Faculty of Law blog: Technological development and academic freedom pulling the strings of law education

The new technological era requires lawyers who possess specific technology-related skills and knowledge. Digitalization and the use of big data introduces major opportunities for innovation in the education sector, but may also include risks of losing uniqueness of every class, write Aušrinė Pasvenskienė & Anette Alén.

Digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) tools are being integrated in the practices of higher education. In fact, we might even say that the students’ right to education includes the right to benefit from new technologies in a pedagogically justified manner (Pasvenskiene, 2017). Research-based teaching includes not only the ‘what’ part but also the ‘how’ part of it. Moreover, AI skills, among others, must be integrated in the curricula as they are part of the skills required in today’s society also when it comes to lawyers (Alén, 2024). But what does this mean for the academic staff, especially in the law faculty?

In the European framework, academic freedom finds its legal justifications in many instruments (art 13 EUCFR; art 10 ECHR). This freedom includes different dimensions, including the freedom to conduct research and to teach based on that research, as well as freedom to express opinion about the institution or system in which academics work and freedom to distribute knowledge and truth. Academics have the right and freedom to decide the content of their teaching and how to teach. Yet, they also bear a corresponding responsibility to pursue quality in their teaching activities, including teaching methods. The pursuit for quality in education follows from the duty of academics to respect and fulfil the fundamental right to education and the commitment of universities to serve the common good.

Digitalization affects higher education and teaching in many ways. Today, a variety of digital tools and methods are in wide use. Academics are increasingly experimenting and using digital pedagogies as an essential part of their curricula to prepare and present lessons, improve teacher-learner interactions, and monitor and assess student progress. For its part, the use of big data introduces major opportunities for innovation in the education sector. Emerging technologies also shape legal studies, and the law faculty and curriculum are geared towards recognizing that the new technological era requires a new generation of tech-savvy lawyers who possess specific technology-related skills and knowledge. 

However, technological innovations also challenge the education process, affecting academic freedom. Technological change is apt to prompt standardization of processes and increasingly leads to losing uniqueness of every class, which traditionally used to be a scene of each individual academic as the sole performer. Increased surveillance, class recordings, and digitalization of teaching materials have the effect of decreasing improvisation in the classroom, as well as enthusiasm of the students to participate in the discussions. In such cases, academics may prefer safety and conservatism over bringing sensitive, unpopular, and controversial matters into the classroom and encouraging students to engage in chasing and arguing. 

Quite often academics are encouraged to apply innovative tools in their teaching without due regard of their actual relevance. Sometimes such tools are used largely for the sake of being used, not primarily because of their pedagogical relevance. And vice versa, there are situations when academics are reluctant to use innovative tools although they would be pedagogically relevant.

Indeed, academic freedom in the context of teaching is not an absolute right or limitless freedom. Technologies are to be used to cater for the rights of the students as learners. Consequently, academics need to have the skills to use the tools – knowing the law must be accompanied by knowing your technological tools and being able to use them in a pedagogically justified manner. All this is implied in the concept of “research-based teaching”. If technological intervention truly is justified in this manner, then reluctancy to use the tools would not be in compliance with academic responsibilities. Pedagogically meaningful technological intervention in legal education – a field which usually preserves traditional and conservative approaches – may indeed contribute to providing a broader range of skills and competences necessary for today’s and future legal professionals.


This blog post highlights some of the issues discussed during “Tech-Powered Education: Exploring the Nexus of Technology and Academic Freedom”, a seminar held on May 8th at the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki. Keynote speaker: Aušrinė Pasvenskienė, Assoc. Prof., Dr., Vice-Dean at the Faculty of Law, Vytautas Magnus University. 

Aušrinė Pasvenskienė: “A Legal Justification of Academic Freedom as a Fundamental Right: Charting Vagueness for More Clarity” (2017)

Anette Alén: ‘Designing Higher Education – Lessons for Law Schools’ European Journal of Legal Education (forthcoming 2024)