Law in a Digital Age – Coding as clinical legal education?

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This presentation will share our experiences and learnings over 3 years of teaching a topic that introduces students to the potential and challenges posed by technology in legal practice.
Flinders is the only university in Australia where as part of core topic LLAW3301 Law in a Digital Age all our law students learn to write legal software applications commissioned by real-world clients which address real-world justice issues on the open source platform Docassemble.
Our students apply skills they’ve learnt in the core topics INNO1100 Legal innovation and Creative Thinking and INNO 2100 Innovation for Social Justice Impact in a very, tangible way to address access to justice in a novel way. It’s also the only topic where law students and computer science students work together in teams on real problems for real not for profit clients. There are no licence fees, and interoperability means these apps can be used by not-for-profit clients, rather than just being developed as demo models.
Since commencing in mid 2019, LLAW3301 Law in a Digital Age has worked with almost 40 clients in government, not-for-profit and private practice. Students have developed nearly 60 applications. Some of these are now ‘in the wild’ - operating in the real world, with others in the implementation stage.
The topic aims to:
• Provide students with an understanding of information technology in the context of disruption and transformation of access to the law
• Provide students with foundational software coding skills suitable for the development of legal applications
• Expose students to challenges associated with coding the law, including undertaking appropriate legal research; appropriate application design; and expression of the law in plain language
• Provide students with project management and client communications and management skills
A key challenge has been to identify how we can best scaffold the topic into our law degree, particularly in light of students’ apprehension about what they view as traditional legal skills. While step by step explanatory videos showing students how to code using Docassemble have been very successful at teaching self-engaged learners, other have faced more difficulties. Collaborations with computing science student have also been explored as ways of increasing student confidence in these new skills.
A key strength of the topic is that by engaging deeply with not-for- profit clients and having to understand their legal pain points, students get a unique insight into access to justice issues that they might not otherwise have been aware of.
Just as numeracy is an essential skill for any lawyer, we argue its essential for lawyers understand the basics of technology as a tool to help automate and improve access to justice. Our students leave this topic with the ability to look at problems encountered in everyday legal practice and either resolve them or make overcoming them more efficient.
Period12 Dec 202214 Dec 2022
Event titleGlobal Alliance for Justice Education (11th GAJE WWC)
International Journal of Clinical Legal Education (20th Annual Conference)
South African University Law Clinics Association
Building Resilience and Strong Connections in Times of Global Challenges: Building Resilience and Strong Connections in Times of Global Challenges
Event typeConference
Conference number20
LocationSouth AfricaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational