Subject Outline, Objectives & Assessment

Please Note: This subject is taught by a combination of lab classes, seminar classes and internet delivery.

Focus and objectives

This subject aims to provide a ‘hands-on’ introduction to the computerisation of legal information and knowledge, and the uses lawyers can make of computer technology. The emphasis in 2002 will be on the internet, and particularly the world-wide-web, as the fastest developing, most interesting, and probably most important aspect of the computerisation of law.

Description (as in Faculty Handbook)

The theory and practice of developing computer applications for use in the law, emphasising the use of ‘knowledge-based’ technologies such as expert systems (systems that give legal ‘advice’) and automated legal document generators, but also covering aspects of text retrieval and hypertext techniques. There is a strong emphasis on the use of these technologies over the internet. The special requirements of legal materials are emphasised. Systems in use in public administration and private practice will be demonstrated and discussed critically. Topics may include: principles, deficiencies and performance measurement of free-text retrieval; distributed retrieval over the internet; hypertext and distributed text retrieval over the internet; the nature of legal knowledge and reasoning and its capacity for computerised representation; rule-based expert systems; non-deductive expert systems; special problems of statute-based and case-law representation and reasoning; principles of automated document generators; implications for the delivery of legal services and the rule of law.
Each student will design and implement an internet-based computer application in an area of law. The use of appropriate development tools is taught during the course. Familiarity with the use of a microcomputer and a word processing program is a pre-requisite, but a knowledge of programming is not required. Familiarity with computerised legal research is desirable, particularly internet legal research. Classes take place in the Faculty Microcomputer Lab and enrolment is therefore limited. The course will be taught by a combination of internet delivery and intensive computer lab instruction. Lab class attendance is required during the course (although not every week), plus required internet interaction.


We cover the three technologies central to the computerisation of law and legal reasoning:

There is a focus on the integration of inferencing systems with hypertext and text retrieval, particularly via the internet, to provide comprehensive legal information systems. Practical applications in law office computerisation, litigation support systems and court computerisation are emphasised.

All three technologies / subject areas are covered from 3 perspectives:


There is no suitable textbook for this subject. Extensive online Reading Guides and other materials are provided on the Computerisation of Law web pages at

Teaching method - *Please read this carefully *

The subject will be taught by a combination of computer lab instruction, discussion seminars and internet delivery. There is one lab class / seminar class each week, plus required email discussion participation in between classes. The Lab is booked for an additional class each week, which may be used for guest lecturers, but is principally to assist students to obtain Lab time for course participation. The teaching approach can be summarised as a mix of the following:

How we will study each topic

The subject has been divided into 6 topics (taking an average of two weeks per topic), as set out in the

When a new topic is due to start, I will publish onto the subject web resources the Guide for that topic, containing my notes guiding you through the topic and hypertext links to other resources to read. The 2000 Reading Guides are available now, but some have not yet been updated for 2001, and will only be updated by the time each topic commences.

Shortly thereafter I will publish a list of ‘discussion starter’ questions for that Topic, and the names of the students who are to commence discussion on these questions via the class e-mail list, and the students who are to respond initially to the ‘discussion starters’ (see details under ‘Assessment’ below). A few students will be assigned to start discussions on particular topics each week. All students will be expected to participate to some extent in the e-mail discussion in addition to their required participation.

Discussion of the topic via the email discussion list will then continue while students work their way through the reading guide. The ‘visiting experts’ will contribute to the discussion as they see fit. From previous experience, the discussion of one topic tends to continue while the next topic starts, but required contributions (starters and responders) are expected within a week of the topic being posted.

As the subject teacher I will participate in the e-mail discussion list, equivalent to a teacher’s role in face-to-face class discussions. For each topic in the course, ‘visiting experts’ may also participate in the discussions. I will announce their participation by e-mail. At various times during the discussion of a topic, I may intervene to suggest that discussion moves along to some other part of the topic, or to pose additional ‘free for all’ questions - the same types of things as a teacher does in class to keep discussion moving.

We will have a Seminar on most topics, either to introduce or to sum up face-to-face the internet readings and discussions. These will also sometimes involve visiting teachers.

The two 'hands on' topics are somewhat different, in that they will start with an intensive (3 hour) Tutorial session in the Computer Lab, followed by exercises that you will publish on the internet in the following weeks. There are on-line Guides to assist you.

Prior computing knowledge

Each student will design and implement an internet-based computer application in an area of law. The use of appropriate development tools is taught during the course, including tools for computerisation of legal information developed at AustLII ( Familiarity with the use of a microcomputer and a word processing program is a pre-requisite, but a knowledge of programming is not required. Familiarity with computerised legal research is desirable, particularly internet legal research. Some classes take place in the Faculty Microcomputer Lab and enrolment is therefore limited.

Consultation with course teacher

Students may consult with me (ie concerning matters not appropriate for the class list) by the usual means - by email, by telephone, or in person during office consulting hours. Because I work at AustLII, I will be there during most office hours.

My email address is below, and students are encouraged to use email as much as possible, as it usually finds me more quickly than anything else.

You are welcome to contact me by phone at any of my numbers below at any reasonable time.

Facilities for the subject - email and network accounts The Faculty Computer Lab

Depending on students needs, one or more Faculty Computer Labs will be reserved for use of students in this class, outside class hours. This means that you are supposed to have priority access to Lab places at these times - other students are of course entitled to use any spare places unless a class is in progress. This is to ensure that students in the class have adequate access to on-campus computer facilities, particularly those students who do not have their own computers and internet connections at home. Students can participate in the class e-mail discussions, or use the web resources, at times of their own choosing.

Accounts on the Faculty Computer Lab network

All Law students have 5 MB of personal storage space on the Faculty computer network - see UNSW Faculty of Law Information Technology Resources for Students, particularly Student Accounts.

Obtaining your e-mail and internet account(s) (if necessary)

The most useful thing you can do before teaching starts is to make sure you have the e-mail and internet accounts you need. All students in this subject require an e-mail account. It can be either an account that you already use, or it can be a UNSW ‘Unimail’ account (read on).

All students at UNSW are automatically allocated free ‘Unimail’ e-mail accounts on enrolment. You can find details of Unimail in the document ‘Electronic Mail’ at

If you want to connect to the internet from your home, the University Dial Up Service (UDUS) is available to all students at a moderate cost. Details are available in the document ‘The UDUS Service’ at Alternatively, you may obtain access through any other internet service provider (ISP).

Details of Unimail, and UDUS subscription forms, are also available from the Dis><Connect Desk in the Library.

The Dis><Connect Home Page at provides a considerable amount of additional information about email services, both generally and at UNSW.

Resources for the subject - web and print materials

The subject’s internet resources are accessible from the 'Computerisation of Law' Home Page at The Home Page contains resources such as:

• Reading Guides

• Computerisation of Law Resources Database (on AustLII)

• AustLII's Legal Inferencing Project

• World Computerisation of Law resources index and search facilities

• Tools for application development and collaborative application development.

Please take a careful look at all these resources. Their purposes will be explained in the introductory class.

It is assumed that all students will read the announcements on this page at least once per week, as well as reading their email from the class list more frequently than that.

General comment - Internet resources and print resources

Wherever possible, the resources for the subject will be made available via the world-wide-web. If they are so available, they will not be reproduced in print form. It will be up to students to decide which, if any, internet resources they need to print out for their own use (subject to copyright restrictions, of course).

A hypertext Reading Guide to both internet resources and print resources is issued for each topic in the course. There is no suitable print textbook for this subject, and no book which is recommended reading for the whole subject. Books and articles will be recommended in the Reading Guides for each topic in the subject.

UNSW Law Faculty printed Materials will only be issued to supplement the internet materials, where necessary (ie where indispensable and where no suitable equivalent is available on the internet).

Details of books and journals on the topic in UNSW Law Library are available from UNSW Law Library entry on the subject home page (and some will be placed at the Law Library Reserve Desk).

Subject web resources - Restricted Access Area

Some of the subject web resources will be in an area to which access is restricted to (i) students enrolled in this subject and (ii) any ‘visiting experts’ or other visitors to the resources (eg publishers, researchers on cyberspace laws) who are authorised by me.

Passwords and the method by which they will be changed will be discussed in class. Students are not permitted to allow any other person to access the restricted access area, or to disclose their password to any other person.

Assessment (proposed)

Assessment on the basis of the following components is proposed, subject to discussion in the Introductory Class and on the class e-mail list during the first two weeks of session.

(i) Research Essay (40%) - Maximum length is 3,500 words

Students may choose a research essay topic from any area of computerisation of law related to what is taught in this subject. I will provide a list of topics by the start of Week 4. Any student who wishes to write on one of this year's nominated topics will need no further approval from me. Any student who wishes to propose another topic (or a significant variation on one of the suggested topics) must obtain my approval (preferably by an exchange of email) of the proposed alternative topic.

The maximum word length for the research essay is 3,500 words, excluding citations and bibliography, but including any discursive footnotes. This is a strict word limit - penalties will apply to any essays that exceed the word limit, and such text as is well over the word limit will not be read. An important part of the skill of legal writing is to be concise. The minimum recommended word length is 500 words less than the maximum.

The due date for the Research Essay is to be discussed in the first class and published on the Timetable. I will aim to have essays available for collection two weeks after they are submitted.

Essays must be handed in, in print form, at the Level 10 desk, so that a receipt may be obtained as is normally the case with essays. Essays may not be submitted as email attachments (unless you have approval because you are overseas at the time). If a student wishes to provide a copy of the essay in hypertext form on the world-wide-web, so as to assist me to link to URLs in footnotes and bibliography if I wish to check any of them, then the URL where the essay is located may be indicated on the front page of the essay. The print copy is the copy which will be assessed, and the hypertext version (if any) may or may not be referred to. No extra credit is given for fancy web presentations of the essay - do not waste time on this. Your skills in developing web applications are assessed in the Computer Project, not the essay.

(ii) Computer Project (30%)

Each student will then be required to develop for assessment a small computer application to law (the Computer Project) using the tools which we teach the use of in the Tutorials.

Details of what is required for the Project will be available before the mid-Semester (Olympics) break.

The Computer Project is due to be completed and submitted for assessment by 4pm on Monday 24 June (ie a week after all classes finish). Instructions for submission will be provided with the Project details.

(iii) Course participation (30%) - Class and Email participation required

Class participation is compulsory and assessable, and will be assessed on the basis of discussion in both the classes and the e-mail discussion list, and participation in the collaborative project. Discussion in Seminars and Lab classes (and other participation such as assisting other students, and participating in the collaborative project) will be worth about 1/2 and the e-mail discussion worth about 1/2 of the assessment. Students are required to contribute to both.

At the end of classes prior to the mid-session break, any student is welcome to request me (preferably by email) to comment on how their course participation is progressing.

For assessment purposes, the key requirements for satisfactory ‘course participation’ in the email discussion group are the 5 following items:

Minimum participation All students must make at least a minimum level of contribution to the e-mail discussion. In addition to the specific contributions required under the next point, this minimum level of participation consists of sending one brief e-mail (ie 200 words or less) to the discussion list on at least three occasions. With the requirements below, required contributions to the class list will amount to somewhere between 600 - 1,500 words of email contribution during the session, which is not an onerous amount per student but is a lot of reading when multiplied by 25.

‘Discussion starters’ and replies All students will be assigned one or two topics during the session where they are to ‘start the discussion’ on a particular question by sending a comment of 300 words or less to the list, and another topic where they are required to respond to another student’s ‘discussion starter’ by a response of 200 words or less. This will therefore amount to about 500 words during the session. Topic for discussion starters and replies will be assigned in alphabetic order. Topics will only be provided when each class Reading Guide is released, and 'discussion starters’ and replies will be expected within a week.

‘Gopher’ question Students may be allocated a ‘gopher’ assignment, where they are required to find at least one valuable resource on the web on an allocated sub-topic which is not included in the subject reading guide, and to post a brief (100 word) explanation giving its URL and explaining its value, for the benefit of the whole class.

Avoidance of excessive postings All students are of course welcome to participate more frequently than is suggested above, and will be given credit for valuable participation just as in a classroom, subject to two requirements (also similar to classroom requirements): (i) avoidance of unnecessarily lengthy postings; and (ii) avoidance of posting to the list too frequently, so as to dominate discussions. Concise high quality contributions to the discussion are the only form of contribution that will constitute good course participation. Since I expect that all students will read all postings to the list, and these are regarded as compulsory reading for course assessment purposes, it is clearly necessary that there be some limit on the amount of e-mail which any student may submit, otherwise everyone will have an unacceptable reading load. As a rough rule-of-thumb until we become used to the e-mail list interaction, I suggest that two postings per week of less than 200 words should be the maximum postings by any one student - with up to students in the subject, this is still a lot of email.

• Appropriate standards of conduct All students must observe appropriate standards of conduct when participating in the class e-mail discussions. Inappropriate behaviour on a class e-mail discussion list which is not conducive to other students’ learning constitutes poor class participation, just as it does in a classroom. You must read the UNSW Rules Relating to Student Use of Computing and Electronic Communications Facilities' at Adherence to these rules is a condition of using this email list, and breaches may have serious consequences

None of these items has any fixed weight in the course participation assessment scheme. An assessment will be made of each student’s overall participation at the end of the subject, from the logs of email during the subject. The Hypermail program allows all mail sent to the list during a session to be sorted by author, which is principally how I will identify each student’s email class participation at the end of session.

It is therefore important that you always send mail to the list from only one email address, so that it is easy to identify as having come from you. If this is impossible, include your name in the heading of the message.

Citation and other issues of academic standards

The essay and the take-home end-of-session assessment must be documented according to normal academic standards, even though many (often most) of the resources you are likely to cite are found on the world-wide-web. The full URL must be given for all world-wide-web resources cited. A guide to citation of web resources will be given with the essay topics.

Relationship between objectives and assessment

The objectives of understanding the theory behind each technology and its application to law, and undertaking a critical analysis of commercial applications of each technology, are assessed principally through the research essay (for depth) and by the required discussion of the Reading Guide materials (for coverage). The Computer Project allows assessment of skill learnt in the Tutorials on to how to build your own legal applications. Course Participation assessment allows for continuing assessment of analytic skills and course coverage, and is compulsory since we do not have weekly face-to-face classes.

Relationship to other subjects

This subject studies 'computerisation of law' rather than ‘the law as it applies to computers and networks’ (or 'cyberspace law'). For details of LLB and LLM subjects on that topic, see the Cyberspace Law web pages at . Those subjects and this subject are complementary. LLM students should do the subject LAWS3035 Developing Computer Applications to Law, rather than this subject.


Russell Allen,4 March 2002
Phone: (02) 9514-3155 (AustLII)
(02) 9514-3168 (Fax)