Friday, August 19, 2011

Cunningham on Case Books and the Digital Revolution

As I engaged in further thought about digitization, publishing, and legal academia, I came upon an interesting article in SSRN's accepted paper series. It's the Digital Evolution in Law School Course Books: Trade-Offs, Opportunities, and Vigilance, by Lawrence Cunningham (George Washington--Law). The author employs history in his analysis. The abstract follows.

As we all migrate to the digital world, imagine the future of the law school course book by reflecting on its history, purposes, and promulgation over the seven generations since C.C. Langdell initiated our current mode of legal education in 1870. Some see the future of digital course books as a radical shift, akin to the original revolution of Langdell’s Contracts casebook. Others dismiss it as a simple marketing maneuver, the way post-Langdell addition of notes, questions or problems might be regarded. This look back at casebook history suggests that digital course books are more likely to be something in between, an incremental but meaningful evolution.

This essay, a chapter in a new book on the subject, engages with great innovations in law school course books over the past century-plus, highlighting historic contributions from the likes of Samuel Williston, Arthur Corbin, Lon Fuller, Grant Gilmore; and drawing on more recent contributions to Contracts from the likes of Allan Farnsworth, Charles Knapp, Karl Klare, Ian Macneil, Stewart Macaulay, Lenora Ledwon, Amy Kastely, Deborah Waire Post, Nancy Ota, Douglas Leslie, Robert Summers, Robert Hillman, and Randy Barnett; and on law books and legal education generally, from such figures as Paul Caron, Michael Kelly, Matthew Bodie, Bruce Kimball, Kellye Testy, Edward Rubin, and Steven Bradford.

Section A's brief excursion through the evolution of the course book for Contracts is a sober reminder of the plodding pace of change in American legal education. It prepares readers to appreciate trade-offs, opportunities, and risks associated with migration from print to digital books. These are elaborated in three ensuing Sections, all animated by the historical perspective and illuminating trade-offs, opportunities, and risks, though each stressing a different one of those three implications of the migration from print to digital law books.

Section B stresses trade-offs, especially concerning course books’ purposes and scope; Section C stresses opportunities the digital format offers, highlighting the appeal of digital methods to produce supplements, maintain a work’s currency, and facilitate skills training; and Section D discusses matters of presentation that creators of print and digital materials alike must address to promote usefulness – and calls for vigilance against associated risks. Section E synthesizes, concluding that digital course books are important and valuable, but not revolutionary.