Written by: Zoe Adlam
A comparison between law and technology undergraduate law modules in Singapore and England & Wales
The firing shots are ringing out across the legal profession – technology will shake up the profession and it is not going anywhere. The warning to legal education is clear: it must keep up. One way for it to do so is by introducing Law and Technology modules into the undergraduate curriculum. Yet, introduction is one thing, innovation is another. As such, this essay will seek to answer, via a comparison of Singapore and England & Wales’s law and technology modules, whether Singapore is the innovation hub of legal education. The background to this being an overview of undergraduate law in Singapore and England & Wales respectively and defining what ‘innovation hub’ and ‘law and technology modules’ are. This is coupled with a comparison between the two jurisdictions, concluding that Singapore is an innovation hub of legal education in respect of Law and Technology modules.
When is a country considered to be an ‘innovation hub’ of legal education?
For the sake of this essay, it is important to detail what the definition of an ‘innovation hub’ is because this is the yardstick upon which the Law and Technology modules available in Singapore and England & Wales will be assessed upon.
It is important to note that ‘innovation’ itself has a ‘significant number of definitions’, each of which depends upon the context being applied to. Here it refers to developments made to the content and curriculum of law modules focusing on technology. In addition, such developments should be a topic of continuous discussions in a place for it to be an ‘innovation hub’, gradually advancing further in law and technology.
What are ‘Law and Technology modules’?
‘Law and Technology modules’ are undergraduate law modules offered as part of an LLB programme. While there is no specification of what the content of these modules must be, it should generally include the impact of technology on law, either in its making, exercise, or on the profession. Evidently, this module should not only discuss this issue in abstract, but should also incorporate how it influences specific aspects of law. This is because both the abstract and specific impacts are broad enough to encompass the variety of perspectives there are about law and technology, and since this area is still in its infancy, it provides a huge capacity for development and refinement.
Undergraduate Law in Singapore and in England & Wales
In Singapore and England & Wales, LLBs are treated as a steppingstone to practice in law, meaning they are composed of a mixture of compulsory and non-compulsory modules. To graduate with a qualifying degree in England & Wales, students must study criminal, tort, trusts, EU, public, contract, and land law. Similarly in Singapore, compulsory modules include an introductory course to legal studies, criminal, contract, tort, land, and trusts law. As such, LLBs in Singapore and England & Wales have a relatively similar curriculum structure and students can opt from a range of elective modules according to their interests in the latter years of study.
Despite the similarities, the number of institutions offering LLBs in each country is vastly different. Singapore has three primary law degree providers - the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Singapore Management University (SMU) and the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). Comparatively, in England & Wales, undergraduate law extends far beyond three institutions. For example, twenty English & Welsh members of the Russell Group offer LLBs. This is without the many red-brick and ex-polytechnic universities which also offer the course. This difference provides a wide spectrum to draw comparisons between Singapore and England & Wales in order to deduce whether Singapore is an ‘innovation hub’ of legal education and this will be discussed below.
Law and Technology Modules in Singapore
To reach a conclusion, it is necessary to have an overview of the themes around Law and Technology modules taught in Singapore and England & Wales as it provides the thematic basis for comparing the two jurisdictions. We will first look into Singapore, and then England & Wales.
Within Singapore, there is a broader cultural climate that law and technology is something which needs to be taught. This is evidenced by recent comments from Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon who explained that ‘[t]he intersection between law and technology will be a particularly rich area for new developments, making it necessary to have a different approach to legal education ‘to better prepare lawyers for the challenges brought by the tide of technology.’ Equally, Singapore’s media has also contributed to this discussion in a series of articles about the need for teaching law and technology. By having two crucial stakeholders making comments on this issue, it demonstrates that Singapore could possibly meet the definition of an innovation hub because of this ongoing engagement on this issue.
Another theme is the variety of modules offered on law and technology in Singapore. Each of the universities offers a law and technology module. For instance, NUS offers the following three modules to students – Legal Technology & Innovation; Regulation of Digital Platforms and Law, FinTech and the Platform Economy. Yet whilst NUS offers the most modules of this kind, which is to be expected due to its size, SMU has arguably provided the most significant innovation as it offers a four-year Law and Computing undergraduate degree, straddling law and technology in an unique way. Similarly, whilst SUSS is relatively small with around 60 students in its intake per year, its elective module ‘Emerging Technologies and the Law’ encourages students to ‘consider how laws as they know it are coping with the emerging technologies that are beginning to challenge the old certainties of life.’ Crucially, what must be taken from this is that the size of the institution has not held back innovation from occurring. Therefore, it can be said that law and technology modules are very much integrated within all of Singapore’s legal education institutions.
Equally, these modules and degrees are taught in broadly similar ways, as seminars are the preferred method to deliver content. This is probably due to its discursive nature, and hence, its effectiveness in allowing students to gain an in-depth understanding of the subject and also to critically consider law and technology as a concept. Though, comparatively, seminars are likely to be considered as a traditional way of delivering undergraduate teaching, which does not necessarily show that innovation has been that dramatic.
The picture painted from all these themes is that not only is there a number of Law and Technology modules in Singapore being taught similarly by seminars, but also that there is a climate of discussion occurring around them. Some interesting points which will serve as a solid basis for comparison with England and Wales.
Law and Technology Modules in England & Wales
On the other hand, England & Wales seems to have a stark lack of discussion about law and technology in legal education as academic research within this area is primarily focused on postgraduate education. This can be seen in the research project ‘Unlocking the Potential of AI’ conducted in a trial postgraduate module by the University of Oxford’s ‘Unlocking the Potential of AI’ research project’s trial module ‘Law and Computer Science’ which concluded that further research is needed to truly decide whether such content should be taught at undergraduate, postgraduate or even professional development level. This demonstrates the need for more engagement and research to stimulate a fully engaging conversation.
In addition, it is quite shocking to know that only eight out of twenty English and Welsh Russell Group universities offers any form of law and technology modules, whereas other universities such as the University of Surrey has elective courses like ‘Law and Technology LLB Pathway’, enabling undergraduate students to graduate with a special status in law and technology. Other examples include the University of Kent and the University of Hertfordshire. Thus, even though the Russell Group identify themselves as being research-leaders, they are in reality, regarding law and technology, seemingly lacking as other universities are going beyond, with more of them providing these modules and even offering it as a degree choice.
At the same time, the teaching of these modules, are mostly in the form of lectures and/or seminars which can be seen in the University of Sussex and the University of Exeter, for example. Such a similarity across both the Russell Group universities and the other institutions in England & Wales implies that there might be limited innovation of how the curriculum is approached in the region.
Overall, law and technology are not frequently discussed or debated on in England & Wales as a subject matter together, and while the teaching method are quite alike between the Russell Group and other universities, it appears that the so-called ‘research leaders’ do not provide as many courses on the topic compared to those who are not members of the group.
After considering the features of law and technology modules in Singapore and England & Wales, we can now start to make comparisons. First, we shall consider the similarities between the two.
Foremost, the modules mentioned are merely electives. Neither Singapore nor England & Wales has stepped over the line to make them compulsory for LLB students to study. Therefore, one perspective is that neither have been completely innovative because modules of this kind still remain on the periphery of LLBs, a choice for students to take rather than something which is deemed to be relevant. In the long run, this continues to keep the research in this area limited because the number of students aware of this topic is relatively low, given that not everyone can take such modules nor many students interested in it. As a result, this may have limited innovation within both jurisdictions.
Another similarity is that whilst the content is forward-thinking, both of these jurisdictions continue to use traditional teaching methods. Seminars are used as the primary method of delivery, and they are considered to be the backbone of teaching across universities and degree disciplines. By having this method across all of these examples of modules, it demonstrates that innovation is somewhat limited because despite the content being new, and being able to address different challenges, the way in which those issues have been approached is not. So, the scrutiny of this aspect may be necessary when making a broader assessment of the question because fundamentally, this area has not been very innovative across the board.
Despite so, within the differences, it emerges that Singapore has innovated further, in which the option to take a Law and Technology module is present in all three Singapore universities. In contrast, within England & Wales, the same cannot be said, particularly shown by the limited provision of these types of modules in the Russell Group and within the wider university sector. This lack of accessibility to Law and Technology modules in England & Wales, thus accentuates Singapore’s advancement in legal education.
What further reinforces that Singapore is ahead of England & Wales is the engagement from multiple stakeholders in discussions on law and technology. There seems to be a lack of energy in England & Wales to talk about this matter, let alone introducing it to undergraduates and opening it up to them. On that account, Singapore clearly has more development than England & Wales due to the broader and continuous discussion on law and technology, instead of just inclusive research results.
Singapore is more of an innovation hub than England & Wales because law and technology modules are more accessible, due to all of Singapore’s universities offering such modules and also due to the broadness of the discussion on the topic in the country. Though, this is ultimately tempered by the fact that, both in Singapore and England & Wales, such modules are only electives, and are still limited by their traditional teaching methods. Yet, the recognition of Singapore being an innovation hub of legal education remains, whereas England & Wales still has a long way to go before reaching the same level of development.
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