Draft of Virtual Law School, 2.0 Now at SSRN

I recently uploaded a draft of my paper The Virtual Law School, 2.0 to SSRN. (It will need a little updating in light of the development of vaccines for COVID.) Here’s the abstract and table of contents:

Just over twenty years ago I gave a talk to the AALS called The Virtual Law School? Or, How the Internet Will De-skill the Professoriate, and Turn Your Law School Into a Conference Center. I came to the subject because I had been working on Internet law, learning about virtual worlds and e-commerce, and about the power of one-to-many communications. It seemed to me that a lot of what I had learned applied to education in general and to legal education in particular.

It didn’t happen. Or at least, it has not happened yet. In this essay I want to revisit my predictions from twenty years ago in order to see why so little has changed (so far). The massive convulsion now being forced on law teaching due to the social distancing required to prevent COVID-19 transmission presents an occasion in which we are all forced to rethink how we deliver law teaching. After discussing why my predictions failed to manifest before 2020, I will argue that unless this pandemic is brought under control quickly, the market for legal education may force some radical changes on us—whether we like it or not, and that in the main my earlier predictions were not wrong, just premature.

    1.  That Was Then (Virtual Law School 1.0)
    2.  Why We Do Not Have Serious Virtual Law Schools (Yet)
      1. ABA Rules
      2. Bad Software
      3. Concerns About Bad Pedagogy and Lost Opportunities for Skills Training and Networking
      4. Reputational and Branding Concerns
      5. Bad Economics
    3. Law Teaching in a Time of COVID
      1. The Old is New Again
      2. Spring’s Scrambling: Opening the Door to Online Learning
        1. ABA (and ICE) Actions
        2. Law School Actions
        3. Student and Other Reactions
      3. The Longer Term: Teaching in the ‘New Normal’
        1. COVID-19 Scenarios
        2. What the Scenarios Mean for the Virtual Law School
    4. Conclusion: Winners and Losers, 2.0

This a true draft, not a finished product, and I would very much welcome any comments readers might have.

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16 Responses to Draft of Virtual Law School, 2.0 Now at SSRN

  1. Eric says:

    Good news – the “pandemic” does not need to be “brought under control” since expert analysis of the average infection fatality rate (IFR) of 0.23% around the world places this virus in the same category as a bad flu season per research published by the WHO.

    https://www.who.int/bulletin/online_first/BLT.20.265892.pdf

    • I’m not at all sure I totally understood the linked study. But to the extent I do, it seems to be a measure of how deadly COVID is once one is infected. I think that is only half the story, since one also has to consider how infectious it is.

      My understanding in ballpark figures is that COVID is not very much more deadly than regular flu (on an average person basis — some sub-populations do much worse), but it is very much more infectious. That is why the death rate is higher: not because once you get it an average person is that much more likely to die, but because your chance of getting it is so high. (And the more infectious something is, the harder it is to stamp out.)

      And, of course, none of this deals with the long-term consequences for those who do not die, which we are only learning about (e.g. 20% have mental illnesses soon afterwards).

      • Eric says:

        Per the previously cited study by the WHO: “One may project that over half a billion people have been infected as of 12 September, 2020.” As there are currently 7.8 billion people in the world, that would mean approximately 6% of the population has been infected with SARS-CoV-2. By comparison, studies indicate that the influenza virus infects “5%–15% of the global population annually.”

        https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/22/6/15-1080_article

        In the United States alone, the average flu season creates symptoms in about 10% of the population; the following information by the CDC says nothing about asymptomatic carriers which would most likely be much larger. By comparison, studies currently estimate about 9% of the United States has been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

        https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

        https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/09/few-americans-have-coronavirus-antibodies-study-finds.html

        And as for the mental illness component – the entire world is depressed beyond belief as a result of lockdowns, universal masking and constant feelings of doom that everyone around them is a walking bioweapon of mass destruction. There are too many moving parts to meaningfully determine the cause of these mental issues.

        Out of pure curiosity – do you want me to be wrong in my conclusion that the world has completely lost its sense of proportionality with respect to the Covid-19 situation?

        • Out of pure curiosity – do you want me to be wrong in my conclusion that the world has completely lost its sense of proportionality with respect to the Covid-19 situation?

          Hardly. Rather I worry that you may suffer from a form of COVID fatigue or denial which makes you grasp at straws which let you think it’s not as dangerous as it is.

          This appears to be a (serious) error in light of the fact:that there is a very large number of so-called “excess” deaths this year in the US and elsewhere. Something is causing them. COVID is the simple explanation. Until someone explains that bottom-line fact away, detailed entrails-reading about various details of mechanisms only matters to me if it seems relevant to how we keep the spread down.

          • Eric says:

            “A nursing home expert who analyzed data from the country’s 15,000 facilities for The Associated Press estimates that for every two COVID-19 victims in long-term care, there is another who died prematurely of other causes. Those ‘excess deaths’ beyond the normal rate of fatalities in nursing homes could total more than 40,000 since March.”

            https://apnews.com/article/nursing-homes-neglect-death-surge-3b74a2202140c5a6b5cf05cdf0ea4f32

            The simplest explanation for the excess deaths is the excessive ventilation of the elderly per CCP-inspired guidance to the WHO, people dying at home of heart attacks because they were afraid to go to the hospital and/or denied treatment, suicidal depression, lack of elective surgeries, interruption of cancer treatments, etc.

            https://muchadoaboutcorona.ca/nyc-deaths/

            Then of course there is a very potential problem of overcounting deaths. I emailed a FOIA request to New York months ago asking how they have audited their mortality stats to ensure each death matches with a unique SSN and they have delayed their response for reasons unknown. Even the CDC was unable to tell me how they ensure data integrity with audits to prevent double-counting of deaths reported to their surveillance programs.

            “The administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided not to count residents who died of COVID-19 in hospitals as nursing home deaths, saying it feared that their deaths would be double-counted if they were recorded that way.”

            https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/935526

            For someone with your intellect, I am surprised you have just accepted everything you have been told without the slightest hint of rational skepticism. When did you become so trusting about the government’s ability to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I wonder how ICANN is doing these days without having someone watch over their shoulder for wrongdoing.

            If you want me to be right, what is the strongest argument you can make that supports my position?

              1. ICANN isn’t the government. That’s what is wrong with it (no due process claims available).
              2. While there is likely sloppiness and some inconsistency in how states report data, the gross figures are big enough that this is clearly not fake. I go to the hospital once a week or more right now, and I talk to the docs and nurses. This is very real to them.

              • Eric says:

                The government is just a collection of people like ICANN – my comment was very general in nature in order to remind you that people are not inherently trustworthy and skepticism is good.

                As for the people at the hospitals, I can assure you that I have been talking about this situation to doctors in my own government and on various other message boards. The problem is that people are stuck in a trauma loop and cannot break out of their collective mindset that the virus is the problem as opposed to the initial treatments for it.

                I would love to have a discussion with your doctors about this situation. When I spoke to another doctor about the “happy hypoxia” nonsense of a NYT article, he broke down under questioning because it was so patently absurd that no one seemed to experience cyanosis.

                Most people are not critical thinkers and simply follow the leader.

  2. Just me says:

    Food for thought: the “bad flu season” of 1918 was the deadliest pandemic of the 20th century with 50 million worldwide deaths and about 675,000 of them in the US. See https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-pandemic-h1n1.html.

    • Eric says:

      That was a “catastrophic” flu season and not a “bad” flu season.

      Food for thought – you didn’t need 24/7 media coverage to remind people that it was happening all over the United States; it spoke for itself.

      • Just me says:

        I’m glad you’ve been so fortunate that you think we need the media to remind us of this disease. I, on the other hand, have lost three people in my life (including an otherwise healthy 41 year old with no known co-morbidity); one of my sisters had it; my aunt, her toddler, her husband, and her over 70 mother-in-law have it; and my brother who has otherwise treatable cancer is now an isolated prisoner in his apartment and can’t join us for thanksgiving because of it. So, no, I don’t need media coverage. The thing speaks for itself in my life.

        • Eric says:

          Without any additional data I cannot review their medical logs to determine why they died.

          As for your brother – the virus didn’t make him a prisoner.

  3. Maybe we could save this thread for talking about the article?

  4. Eric says:

    Stanley Chodorow was correct – the human requirement of personal interaction appears axiomatically obvious to anyone studying the ability to learn effectively. The classroom creates a feedback loop of communication and spontaneous tangents of thought to be developed and explored in real time. While technically possible in asynchronous environments, such nascent pathways of context-dependent discussion would be hindered by time delays. Moreover, the ability to think under pressure while others were watching and judging your actions would be stymied. Perhaps this wouldn’t matter to a researcher but definitely to a future litigator.

    To that end, we could create virtual environments that replicate the sensory experiences of live teaching. As my father once taught me in high school when I tried to create a virtual file system for his law office, there is a human component necessary for the absorption of information. There is something very important about holding a file in your hands while reading its material that currently cannot be replicated by a computer screen. Along those same lines, there is something not quite right with virtual environments in the main. Perhaps the “[n]oted educational authority Donald Trump” was indeed correct and we should pay more attention to his nuggets of Twitter-esque wisdom.

    While this may sound crazy, I had this discussion with my local bartender many years ago and I hypothesized that pheromones were a crucial component of human interaction that did not exist in a virtual environment. These chemical messengers are necessary to convey information amongst animals and possibly trigger mechanisms in the brain that are necessary for learning. (Indeed, zebra finches need a chosen father figure to encode brain pathways as they learn how to sing.) Even crazier, perhaps there are other variables at play that we do not even know exist such as electromagnetic feedback of human consciousness. After all, the brain creates an EM field in the surrounding aether and who is to say that we don’t interact with each other’s brainwaves in the close proximity of space and time?

    In some respects, therefore, I agree with your assertion that software is the crucial element for MOOCs. But we would need to replicate the entirety of the human experience with technology currently outside the realm of science. If law professors could be replaced with strong-AI then surely we’d have the ability to scale the Socratic method of teaching to the unwashed masses so repugnant to the ABA. Of course this would not bode well for the professors but no matter. Ironically, if we could create such instances of strong-AI then there’s no need for students either.

    Perhaps then humans would create paperclips during the dark winters of Covid-19.

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