Register now for Research in Legal Education: State of the Art? conference – full program released

We are excited to let you know that the full program for the Research in Legal Education: State of the Art? conference from 3-5 December is now online  http://www.legaledconference.law.unsw.edu.au/

The conference kicks off on Sunday 3 Dec at 6pm with welcome drinks and a book launch.  On Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 Dec we have over 50 speakers, and three international plenary speakers.

Best of all, the conference is free.

So make sure you register at https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/legal-education-conference-2017-tickets-36994327028

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Contract cheating and the law

There is ongoing interest in what is known as contract cheating – where students pay others to write assessment for them.

The Australian higher education regulatory agency TEQSA has just released a Good Practice Note  on the subject.  A team of researchers is currently in the middle of a large scale project to develop strategies to design assessment to counter the phenomenon: ‘Contract Cheating and Assessment Design: Exploring the Connection’ 

Contract cheating is conceptually different to traditional notions of plagiarism in that it is a predominantly commercial, market driven enterprise.  Rather than a student surreptitiously borrowing another student’s work, contract cheating involves arms length payments to strangers who provide assessment answers for profit.  Research has uncovered that such organisations can be multinational in scope, sourcing paper writers from Africa, Asia and Europe.  In such circumstances it becomes relevant to ask whether such behaviour should be seen as criminal, and what offence may have been committed. While students are easy targets here, finding ways to prosecute the ‘essay mills’ is more complex.

Two articles address this issue.  My recent article ( Contract cheating: Will students pay for serious criminal consequences?)  looks at criminal liability in Australia, with a focus on NSW, suggesting that offences such as fraud, forgery and conspiracy to defraud may be committed.  It also considers New Zealand’s specific anti-cheating legislation.  The existence of an arguable basis for criminal prosecution of such entities also permits authorities to apply to freeze bank accounts under proceeds of crime legislation.  This may be seen as a controversial approach, but it has already been adopted in New Zealand: Commissioner of Police v Li [2014] NZHC 479

In a UK context, an article earlier this year by Michael DraperVictoria Ibezim and Philip  Newton ( Are Essay Mills committing fraud? ) explored whether essay mills can be prosecuted under the English Fraud Act 2006.  They suggest it would be difficult and argue for the creation of a strict liability offence. Although their article does not discuss it, conspiracy to defraud and proceeds of crime offences are likely to be also available.

The conundrum that underlies the analysis in both articles  is the fact that the criminality is at base that of a group crime – joint criminal enterprise or conspiracy – but on policy grounds it seems best to have the students dealt with in an educative and restorative manner outside of the criminal courts while throwing the book at the essay mills.  Specific legislation banning the operations of the essay mills is the simple fix, but raises further questions of scope and standards of proof.    It will be interesting to see if governments in Australia and the UK decide to take that path.

 

 

Workshop Report: What Law Students Need to Know about Technology

by Lyria Bennett Moses

On Monday 18 September, UNSW Law ran a workshop on What Law Students Need to Know about Technology, in which a range of presenters combined with UNSW Law faculty to ask themselves what law graduates will need to know about technology. The workshop aimed to a flavour of some of the technologies that may be important to current and future lawyers and pose the question – what will legal graduates need to know (and thus should be taught in the core) and what should legal graduates have the opportunity to learn (in electives or via extra-curricular activities). The goal of the workshop was not to teach the faculty everything about the technologies, but rather to give members of faculty enough information to be able to make a decision about what to include in their core course and what they may want to learn more about.

Kathy Laster, Director of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre at Victoria University, began by asking how law graduates should be trained and should market themselves in a world where lawyerly caution is often seen as a barrier to innovation and entrepreneurship. Michael Legg’s summary of the flip committee recommendations reverberated throughout the day, particularly the importance of the skills of project management, working across disciplines and the ability to comprehend the outputs of technology and subject them to challenge and critique. Ross Buckley and David Rountree (Allens) explained core elements of blockchain and its potential impact on transactions as well as smart contracts (code which seeks to facilitate, enforce or automate the performance of a contractual obligation or term and will automatically execute in accordance with its coded terms) and how these relate to broader trends (FinTech, RegTech, monetization of data etc). After morning tea, Peter Leonard (Data Synergies) and Lyria Bennett Moses discussed the uses and limitations of data-driven reasoning.

In the afternoon, Judge Riethmuller of the Federal Circuit Court brought us back to more basic technologies (such as being able to use document templates correctly, understanding strengths and limits of PDF documents, how to capture email and social media as evidence) and gave the excellent suggestion that students should take notes using databases such as Zotero rather than word documents so that it could become a platform for growing their legal knowledge over time. He also discussed the limits of automated means of enhancing access to justice and the challenges the Internet poses to the increase of slightly mad legal claims. Caryn Sandler and Matthew Golab gave an insight into how technology is changing legal practice at Gilbert + Tobin through e-discovery, automated document review, automated searching, collaboration tools and so forth, and introduced a new kind of employee “technolegals” – junior lawyers working on process innovation.

We ended with a panel and a wide ranging discussion with insights from private practice, our own National Children and Youth Law Centre, UTS (and its new Legal Tech major), and Google’s legal team. Broad messages were:

  • Don’t get caught in the hype – the curriculum doesn’t need to include every new tech fad, but it does need to teach students to think critically about how they use technology and how technology affects their clients.
  • On a related point, students don’t need to know how to code but they need to be able to communicate with someone who writes code and tease out the legal and policy issues related to its use. Students should be exposed to facts (and have to grasp those) as well as law.
  • We can help students do this by using modern contexts as example facts in class and in assessment. For example – what remedy would you need to reverse a transaction that had already been processed on the Blockchain?
  • We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in articulating problems such as “technological fix” – lots of helpful insights from other disciplines such as Science and Technology Studies.
  • The importance of teaching future lawyers to write clear, brief, simple advice that identifies next steps and best solutions (in addition to essays and other longer pieces) – recognising these skills in brevity are useful beyond the legal profession itself.
  • Help students develop a well-rounded CV, including through experience at CLCs, Hackathons and other student competitions that encourage development of problem-solving skills.
  • Teach students how legal risk fits in with a bigger picture (including the broader risk picture)

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