launch following the annual Winterton lecture in the Banco Court a few months ago. Thank you very much for sharing some further ideas and kind words, reminding us of the history of technological developments in the research and teaching of law over our lifetimes, in the context of this volume.
I also acknowledge the Foreword [reproduced below] kindly contributed by former Queensland Supreme Court Justice James Douglas, here today [pictured, 2nd from right] and a longstanding elected member of the International Academy of Comparative Law. I also appreciate that Academy and then Secretary-General Prof Diego Fernández Arroyo for inviting me in early 2020 to become the General Reporter comparing developments world-wide related to online legal education. That became of course a very hot topic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which unfortunately meant not all nominated national reporters ended up producing chapters for this book. But I think it nonetheless achieved a fairly representative mix of jurisdictions to draw wider comparative conclusions – jurisdictions from common law, civil law and mixed traditions, more or less democratic states, large and small states, developed and developing economies.
I thank all the contributors to this book, especially my co-editor Seijo University Prof Makoto Ibusuki, ANJeL-in-Japan program convenor and frequent visitor to Australia (and many parts of the world). I particularly valued some early zoom discussions over 2020, comparing different challenges and reactions in Australia and Japan. We and this book also benefited from an excellent chapter co-authored by ANJeL Advisor and Newcastle DVC, Prof Kent Anderson here tonight, comparing different “gatekeepers” across jurisdictions that regulate entry to the legal profession: lawyers, governments, universities and the market. The book’s summary general report plus the jurisdictional reports consider how each model, along with other factors such as ICT infrastructure and funding for universities as well as the extent of COVID-19 impact, can influence the trajectories of in-person and then online legal education.
I thank also Rebecca Moffat and the very professional team at Intersentia, which has become the publisher for the book series from the Academy’s four-yearly major comparative law congresses. (I only hope they bring down the price for the e-book version.) I am especially grateful to Intersentia and the Academy for adapting for the book cover an abstract artwork provided by my daughter Erica Kobayashi Nottage of Enso Circulation, finishing off at the National Art School this year, and for the rest of my immediate family for joining us for the book launch.
For hosting tonight, I thank Dean Simon Bronitt [pictured in photo above, right] and Sydney Law School (including its Centre for Asian and Pacific Law, the cross-institutional Australian Network for Japanese Law, and Carla and Ashleigh from our terrific Events Team). Further editorial and research assistance for the book was kindly provided through the University of Wollongong’s Transnational Law and Policy Centre, where I enjoy an honorary affiliation. I am also glad for the support of Assoc Prof Markus Wagner, leading that Centre, and his Dean Trish Mundy kindly co-authored an insightful chapter on online legal education in Australia.
Thank you again for the insightful remarks on launching this book, Chief Justice, and for all my colleagues, family, friends and others who attended to support this event.
Book’s Foreword, by the Hon James Douglas KC:
A long time ago I experienced the mixed joys of both undergraduate and postgraduate law lectures and tutorials delivered directly in the classroom among fellow students. In my final undergraduate year in 1973, however, I studied part-time entirely remotely by reading lecture notes with references to the relevant texts and cases. Luckily, I had access to an excellent law library and was the associate of a judge in a final appellate court where there were other such judges with associates who were recent graduates. I could bounce ideas off them and learn from the cases argued before the court. I hate to think what that experience of remote learning would have been like had I not had that environment around me. I admire greatly those lawyers who have successfully educated themselves solely through distance or online education.
I recognise the advantages that modern technology can provide to remote learning not only through video-conferencing of lectures and tutorials but by direct access to relevant primary materials online. That early experience, however, has biased me in favour of live teaching in a class full of students actually present. As the authors recognise in their introduction, even interactive video-conferencing makes it more difficult for remote students ‘to engage in classroom discussions … where picking up on nuances can be harder than in physical interactions, even for native speakers’. Common experience of video-conferencing outside the academic environment backs up those conclusions.
There is so much to be learned also in informal discussion with lecturers and other students and from an environment where the social interaction and physical facilities are focused on what you are studying. As the authors say about the experience of online education in Macao, ‘law is rooted in human interactions, benefiting not only from direct student–teacher contact but also from student learning among peers, through classroom teaching but also other personal contacts on campus’. This personal contact is recognised as a continuing advantage particularly in aspects of courses where students need to learn practical or ‘soft’ skills.
The period leading up to the International Academy of Comparative Law’s 2022 Congress in Paraguay coincided with the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the curtailment of normal legal education in very many jurisdictions. So the decision to examine the topic of online legal education at the Congress proved to be very ‘timely’, as Professors Nottage and Ibusuki say in their General Report. Suddenly online legal education had become frighteningly necessary and common. It can also provide access to courses otherwise practically too expensive or unavailable to less privileged students. What, therefore, may be the consequences of greater use of online legal education for the future of the profession and the teaching of law around the world?
This useful volume examines those issues relevant to online legal education in 13 jurisdictions representative of the major common law and civilian traditions as well as some hybrid jurisdictions. It makes some tentative predictions for the future of such education. The examples also carry the advantage of having been drawn from countries with widely varying economies, unequal access to technology for online teaching and differing traditions in the teaching of law.
The authors link legal education to the legal profession and main legal traditions of each jurisdiction covered, and include pre- and post-admission education for law graduates. The focus is mostly on university-level legal education but practical professional training in some jurisdictions is also addressed. Online education for such practical training can be more effective than may be the case for young undergraduates. It is also notable that the topic shows the typical tensions between continuity and change often found in comparative studies.
Some of the main general conclusions reached are that developments in online legal education in the 13 jurisdictions examined should be influenced by the nature of the jurisdiction’s legal tradition and legal profession, its level of public funding for universities, its level of economic development, including its infrastructure for information and communications technology, and the particular impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The work as a whole will be especially useful for those considering how to deploy online legal education in a particular jurisdiction, using that analysis, with a view to setting up a properly nuanced regime for that style of education for that jurisdiction.
Those charged with these significant responsibilities in jurisdictions and universities around the world will derive great benefit from studying the insights contained in this volume.