History


The Clinic was created to explore the impact of technology on law practice and the profession. It was born out of a recognition that technology is changing life generally and law practice in particular. We recognized a responsibility to prepare our students for contemporary practice, even if it meant leaving the security of hard earned expertise to navigate in largely uncharted water.

Like most adventures, the Clinic began with a single step. We were directing a civil rights litigation clinic. At the end of each academic year, we would review our materials, removing one or two items and adding many more pages of what we imagined was indispensable information. Our materials grew from one volume to two and we were beginning a third when we received the memo.  It was May, 1995 and the memo mentioned a demonstration of how to create digital course materials.  There would be many advantages, the materials could be easily expanded, and content could be linked by students to follow the path of each student’s particular learning style and organizational approach.

With support from Lexis-Nexis, we became the first clinic in the country to provide all of our materials in a digital format.The availability of digital materials seemed to facilitate better supervision, more focused teaching and effective client service.

We also came to realize that we were beginning to use tools that many in practice had already adopted. We utilized them for teaching purposes, but the observation that practice was rapidly changing because of technology was inescapable. We felt an obligation to prepare our students for lawyering in the environment that they would experience upon graduation, one that would rely heavily and increasingly on a thoughtful use of the powerful new tools of technology.

For a while, we limited ourselves to using these tools in the context of our civil rights litigation clinic. Slowly, we recognized that technology could be effective in any context. We knew, from personal experience, that most public interests legal organizations could not spend the time, money and resources to experiment with emerging technologies in the crush of pressure to serve those in need. We imagined that we could leverage the resources of a great university, our own experiences in teaching and public interest lawyering, as well as student enthusiasm for experiential learning and service to create something uniquely useful at an important juncture in the history of the profession – the advent of the digital age.

With that in mind, we changed the focus of our clinic from substantive law to process. Ultimately, we wanted to give our students a structured approach to lawyering that would help them become more productive, innovative and self-sustaining professionals. In so doing, we had to re-think how we would implement clinical pedagogy, deconstruct lawyering skills and radically alter our fieldwork choices.

For more on the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic’s history please see Conrad Johnson, Lawyering in the Digital Age in Transforming the Education of Lawyers: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Pedagogy (Susan Bryant, Elliott S. Milstein & Ann Shalleck eds., 2014) or contact Professor Conrad Johnson at cjohnson@law.columbia.edu.