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Recasting Legal Education In The Light Of Technological Advances: An Ongoing Project

Technology demands creating and rewriting laws and policies for the digital age. It also presents the need for new skills and working knowledge of digital tools. Legal education must aim to convert these challenges to opportunities.

It is a constant refrain in law conferences (and policy ones too) that regulation often lags behind technology interventions in society. While this may be partly accurate, there are significant ways in which the legal universe attempts to respond to such interventions. These responses, in turn, continue to shape legal reform and practice. As a corollary to this, recasting legal education in the light of these responses becomes essential. 

They can broadly be bucketed into two types of responses: process-related and substantive. Process-related responses primarily demand adapting legal practice to the technological disruption caused by algorithms and natural language processing. Lawyers engaged in mundane paper-processing work stand to lose out in the bargain. On the substantive front though, the reality is more complex. The rise of data analytics and the growth of a cluster of technologies falling within the rubric of Industry 4.0 – Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT, 5G networks, 3-D Printing, Drones, Blockchain and similar advances – have resulted in a deeper examination of the laws and policies required to govern these interventions. These in turn generate new prospects for suitably trained lawyers. 

In particular, the abovesaid technologies have compelled us to think long and hard about the ways in which data, personal and non-personal, would be put to use; the actors who would benefit and suffer on account of widespread data collection, processing and sharing; the liability frameworks to bring about fairness and equity in a datafied globe; and, regulatory architectures to ensure transparency and accountability on the part of both the State and private actors. Europe took the lead in this area with the General Data Protection Regulation that came into effect in 2018. Indian lawyers and educators, besides grappling with the nuances of GDPR on account of the domestic IT and ITES sectors’ reliance on European business, are also actively engaged with the potential structure and impact of similar legislation in India. As seen from the deliberations of the Justice Srikrishna Committee and the Parliamentary Select Committee on the matter of personal data protection, the journey to such legislation has been fraught with far too many challenges. 

Equally challenging are the newly emerging debates around non-personal data and its ownership and sharing. For a billion-plus nation, it is indeed a matter of consternation that foreign technology companies hold substantial data reserves of Indians as a consequence of their offerings in e-commerce, mobility, entertainment and the like. There are several positive externalities that could emerge from these reserves, subject to conditions of equitable and non-competitive data sharing, with the central question being the length to which law and policy must go to incubate and engineer these conditions. The deliberations of the Kris Gopalakrishnan Committee demonstrate that there are no easy answers. Yet again, legal practitioners, and perforce legal education, can gain immensely from these debates. 

Judges, lawyers and policy professionals have also been engaged in the enterprise of adapting old laws to new technologies. A case in point here is the media sector, one of India’s most vibrant, and significant generators of jobs. With the number of households “cutting the (cable) cord” on the rise, content consumption on over-the-top digital platforms is soaring. In parallel, the State has been exploring baseline minima of viewer guidelines that apply to such platforms, and ways and means by which these can be enforced. The Information Technology Act, 2000 applies to digital intermediaries but has been considered weak in addressing curated content and its allied regulatory concerns. Similarly, the infusion of 5G networks is still governed primarily by the Telegraph Act, 1885, causing considerable interpretive challenges and policy hurdles.

These new technological challenges present interesting opportunities for legal education. The lawyer of tomorrow needs to be well versed not only in matters of legislation and interpretation but also in understanding the vocabulary of technology. Starting with data analytics, and proceeding to complicated matters of hardware deployment such as interconnection and uplinking of satellite channels, there is a whole new universe of concepts and ideas waiting to be introduced to the legal mind. Curriculum design must immerse in tackling this opportunity in a meaningful way. 

Additionally, technology offers new ways of presenting information and tools that any professional must get familiar with. Unfortunately, existing legal education models do precious little to facilitate them. Viewed positively, these skill gaps also present incredible opportunities to recast the objective and direction of legal education. Students equipped with a digital presentation and blogging skills, for instance, can stand out in the digital age. The onus is on legal educators to make this happen. 


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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