New law school classes reflect societal changes

SANTA ROSA -- Recent trends in technology have influenced the continuing evolution of both instruction and infrastructure at the Empire College School of Law, with a library that increasingly leans towards digital options and a newly developed course to consider emerging legal questions.

The evolution represents both a long-running movement towards digitization of legal resources and a response to a swell of concerns about privacy and ownership in the realm of social media and other technologies.

"Increasingly, those pretty walls of books -- nobody is using them. Everything is on the Internet," said William Robertson, dean of the law school at Empire.

During the 2012 summer semester, a period when elective courses are concentrated, two new classes were offered: Social Media and Internet Law and Sexual Orientation and the Law. Both were first-time offerings, proposed by professors and developed within the department.

Those electives play a key role in providing opportunities to explore topics outside of the core legal curriculum at Empire, and Mr. Robertson said that the courses are often based on the experiences of professors in their legal practice and represent some of the newest concerns of the profession.

"One of the things that makes Empire so unusual is that all of our faculty are either sitting judges or practicing lawyers," he said. "In every class we teach, they always bring in the insight from their judgeship or their practice."

In proposing the new Internet and social media course, Empire Law instructor Heather Bussing said that she hoped to explore a number of questions that have arisen as venues such as Facebook and LinkedIn have become increasingly connected to personal and professional lives.

While the legal issues of social media and the Internet have received an increasing focus in recent years, Ms. Bussing said that she focused on developing a course that would look towards the future in a rapidly changing technology landscape.

"My clients started asking questions like 'Who owns my contacts?'" said Ms. Bussing, referring to experience in her law practice. "The way our legal system is set up, it's based on people, places and things. The Internet is all of those things, and none of them at all."

The 12-week course, which will be offered again this spring, looked at issues such as privacy, copyright, First Amendment protection and cyber bullying, she said.

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