March 22, 2010
How an iPad (or an even better e-tablet) could transform legal education
My old pal Anupam in this post expresses skepticismabout whether the (soon to be in stores) iPad could transform law school. This skepticism is justified if the iPad is merely just a mini-laptop without a keyboard. But if the iPad is ultimately a "better" e-reader and a "better" media player than any existing device --- or whenever someone produces an affordable e-tablet with a great e-reader and media functionality --- then it will only be a matter of time before such a device helps speed the demise of the living dinosaur that is the traditional law school casebook.
The traditional law school casebook has all the analog features of vinyl records and VCR tapes that made them very popular and useful until a better digital version came along. Except vinyl record and VCR tapes were easy to carry around and got cheaper over time. In contrast, casebooks weigh a ton and new ones now often cost more than $150 each. I suspect the average law student spends at least $1000 each year on casebooks, with little to take away from these costs other than a sore back. I suspect most law students would jump at the chance to instead spend, say, $750 on a slick new e-tablet device with course materials pre-loaded that could serve as a professional resource even after a course is completed.
Further, imagine if digital course materials could effectively incorporate media other than words through links and embedded pictures and videos. Con law materials could include audio from oral arguments in famous cases; crim pro materials could include video of Terry stops and custodial interrogations; IP materials could include film clips and pictures of patented devices; and so on and so on. And, of course, these materials could be effectively and cost-efficiently supplemented and updated when new cases or laws come down the pike.
And, ideally, a great e-tablet would facilitate electronic note-taking by students in an e-window right next to the course materials. And students could, ideally, create their own links in their notes to related primary materials or outlines (whether commercial or prepared by fellow students). And faculty could, ideally, integrate their own tablet-friendly syllabi and supplemental teaching materials with other electronic case materials. And, of course, these materials could be easily searched via a find command in a way that no index or other hard-copy resource can be search.
This appealing vision of a casebook-friendly e-tablet is only the tip of the new media iceberg that could be facilitated by an iPad or some other tablet that becomes to casebooks what the iPod became to vinyl records. Of course, just as record companies (and some artists) resisted music being packaged and distributed via new media, casebook publishers (and some authors) may resist legal materials being packaged distributed via new media. But, as the iPod and the DVR and other digital innovations have demonstrated, a better means to distribute content digitally will eventually prevail over analog precursors. The iPad may not prove to be the casebook tipping-point technology, but it seems to me to be only a question of when, not whether, the traditional casebook will go the way of vinyl records and VCR tapes.
I have an inkling that co-blogger Ellen Podgor is on the same e-page with me on this front, but I would like to hear what others think via additional posts or comments.