Law Schools Keep The Net Out Of Public View

Even as more law schools go online, they still aren’t promoting their Internet connections to prospective students.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 3/1/1995; Student Lawyer magazine, “Online” column; publisher: American Bar Association

The Internet offers a unique duality: communication and publication. It is nearly instantaneous, never busy, and as easy as writing a letter. The recipient of an e-mail message can return (by cutting and pasting) portions of the sender’s original e-mail message with his/her response to provide the necessary context that is often lost in U.S. mail or in phone messages.

As a means of publication, the Internet can be used for advertising, research, etc. Unlike Internet e-mail, which is primarily two-way communication, Internet publication (via FTP, Gopher, and WWW) is primarily one-way communication–from the publisher to the Internet community. The Internet “publisher” (which includes anybody who chooses to make information available on the Internet) can establish an FTP server, a Gopher server, and/or a World-Wide Web server. Organizations that are not yet prepared to respond to information requests via e-mail can still maintain a significant Internet presence by establishing such servers.

But despite the growing popularity of the Internet as a means for communication, it has not yet achieved the same level of acceptance as the post office, the telephone, or the fax machine. While businesses and law schools regularly include postal addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers on their business letters, business cards, and brochures, few include Internet addresses.

For this month’s column, Erik reviewed the brochures from the nation’s top law schools to determine whether the Internet is a selling point for the school; whether Internet e-mail addresses are printed; and whether Internet Gopher and World-Wide Web server addresses are printed. He discovered that the majority of school brochures either underrepresent the law school’s standing in the Internet community or fail to mention it at all.

As a guide, he used U.S. News and World Report’s annual ranking of law schools. If you were applying to law school and were looking for an Internet-aware school, here’s what you would discover from the brochures of the nation’s top 25 schools:

None of the top ten–Yale, Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago, Columbia, New York University, Duke, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, and University of California at Berkeley–listed e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses. Several mention Lexis and Westlaw; Columbia and Pennsylvania mention their local-area networks; and Duke’s brochure mentions that the school’s Student Research Network provides access to the Internet, Lexis, and Westlaw. It also mentions that the library is a member of CCALI (the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction).

Number 11 on the U.S. News list is Cornell University. Its brochure doesn’t mention e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses; it does mention Lexis, Westlaw, and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute: “The newly founded Legal Information Institute is housed at the Law School and provides an array of on-line services to users around the world.”

Cornell, in fact, is probably the most Internet-aware law school in the top 25 law schools, and the brochure’s one- sentence description of the LII is an understatement–and somewhat puzzling, since the LII is the dominant player in publishing legal information on the Internet. You can explore Cornell’s publishing efforts for yourself via Gopher (gopher://gopher.law.cornell.edu) or WWW (http://www.law.cornell.edu).

Only one other law school in the top 25–Washington and Lee University (tied for 22 with Emory)–has a significant Internet presence, including a Gopher server (gopher://liberty.uc.wlu.edu). However, its brochure doesn’t mention e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses.

None of other of schools 12 through 25 (Northwestern, Georgetown, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, UCLA, University of Minnesota, University of Southern California, University of Iowa, University of California at Hastings, University of Texas, Emory, Washington and Lee, Boston College, and University of Washington) listed e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses either, although some had references to the Internet. Northwestern’s brochure, for example, mentions that the school’s computers provide access to the Internet; Gopher and Mosaic (a WWW browser) are specifically mentioned. UCLA mentions that its local-area network provides access to the Internet (and specifically mentions Gopher and WWW); Iowa says that its local-area network provides access to (Internet?) e-mail.

The University of Minnesota’s brochure makes no mention of the fact that Gopher was written at the university. The school does mention CCALI: “The Law School is also home to CCALI (the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction), a consortium of law schools founded by the University of Minnesota and Harvard Law Schools in 1982. CCALI provides an important information exchange for its 124-plus member schools and supports authoring of instructional software for use on microcomputers.” You can find out more about CCALI from its Gopher server (gopher://cali.law.umn.edu).

All of the top 25 law schools are on the Internet, but only three (Cornell, University of Minnesota, and Washington and Lee University) have a significant Internet presence. Some of the other law schools that are well-known on the Internet:

Indiana University-Bloomington (Number 33): The school’s brochure mentions no e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses. It does, however, mention that its computers provide access to the Internet; Gopher and WWW are specifically mentioned, as are Lexis and Westlaw. Indiana’s WWW server is http://www.law.indiana.edu.

Case Western Reserve University (40) is the only school mentioned in the U.S. News article whose brochure specifically lists e-mail (financial aid, lawmoney@po.cwru.edu) and WWW server (http://holmes.law.cwru.edu) addresses. It also mentions Lexis, WESTLAW, and its phone number for dial-in access to its FreeNet (216/368-8888). “Our school is further distinguished as an electronic learning environment….” says the brochure. “Ours was the first law school library to install a Lexis terminal, and we remain at the forefront of computerized legal research. Our university has installed a campuswide fiber-optic network that has attracted national attention. When the U.S. Supreme Court selected twelve organizations to receive its decisions instantaneously, ours was the only university included.” (The U.S. Supreme Court program, called Project Hermes, has been very successful.) Case Western’s publishing efforts can also be browsed via Gopher (gopher://holmes.law.cwru.edu).

The brochure for Villanova University (53) doesn’t mention e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses. It does mention that its local-area network provides access to the Internet; it also mentions Lexis and Westlaw. Villanova hosts one of the most well-organized law-related Gopher servers in the country (gopher://ming.law.vill.edu), and the school has also teamed up with Chicago-Kent to form the Legal Domain Network.

Chicago-Kent (70) doesn’t mention e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses. It does, however, mention that its local-area network provides access to the Internet; WWW is specifically mentioned. The brochure does promote Chicago-Kent’s well-known commitment to technology: “Chicago-Kent College of Law was among the first law schools in the country to recognize the importance of computers in the future of legal education and practice, and to make computer facilities available to students from the beginning of their legal careers. The Center for Law and Computers at Chicago-Kent was established in 1983 as a center for research and the teaching of the integration of computers into law practice and legal education.” The Legal Domain Network (http://www.kentlaw.edu/lawnet/lawnet.html, in partnership with Villanova University) provides access via the Internet to law-related Usenet newsgroups and discussion groups (including StudentLawTech, a listserv list “owned” by the authors of this column). Chicago-Kent’s Gopher server is gopher://chicagokent.kentlaw.edu.

Saint Louis University (also 70) was among the first U.S. law schools to recognize the potential of the Internet as a publishing tool. Its brochure touts this–“The Law Library is also prominent on the Internet, both through its sponsorship of several electronic mail discussion lists, and for its active role in electronic publishing using Gopher and [the] World-Wide Web”–but e-mail, Gopher server, and WWW server addresses aren’t mentioned. SLU’s Gopher address is gopher://sluava.slu.edu, its WWW address http://lawlib.slu.edu/home.html.

Washburn University (123) doesn’t list e-mail, Gopher server, or WWW server addresses. It does mention WASHLAW, a locally produced information system, and LAWNET, an on-line information service of the American Association of Law Libraries that is hosted by Washburn. Recent additions include The “Virtual” Law Library Reference Desk, Washburn’s name for its WWW server (http://law.wuacc.edu/washlaw/reflaw/reflaw.html).

Although most ABA-accredited law schools–including all of the top 25 schools listed above–are on the Internet, the Internet does not appear to be a selling point for the top 25 schools. Surprisingly, it does not even appear to be a selling point for some of most well-established law schools on the Internet. For law schools that are both in the top 25 and well-established on the Internet (including Cornell, University of Minnesota, and Washington and Lee University), the omission of this point from their brochures is especially puzzling. Of all of the brochures reviewed for this article, only Case Western Reserve University provides detailed information about how applicants can use the Internet to find out more about its law school.

As competition for federal grant funds, top law students, and acclaimed professors increases, more law schools may recognize the importance of the Internet’s ability to convey key information about the law school to the Internet community. Letterhead, fax leaders, business cards, and e-mail signatures–at least those for organizations–should all contain U.S. Postal Service addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and Internet addresses. Internet addresses can be either e-mail addresses (for two-way communication) or Gopher and WWW server addresses (for one-way publication). Organizations should be prepared to use all of the generally accepted means of communication. Their customers (or applicants, in the case of law schools) may want to have options. After all, once–and not so long ago at that–it was unusual for organizations to print fax numbers on their letterhead.

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