Digitizing Legal Education in Kenya
Digitizing Legal Education in Kenya

JURIST Guest Columnists Miano Maina, an International Tax Attorney with Deloitte & Touche and Maurice Oduor, Head of the Department of Legal Aid Clinics & Externships at the Moi University School of Law in Kenya argue that law schools in Kenya should leverage on technology to improve the quality of legal education …

The globe is going paperless. Technology has revolutionized our everyday life. Everybody is going digital. Nowadays if you have a pressing question, you just need to Google it. Facebook and Twitter are slowly overtaking the mainstream media. Organizations are leveraging on technology to differentiate themselves in the market. Lawyers should not be left behind. Law schools should not be left behind.

In the US, the American Bar Association amended its model rules [PDF] in 2012 to require that lawyers should keep abreast with technology as a component of competent representation. In Kenya, the Judicial Transformation Framework (2012-2016) has recognized the “harnessing of technology as an enabler of justice.” The Kenyan judiciary seeks to automate judicial operations by digitizing court records, establishing an electronic case management system and ensuring the digital recording and transcription of proceedings. In fact, the judiciary would like to establish a text message-based inquiry system to inform members of the public about the status of their cases.

In Kenya, technology is one of the pillars set to transform the economy. The current government pledged a laptop to every pupil joining class one. Technology is transforming various sectors including the education sector. Law schools should not be left behind.

Law is a research oriented course. It is said that a good lawyer is the one who knows where to find the law. However, you have to find this law somewhere. Law students can play a critical role in developing legal content. Currently, law schools and lawyers in Kenya rely on cases published by the National Council for Law Reporting. This is a semi-autonomous state agency whose role is to publish the Kenyan Law reports. Its mission is to “transform legal information into public knowledge.” The mandate of this body is to publish the judicial opinions of the superior courts of record. Although the decisions of the subordinate courts and quasi-judicial tribunals have no binding value, they can play a crucial role in shaping the persuasive legal jurisprudence. The law schools can explore avenues of collaboration with the National Council for Law Reporting so that law students can assist in coming up with case briefs for previously decided cases. This will not only mould the law students into excellent legal writers but also expose them to a wide array of legal subjects.

It is common for law schools in Kenya to require students to write a dissertation. Every law student is assigned a supervisor who guides the student in writing the dissertation. There is a wide breadth of research which has been carried out for many years since the law schools were established. However, this dissertation requirement is just that: a requirement. Students carry out the research, print it, bind it and submit it to the law school. It is then archived and dust, rather than future researchers, becomes the dissertation’s best friend. Going forward, it is imperative that this knowledge is transformed into usable form. By using technology, law schools can easily develop a legal research database where the dissertations written by the law students are deposited. This will give legal researchers and the consuming public access to wide legal literature. It will become easier for law schools to subscribe to legal databases such as Lexis Nexis to enhance the research experience of the law students. The students will have access to a wide variety of legal content including polished legal commentaries, legal journals and other secondary materials. It will minimize the risk of carrying out shallow research and over-relying on antiquated books to carry out research. It will also be easier to enforce the originality requirement since supervisors can easily track any plagiarized content.

The “Tablets Project” between the University of Pittsburgh and Moi University is laudable. The project aims at providing computer tablet devices to all the law students in Moi University. The first batch of computer tablets has already been shipped from Haiti (where they were being manufactured) to Kenya. The tablets will help introduce a participatory legal pedagogy where learning of the law is driven by the law students as opposed to dictation of notes by the lecturers. Law schools in Kenya mostly rely on the traditional lecturing style. It is common for law students to take the dictated notes, memorize them and then “download” them in the examinations. Technology can help transform legal pedagogy from this sorry state of affairs to a system inspired by quality legal analysis and reasoning. It will be possible for the law professors to share legal materials with the law students by for instance, using online course webs. Therefore, law students will be able to prepare well ahead and synthesize the legal materials before class room discussions.

By using technology, it will be easier to administer law school examinations. It is quite tedious when a law professor has to read one thousand handwritten exam scripts with scores of arguments and previously decided cases. The professor is compelled to juggle between the legibility of the essay and the quality of reasoning in the same essay. Exam takers will immensely benefit from technology. With practice, it is far easier to type a legal essay than hand write it. Let us face the reality. The pen is mighty. However, as the Kenyan judiciary moves towards digital recording of proceedings and transcription, the pen is losing relevance in judicial circles. In the private sector, you will not find a client who would want handwritten deliverables.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether, in light of technological advancements, distance learning in legal education should be considered by law schools. A blue paper [PDF] by the Working Group for Distance Learning arising out of discussions held at the Harvard Law School notes that, when well designed and delivered, distance learning provides student outcomes at par or even superior to those of traditional in-class teaching. The ABA Standard 306 [PDF] allows credit for distance education if there is ample interaction with the instructor and other students both inside and outside the formal structure of the course. The Standard recognizes that education could be offered by way of technological transmission. All in all, law schools in Kenya should leverage on technology to improve the quality of legal education.

Law schools should consider carrying out transcription of all the lectures. When lectures are recorded, students will find it easier to revise the content delivered in class. Therefore, if a student missed out on something in class, he is able to listen to the transcribed lectures to catch up with the rest of his colleagues. Students have different abilities in taking notes and listening. Students could then use speech recognition software in turning the lectures into text if they so desire.

In conclusion, it is important that technology is ingrained in the legal curriculum right from the training stage. This initiative will require the collaborative efforts of the students, lecturers and other stakeholders. Law students are using technology to carry out most of their affairs in their lives and legal education should not be treated in a different manner.

Miano Maina is an International Tax Attorney with Deloitte & Touche in the US. He holds a Master of Laws from the University of Pittsburgh; a Post-Graduate Diploma in Law from the Kenya School of Law and a Bachelor of Laws from Moi University. He is admitted to the Kenyan Bar. He is a Chartered Accountant (ACCA-UK) and a Certified Public Secretary (CPS-K).

Maurice Oduor is a Lecturer at Moi University School of Law and is the Head of the Department of Legal Aid Clinics & Externships. He holds a Master of Laws from the University of Pittsburgh; a Post-Graduate Diploma in Law from the Kenya School of Law and a Bachelor of Laws from Moi University. He is admitted to the Kenyan Bar.

Suggested Citation: Miano Maina and Maurice Oduor, Digitizing Legal Education in Kenya, JURIST – Forum, Nov. 8, 2013, http://jurist.org/forum/2013/11/maina-oduor-digitizing-kenya.php

This article was prepared for publication by Dan DeRight, an editor for JURIST’s academic commentary service. Please direct any questions or comments to him at academiccommentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.