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Published by: hemanthnaidu.d on Sep 24, 2010
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Abdul Paliwala
This chapter examines the history of technology in legal education and considersthe ways in which the sages Socrates, Confucius and the medieval inventors of the lecture have been the iconic stimulators of methodologies of eLearning. Itargues that earlier ventures into information technology in legal education wereinfluenced either by the Langdellian/Socratic ‘case methodor the ‘lecturemethod’. Subsequent more innovative forms of eLearning have been inspired bythe student centred and holistic Realist, Deweyan methodologies which havesimilarities with Confucian methodologies.
1 Introduction
Legal education inherited the ‘Socratic method’ from the great Greekphilosopher via the writings of Plato. This extended quote fromMarshall’s interesting essay indicates the essence of Socratic dialogue:
1 Professor Abdul Paliwala, University of Warwick a.paliwala@warwick.ac.uk.My thanks to Adam Blaxter Paliwala for his assistance.
2 D. Marshall, ‘Socratic Method and the irreducible core of legal education(2005) 90 (1)
Minnesota Law Review
1.3 While Langdell was the inventor of the case method, the Socratic approachwas an earlier innovation of Dwight of Columbia. S. Sheppard, ‘Casebooks,commentaries and curmudgeons: an introductory history of law in the lecture hall’(1997) 82
Iowa L. Rev.
547, 585; R. Alford, ‘How do you trim the seamless Web?Considering the unintended consequences of pedagogical alterations’ (2009) 77
1273 at 1274.
As recounted by Plato, the dialogs of Socrates have a fixed form,structure, and purpose. All related to a distinctive theory of knowledge, a theory which may sound strange to modern ears.Asto form, Socrates asked a series of related questions and thestudent answered them. Each question was responsive to thestudent answer to the preceding question. Most noteworthy, forpresent purposes, was Socrates’ invariant adherence to questions;he rarely made a declarative statement.As to structure,the typicalSocratic dialog had four stages. In the first, Socrates askedquestions until a student answer contained an assertion whichSocrates deemed a misconception. In the second, Socrates askeda series of questions designed to lead the student step by steptoward realization that his statement was erroneous and why.Thethird stage was the discovery and acknowledgment by the studentthat his statement was misconceived.In the fourth,Socrates askeda final series of questions which helped the student discover therelevant valid assertion. As to purpose, Socrates’ dialogs were aform of moral education, the purpose being to discover ethicaltruth and thereby induce virtuous behavior. (One of Socrates’questionable substantive beliefs was that if men know virtue, theywill act virtuously.) Since Socrates’ goal was moral education, hisdialogs always dealt with the validity of large propositions. As tohis epistemology, Socrates believed a persons soul contains allethical knowledge.Teaching ethical truths is, therefore, simply amatter of finding the questions that were keys to unlock the souland allow the student to discover knowledge he always possessed.
Langdell used the ‘Socratic case method’ at Harvard Law School toproduce a fundamental transformation in United States legaleducation.
However, though Langdellian method had the keyelement of question and answer, Marshall suggests that it had agreater similarity to Protagoras, who unlike Socrates, did not rely226
Abdul Paliwala
exclusively on the question and answer method.
Protagorasdeveloped an argument using declaratory statements as feedbackmechanisms and bases from which the argument could move further.In this respect the typical Langdellian question, answer and feedbacksystem is more similar to Protagorian method. The Langdellianmethod was also different from the Socratic in its epistemology as itwas not really a process of ethical self-discovery but akin to trainingin argument towards a more external process of discovery of thestructure of law.
The case method had its own technological environment to make itsuccessful in the modern era.The students were sat in regular seatingwhere they could be recognized for the question. Langdells keyinnovation was the ‘Casebook’ which contained the reports of caseson which the question and answer session was based and which thestudent was required to read in advance of the class.The student’slearning process involved understanding the case and responding tothe challenging questions of the tutor, followed by a collective andpersonal synthesis. The Langdellian Socratic method obscuredsignificant issues. A key criticism was that the case method byconcentrating on the judicial decision, reified the decision andabstracted it away from the real life of the law. For these reasons themethod was challenged by pragmatists, realists, sociologists of lawand critical legal scholars.
Nevertheless, the Langdellian emphasis on dialogue contrastedremarkably with European doctrinal study in which the centrallearning activity is the lecture.The lecture was a medieval collectivereading of a scarce text which has lasted into modern and post-modern times even when books and materials have become readily
4 Marshall op. cit. 11.5 Ibid.6 See, for example, E. Rubin,‘What’s wrong with Langdell’s method: and whatto do about it’ (2007) 60
. 609; P. Maharg,
Transforming Legal Education
,op. cit., Ch. 3. W. Twining,
Karl Lewellyn and the Realist Movement 
(London:Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1973).
Socrates and Confucius:A long history of information…

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