Nathenson on Teaching Internet Law

By Eric Goldman

Ira Nathenson is a law professor at St. Thomas University in Florida. He has posted to SSRN an article called “Best Practices for the Law of the Horse: Teaching Cyberlaw and Illuminating Law Through Online Simulations,” which is in our very own Santa Clara Computer & High Technology Law Journal. I’ve known about the article for some time, but somehow it never got onto my blogging queue–an oversight I’m now correcting.

The article is a noteworthy contribution to the tiny literature on Internet Law pedagogy. In addition to his article, there’s my own article, Teaching Cyberlaw, from 2008 (see my blog post announcing the article) and an article by foreign professor Patrick Quirk.

Ira’s article describes the incredibly rich simulation he creates for his Internet Law course. He plays multiple roles in the simulation, including teacher, managing partner and litigation opponent. The article describes how juggling these roles and responding to his students’ actions taps into his improvisational skills, something I don’t think I could pull off very well. Even so, I envy the simulation he’s built and the rich “learn-by-doing” pedagogical experience it provides his students.

The abstract:

In an influential 1996 article entitled “Cyberspace and the Law of the Horse,” Judge Frank Easterbrook mocked cyberlaw as a subject lacking in cohesion and therefore unworthy of inclusion in the law school curriculum. Responses to Easterbrook, most notably that of Lawrence Lessig in his 1999 article “The Law of the Horse: What Cyberlaw Might Teach,” have taken a theoretical approach. However, this Article — also appropriating the “Law of the Horse” moniker — concludes that Easterbrook’s challenge is primarily pedagogical, requiring a response keyed to whether cyberlaw ought to be taught in law schools. The Article concludes that despite Easterbrook’s concerns, cyberlaw presents a unique opportunity for legal educators to provide capstone learning experiences through role-playing simulations that unfold on the live Internet. In fact, cyberlaw is a subject particularly well-suited to learning through techniques that immerse students in the very technologies and networks that they are studying. In light of recommendations for educational reform contained in the recent studies Best Practices for Legal Education and the Carnegie Report, the Article examines the extent to which “Cybersimulations” are an ideal way for students to learn — in a holistic and immersive manner — legal doctrine, underlying theory, lawyering skills, and professional values. The Article further explains how the simulations were developed and provides guidance on how they can be created by others. The Article concludes with a direct response to Easterbrook, arguing that cyberlaw can indeed “illuminate” the entire law.