Ronald W. Staudt
Professor of Law
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
"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
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
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
"The theory is that there is a hybrid that might be better
than an all distance or all in-person legal education," he