Movies in Legal Education: CALI as Netflix?

Image from the movie "12 Angry Men".

I ran across a post today on one of the Educause blogs by Phillip D. Long of MIT about some open source software that lets you create a set of links into a commercial DVD so that you could jump to parts of a movie. The point of the post and the software is to legally use movie clips in the classroom. The software does not copy an portion of the movie or do any de-encryption or DeCSSing or anything that would alert the DMCA police. Instead it lets the instructor create pointers into the DVD and save them so that when the DVD is inserted into the computer’s player, the pointer can be clicked and the clip can be played.

I have seen discussions of the use movies in legal education (if interested, follow the link and search for ‘movies’) for many years and I know that at least one faculty member has a VHS tape of clips that they use year after year. (Of course, VHS players are getting harder to come by these days).

Besides the 12 Angry Men depicted in the image above, there are all sorts of law-related movies.

  • My Cousin Vinnie
  • And Justice for All
  • The Firm
  • The Pelican Brief
  • Runaway Jury
  • A Few Good Men
  • A Civil Action

I know I am just scratching the surface here. There are also plenty of situations in movies that could analyzed for their legal content. The list of movies could be quite long.

I had the inane thought that CALI could create a website where faculty would post the names of movies and descriptions of the clips that they have used (or would use) and a description of the legal education concept being illustrated. This alone might be rather useful since not everyone has seen every movie and if all the faculty pooled their ideas, everyone would benefit from this collective knowledge.

But, what if we took this another step?

DVDs of movies can be gotten rather cheaply these days – say $10 a copy. CALI could purchase a couple of copies of all of the movies and lend them out to faculty for use in their classrooms along with the software that points to the relevant clip. When the class is over, the faculty could return the DVD to CALI. Kind of a CALI as Netflix or CALIFlix or something.

Even with lots of participants, there won’t be too many times when multiple faculty want to use the same movies at the same time and for the most popular movies, we could purchase multiple copies. A couple hundred movies would only cost a couple of thousand dollars and the shipping costs are relatively insignificant.

Ideas like these often have all sorts of unintended consequences, so perhaps it would best to start with the database of movies and clip descriptions – survey law faculty – and go from there. Since this is exam time for many law schools, it’s the perfect time to bug law faculty since they will do almost anything to procrastinate from grading exams.


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