Post by Laurence Diver, CREATe Research Assistant, University of Strathclyde, summarising the main points of this conference.
From 10-12 April I attended the 31st conference of the British and Irish Law Education and Technology Association, more commonly known as BILETA, held in the fresh and modern Hatfield campus of the University of Hertfordshire. It was my first experience at BILETA, and indeed my first experience of a law conference altogether. I’d heard a lot about BILETA since returning to the IT law fold a few years ago, and it didn’t disappoint. Apart from putting faces to some names I’ve been reading, citing and getting excited about for years now, the conference featured a few unusual events that demonstrated what a vibrant and cutting-edge field of scholarship this is.
Day one included excellent, stimulating keynote speeches from Professors Eric Goldman (Santa Clara University) and Daniel Katz (Chicago-Kent College of Law) discussing contemporary trends, and revolutions, in legal education and practice, respectively. Their lectures suggested some uncomfortable truths about the evolution of the legal profession, particularly in relation to graduate marketability and data-driven jurisprudence, and suggested the need to move away from generalised legal education towards specialised, and particularly technically-grounded, law school programmes. As an interdisciplinary researcher I found myself agreeing strongly with their sentiments. On day two, Professor Lilian Edwards (CREATe Deputy Director; University of Strathclyde) in another stimulating keynote argued a practical perspective on the “Right to be Forgotten”, drawing some interesting parallels with the statistics on copyright takedown notices contained in Google’s transparency reports.
The conference included two fascinating expert panels which took place in the Law School’s opulent mock court room. The first was a panel on the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill, with experts from across the spectrum of computer science, law, and civil society. The other focused on the “right to be forgotten” and included senior litigation counsel for Google, Harjinder Obhi.
The parallel workshop streams crossed a broad range of IT law topics, including IP infringement, privacy, big data, artificial intelligence, ad-blocking, surveillance, botnets, bitcoin and much more besides. In addition to these streams were two unusual events. The War of Words pitted five volunteer sophists against the crowd, arguing for (some uncomfortable) positions which were assigned previously, and arbitrarily, by the conference organisers. The argument was quick-fire and even occasionally convincing, and the event as a whole was great fun (at least for those of us watching. I’m glad I didn’t respond to the organisers’ request to volunteer). Next, the Google PhD Workshop saw three pre-circulated papers competing for workshop participants’ votes as to which was the best. The workshop was unusual in that the papers were presented by a commenter instead of by the author, with the latter taking questions and facilitating the discussion after the initial presentation. This format was an import from the Privacy Law Scholars Conference, and it worked extremely well, with the presentation by a third party demonstrating the importance of clarity in research writing. I was lucky enough to have my paper nominated, and the experience was (after some initial nerves) an immensely enjoyable one – the discussion was stimulating and productive, and it was great to receive feedback from some real luminaries in the field.
The conference dinner took place in the grand court of the historic Hatfield House. The traditional fayre was delicious and, taking an Elizabethan theme, the banquet was replete with courtiers, wenches and a rather embarrassing garter retrieval scene of which I was the unfortunate star. Perhaps the less said about this the better.
Between the incredibly friendly group of delegates, some genuinely provocative panel discussions and the showcase of cutting-edge research, BILETA 2016 was a great introduction to the world of legal academic conferences. Papers from the conference will be published in forthcoming special editions of the International Review of Law, Computers and Technology and the European Journal of Law and Technology.