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October 2002

Ronald W. Staudt
Professor of Law

Professor Ronald Staudt

More than two decades ago, Professor Ronald Staudt was asked to envision the "law school of the future." Now his office resides in it. How does Chicago-Kent's associate vice-president for law, business and technology take advantage of his new surroundings? Among other things, he spearheads a state-wide, Web-based legal aid initiative. And, he still leaves time to contemplate the next "law school of the future."

Nearly 25 years ago, Professor Ronald Staudt was asked to envision "the law school of the future." For Staudt, the future is now, and he couldn't be happier with Chicago-Kent's progress or his role in it.

"What could be better than this?" he asks, grinning widely, of his role as Chicago-Kent's resident applied technology guru and associate vice president for law, business and technology.

"It's hugely satisfying," says Staudt. "The purpose is unquestionably positive – trying to make the world a better place and your profession more effective while at the same time using sophisticated and interesting tools."

Staudt's focus on technology developed in 1978 when he was asked by then Chicago-Kent Dean Lew Collens and Professor Gary Laser to become director of Chicago-Kent's "Law Office of the Future" project, a chance for Staudt to see how new technologies could benefit the practice of law.

"I was – and am still – fascinated by the opportunities to make big leaps in lawyer efficiency and quality while at the same time reducing costs," Staudt says of his early research integrating technology into law practice.

In 1982, Chicago-Kent put itself at the forefront of the fledgling field of law and technology by opening The Center for Law and Computers, headed by Staudt.

"The initial general reaction was, ‘What are you doing this for?,'" says Staudt. "People could not see what law schools and technology had in common."

But Staudt's foresight was validated as the use of computers evolved from running simple spread-sheet and word-processing programs to comprising an integral component of legal education and law practice. Today, computers are replacing text books in "paperless" classrooms-- in some cases, replacing classrooms altogether-- and Chicago-Kent is housed in one of the nation's most technologically advanced law schools which, for the next two years, is also the home of the Illinois Technology Center for Law and the Public Interest.

"Through the Illinois Technology Center for Law and Public Interest (ITC), Chicago-Kent is home to a statewide resource for legal services for low-income residents of Illinois," says Staudt, who oversees the ITC. A collaboration among Chicago-Kent and state legal services, the ITC supports the efforts of legal aid staff by using the Internet to improve and expand their services. The ITC supports a variety of Web sites that assist pro bono volunteers and pro se litigants who need legal information and referrals to lawyers.

The ITC also supports Access to Justice, a joint undertaking among Chicago-Kent, IIT's Institute of Design, and the National Center for State Courts, which aims to use the Web to provide pro se litigants, ever increasing in number, with the tools they need to defend themselves in a court of law.

"The problem facing pro se litigants is that they run up against the complexity and technical requirements of the court system," says Staudt, who doesn't feel there is a conflict of interest in being a lawyer who is helping people avoid retaining legal representation. "It's better to help people overcome the barriers and obstacles they face in seeking access to justice than to be the barrier.

"Access to Justice is a wonderful interdisciplinary research project," Staudt says. "We took teams of law students and design students to observe pro se clients in California, Colorado and Delaware. It was an eye-opening experience and we designed some great new Web tools to help improve access to justice."

To Staudt, the ITC's stay at Chicago-Kent, which will last two years, is a great opportunity for the school and its students.

"It's an amazing accomplishment that the ITC even exists," Staudt say, referring to the nearly $3 million needed to start the organization. The seed money was raised by state poverty organizations with other support coming from IIT, Chicago-Kent and the Federal Legal Services Corporation.

"We need to take advantage of the time that it's here," he says. "We have two very experienced lawyers' advocate editors working on building substantive law material to be disseminated by this huge infrastructure right here on the 5th floor. It's a wonderful opportunity for our law school and its students."

While Staudt's "law school of the future" has come to be, he's always thinking ahead to future law school's of the future-- schools in which the controversial notion of distance learning via the Internet is utilized, though Staudt is cautious when speaking of its implementation.

"I'm convinced there is enormous value in the interpersonal experience," he says of traditional classroom-based legal education. "We need to experiment, to try new approaches to balance technology and the live classroom. Distance learning has yet to be fine-tuned enough to tap into the vitality of personal instruction."

While Staudt has his doubts about whether a completely online law school can be effective, he believes the "law school of the future" could include an intensive two- or three-week "boot camp" for students to get to know each other before returning to their "home" locations to continue their education online.

"The theory is that there is a hybrid that might be better than an all distance or all in-person legal education," he says.


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