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Next Stop, Court TV

Just as the law, while steeped in history, must constantly adapt to fit a changing society, so are law schools changing with the times. Information technology has affected the training and practice of lawyers in many ways; top law schools are retooling their curricula and their classrooms with their students' future careers in mind.

Duke Law School in Durham, N.C., is at the leading edge of the technology revolution. Every entering student is required to own a laptop, through which he or she can access the Internet across campus. Students use the Internet to do most of their legal research, pore over academic journals (which the law school has online), register for classes, access course information, and discuss assignments via e-mail. New installations of wireless technology will give students even more opportunities to connect to the Web, on campus or off.

Duke's proactive approach g'es beyond making sure that students are accessing the Internet, however. Duke's faculty and administration have taken into account how the practice of law is being changed by technology, and how as a school Duke might best prepare its students. Preparation, in this case, means more than teaching the law. It means teaching students to use technology tools that they will be expected to use in their daily work. For instance, Professor David Lange, who teaches intellectual property, entertainment law, and a course in entrepreneurship, assigns his students digital video projects. Students work in groups to prepare video presentations on assigned topics for "term paper" projects. Lange, who has a background in television and motion pictures, is keenly aware of how this technology is changing the practice of law. "Law firms are producing a lot of their court presentations and depositions on video now," he says. "They're not putting up crudely drawn diagrams and marking up a chalkboard anymore. Lawyers are making very sophisticated presentations."

Lange's courses include looking at the future of the Internet as well as the history of motion pictures, so he views media through a long historical lens. As such, he recognizes how important it is for his students to move beyond oral presentations and printed exhibits to new video technology. "When my students enter the workforce, they've already learned the language and syntax of video," he notes. "They don't need to be taught on the job how to use the technology."

At Duke, students check out video cameras from the Sheinman Media Lab and use the lab's equipment to fine-tune their 20-minute assignments before presenting them to the class. They don't do sophisticated video editing (Lange thinks that would be too time-consuming), but they do create some fairly sophisticated work, using cutting-edge equipment. Staff at the media center work with students to edit the pieces. "As far as I know," says Lange, "this type of assignment is unique to Duke Law School."

Lange's high-tech approach to teaching is part of the law school's larger mission to upgrade its facilities to be on the forefront with education technology. Duke's classrooms and moot court room are outfitted with the latest equipment. The newest classroom features full networking, audio and video support, a document camera, and built-in video conferencing and Webcasting capabilities. Two seminar rooms feature Smartboards for displaying and working with information in class. Video conferencing allows professors to bring legal experts from around the country to their students; it also has facilitated long-distance interviewing of Duke law students for internships and jobs. Says Lange, "Compared to other law schools, Duke is probably the technology leader."

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