Online e-Discovery Instruction in Law School Is Now a Reality

Remember grade school when you’d return from summer vacation? And the obligatory first day essay of what you did? Well, this blog will be something like that. Only I’m not going to report on a vacation, and you may have noticed it’s not even summer yet. I’m going to tell you what I did in the first work sabbatical I have ever taken in my life. Yes, I took the whole month of April 2010 off! In thirty years the longest vacation I’ve ever had was two weeks, so this was an amazing event for me. If you are waiting to hear what exotic places I went too, you will be disappointed. My wife has her own work and I had my plans, my projects, the one’s I never had time for. Yes, you guessed it, I spent all of April working. Maybe now you understand why I switched to a law firm, Jackson Lewis, whose motto is “All we do is work.”

White Paper to be Proud Of

I had a great time on my one month sabbatical, primarily working on two projects. First, I researched, questioned, conferred, and wrote a white paper for a prominent vendor on the subject of automated search and review. This is my favorite topic in e-discovery. I have not put the finishing touches on this yet, and I want the bold vendor who commissioned the study and paper to be the one to announce it. So, I won’t go into the details now. Let’s just say that I have tried hard to create a paper that will be a significant contribution to the e-discovery community, and the legal profession in general. We are all struggling with runaway costs of review. This paper addresses this issue in the context of advanced technological solutions. It is not focused on any one particular product.

A Dream Come True

My second project is public today, and so I can talk about it. I designed and created an online class for law school on the subject of electronic discovery. It is a three-credit course, entirely online, named Introduction to Electronic Discovery.  The students can take this course from anywhere, and can do so asynchronously.

It is offered by the University of Florida, Levin College of Law, and is only open to U.F. law students. This is the first online course the U.F. law school has ever offered on any subject except for Legal Research. My thanks and congratulations to the Deans and Faculty that approved this innovative, forward-looking approach. Special thanks to the Dean, Robert H. Jerry, and to the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, William H. Page. They understand that there is solid research behind the effectiveness of online instruction, especially in graduate level programs, and helped make this happen. See my prior article: Why Online Education Will Surpass Traditional Face-to-Face Education in the Next 5-10 Years.

Online education is so effective that NYU now offers its prestigious LLM Tax Program in an online version. Law schools everywhere are at least considering online education programs in some form. What better way to start than with a virtual class on electronic discovery? Could your school be next? Feel free to email me about that possibility. Although this is not a full LLM program (maybe someday), Introduction to Electronic Discovery, now sets the standard in quality, creative, online programing. I will compare it with NYU’s program, or that of any other online program in the country on any subject, not just law. It includes video lectures from most of the top experts in this field (more on that in a minute), plus hypertext, plus interactive student exercises, student forums, and plenty of professor-student interaction, including a midterm oral exam.

Introduction to Electronic Discovery is not an easy course. It will take a lot of work by the law students to complete, yet the spaces for this course sold-out in three minutes. That may be a record. It shows that the students get it. It shows that the demand is there and it is strong. Fortunately, the University of Florida gets it too, and they are meeting the needs of their students and preparing them to practice in the 21st Century. Can your law school say that?

This is also the first online law school course ever, anywhere, on electronic discovery. I am very excited about this. You have no idea how difficult this has been, and what a relief and pleasure it is to complete this. After the trial program with U.F. this summer, I will probably offer this program to other schools in the country (world?). The entire course, excluding only the exams and forums which are hosted by UF, are hosted on my own private cloud computers.

I have designed the program so that any school that wants to offer an online e-discovery program can obtain a license to offer this online program. All it takes is a local professor, either adjunct or full-time, and the assistance of the University IT or “Distance Learning” program, which is what many colleges call online education. Perhaps that local expert, new professor could be you? Any e-discovery knowledgeable practicing lawyer, or any professor willing to take time to study this, can serve as the Professor to supervise the online course. This means they interact with students online and only occasionally by phone too; they answer questions, and grade the tests, etc. They do this at a time and place of convenience to them, which, in my world, is huge in and of itself. In other words, I have designed a self-sufficient program that can be applied anywhere with local expert application.

Thanks to the Many Who Helped

This online course would not have been possible without the generous help and support of many people. First, I’d like to thank William Hamilton who started the brick-and-mortar e-discovery classes at U.F. and got me involved in this to begin with. I only wish his schedule had permitted him more time to participate in the creation of the online instruction program, but alas his April was spent in a new job with the new law firm, Quarles and Brady. Still, Bill is included in several videos, including one from his presentation with Jason Baron, Judge Facciola, Professor Steven Gensler, and me at an NIU law school symposium we did together in April. Although I will be “teaching” this online course without Bill, he is there in spirit. The law school would not have approved this bold step without Bill Hamilton’s support and groundbreaking work. Thanks again to Bill and to the University of Florida, not only the law school, but also the “Distance Learning” department and professors.

Part of what I did on my April Sabbatical was travel around the country to several events, including Denver, New York, Washington, Kansas City and Chicago. Yes, research and online course preparation can get quite expensive, not to mention exhausting. But as a result of my travels, and the generous support of everyone I asked, the online program allows the students to experience special video lectures from the best and brightest in the field. (I did not get everyone of course, you know who you are, but I am already thinking about an advanced course, so maybe I can get a video of you for that? Please email me if you are interested in making such a contribution.)

Consider this, the online course includes a special video of Richard Braman personally explaining The Sedona Conference, its history and purpose. The students study the written materials on the Sedona Conference (fully hyper-linked like this blog, of course), then they hear and see directly from the people involved.

I was able to do the same thing with the EDRM project. The students study the materials, they watch a video of me explaining it, then see a video of George Socha on the EDRM. The students get to hear about it straight from the horse’s mouth. In my opinion, that is how education should be done.

The videos I prepared are all in High Definition and I personally filmed most of this. You should try lugging this video equipment around the country some day. It’s not easy.

So let me continue my expression of gratitude with a big personal thanks to both Richard Braman and George Socha for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it and so will all of the students.

But wait, there is still more, lots more. After all, I had a month and jets are fast.

Thanks also go to Ken Withers who sat for a special video message and advice to students. He is a great teacher and I’m thrilled to have him as part of the course.

Speaking of great teachers, Paul Grimm, who also serves as an Adjunct Professor of law for two law schools, sat for a full hour lecture on ESI and Evidence. His lecture for the students on this important topic was all by memory, no notes, and is terrific. He really knows the subject of evidence, far better than I ever will. That is one of the things that is so great about online education. Students not only get to hear from their professor, and interact with him or her, but they get to hear from a whole variety of other experts on the subject. This is truly a team approach and the students are the winners. Thank you again Judge Grimm.

Thanks also go to three other great judges, John Facciola, David Waxse, and Ron Hedges. Judge Facciola did an e-discovery ethics event with me at NIU law school, just outside of Chicago, and Judge Waxse did a similar event with me in Kansas City. They both provided great information on how a judge views e-discovery and on important ethics topics. Ron Hedges took time out of his busy schedule as an e-Discovery Special Master and educator to provide not one, but three videos for my class. He gave one on e-discovery in general, to encourage the students, one on the topic of e-discovery and criminal law, a subject about which I know very little, and a third on e-discovery and cross-border issues. He is a real master at off-the-cuff, informal video talks and I know the students will love it.

Thank you Judges Hedges, Facciola and Waxse. Again, what a great way for students to learn, to hear directly from the leading jurists, and not just me or any other one person.

The online course includes sixty-one Modules (equivalent to a half-hour virtual class), several of which are devoted to the key problem of search. The students read my hyper-text lectures on the subject, they read the cases, they read articles by others on the subject, then they watch my many video lectures on the subject. But then, best of all, they hear and watch Jason R. Baron on the subject. Why listen to me explain TREC Legal Track when you can hear Jason do it? Jason is also one of the best, most creative teachers out there, and I am very pleased he took time from his crazy schedule to do it. Again, many thanks Jason.

Talk about great teachers, I also have over an hour of Craig Ball presenting to students on technology and e-discovery! No one is better than Craig at that, and we even rigged the video so that his PowerPoints were included. I have to admit, his PowerPoints on this subject make my Keynote slides jealous. I am not even going to try to compete with him on that. Again, what better way for students to learn about technology issues, than to hear it straight from Craig Ball. Thanks again Craig.

But wait, there’s more. Students should know about requests for production and the plaintiff’s perspective. Who better to give that lecture than Ariana Tadler, one of the country’s top plaintiff’s lawyers and a leader of The Sedona Conference. Yes, she is in this too, giving her straight talk on the subject. Thank’s Ariana, you were terrific.

Finally, thanks go to Professor Steven Gensler, who literally wrote the book on Civil Procedure, and like Judge Grimm, serves on the Federal Rules Committee. He allowed me to include his lecture from the NIU symposium providing a ninety year history on the federal rules and the importance of the current Sedona Cooperation Proclamation. Professor Gensler will soon be teaching an in-person class on electronic discovery at the University of Oklahoma, and so he may not need this online course, but he may be the only full-time professor in the country who does not need it. Most professors lack the knowledge and experience needed to teach the subject. Thanks again, Steve.

I am sure there are many other contributors that I am forgetting to thank. (Just remembered one, Peg Duncan. Thanks Peg.) I hope those I have forgotten to thank will forgive me as I have to run. It has been very hectic and remains so for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

My sabbatical was hard work, but I think (I hope) was worth it. To me, e-discovery education is very important to the future of our system of justice. It is needed if the litigation process is to continue to function for all, and not just for the super-rich. (How many businesses can afford million dollar requests to produce?) Attorneys must have knowledge and skills in e-discovery for our systems to work, based as they are on discovery of the true facts, including especially, writings. Maybe not all litigation attorneys will learn and develop the necessary geek-skills and intellectual insights to do e-discovery right, to do it efficiently and economically. But we must at least train an elite cadre of e-discovery specialists capable of serving the trial lawyer generalists.

In my opinion, this training must begin in law schools. Most law firms lack the skills and teaching savvy to do it, and most attorneys already in practice lack the time (and the motivation). Our CLE programs are not working for these and other reasons. Law students have the time, they have the motivation. The problem is, academia has not been up to the task of fulfilling that need. The professors lack the knowledge, and again, lack the motivation. Apparently in most law schools the ivory tower does not include a computer. The administrators  and professors at most law schools appear to be out of touch. Fortunately, there are now a few exceptions to the general rules of academic isolation. The University of Florida is now the prime example of a law school that gets it and is leading.

Some of the resistance of the academic community to e-discovery lies in the opposition to amateur teaching of purely practice based issues. To some degree, I understand and even agree with at least part of that sentiment. Catch as catch can teaching of practice pointers by adjunct professors is not The Answer, although it may be part of the answer. Teaching is an art, as the full-time professors know. Most e-discovery specialists lack the unique talents needed to teach, especially young people, and most  importantly, they lack the time. That is one reason I am giving up in-person law school instruction. I simply do not have the time it takes to do it right. Such synchronous time teaching, where you follow a schedule and repeat yourself semester after semester, is too inefficient. Plus, it is too one-dimensional. It lacks the team approach where you can bring in the best experts to supplement your own insights. That is why the future of education, especially graduate level education, is online.

If you are interested in learning more about the online legal education program I have developed, please email me at ralph.losey@gmail.com. I will even open the private course up to a quick view by any Dean of an accredited law school, so that they can see it for themself and consider it for their institution. It is a bold move, but you will not be the first. The gators have cleared the way.

9 Responses to Online e-Discovery Instruction in Law School Is Now a Reality

  1. Sarah says:

    E-discovery education in law schools has been needed and called for for such a long time – it’s great to see some universities being proactive about preparing tomorrow’s attorneys for the realities of practice! Thanks for your work on this, Ralph, we all look forward to hearing updates about how these classes go.

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  2. Edward Hart says:

    Sorry to inform you, but my former colleague Jessica de Perio Wittman, former refernece librarian in the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center, beat you by a year teaching advanced legal research online last summer for Levin College of Law students.

    http://lic.law.ufl.edu/studentaffairs/09summercourseschedule.pdf

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  3. […] the full article about Ralph’s electronic discovery course click here. Tags: Introduction to Electronic Discovery, Levin College of Law, Ralph Losey, University of […]

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  4. […] Online e-Discovery Instruction in Law School Is Now a Reality « e … […]

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  5. […] collaborated with the faculty to reach this milestone in legal education.  Per Losey’s e-Discovery Team blog,the course includes video lectures from top experts in this field as well as interactive student […]

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  6. Scott says:

    Mr. David Chaumette in Houston, Texas has taught a 2 credit E-Discovery course at the University of Houston Law Center the past two summers.

    The summer 2009 course had approximately 10 students and the summer 2010 has 30!

    I’ve just finished the semester and was glad to gain a foothold in this really complicated area.

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  7. […] 27 December 2011 – Many legal pundits have repeatedly called for teaching e-discovery at law schools.  No one in the e-discovery world can miss what the digital information revolution has done to dramatically alter the discovery process.  Nobody has beat this drum more loudly than Ralph Losey, a reigning e-discovery guru (click here). […]

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  8. Donnya Banks says:

    I am currently enrolled in Electronic Discovery at Florida A&M University College of Law. The course is being taught by Professor Jennifer Smith. I firmly believe that Electronic Discovery should be a required course. I am enjoying every single minute of this class; I can’t get enough. I hope that you create an advanced course. Additionally, I would like to find out if we can arrange an event at our school. Please advise.

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