A Tyranny of Metrics in the Age of Legal Big Data

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review


Law schools globally are adopting digital platforms for the delivery of content alongside assessment of student and staff capability. Those platforms embody a biopolitics in which people are abstracted as digital artefacts - instances of when, what and how they have interacted online rather than being respected as individuals who are more than a data point on an educational social graph. Digital panopticism in online law teaching, where students might only have a virtual presence and teachers may be precarious, conflates understanding with seeing. It embodies an imperative, fostered by solutions vendors and by a ‘big data’ governmentality in society at large, to minimise costs by tacitly and automatically collecting data at every opportunity. That imperative is typically legitimated through reference to supposed improvements in the ‘student experience’, with students being construed as consumers in a market for legal education. Panopticism, however, rewards a Fordist bureaucratic rationality that rewards conformity rather than creativity on the part of teachers and students. Although data may be neutral and might even be accurate, its interpretation has biases and political impacts. Academic achievement may be understood as deviations from norms or through algorithms about ‘students at risk’. Digital panopticism in legal teaching foreshadows a legal practice in which decision-making is automated and justice is driven by data profiles rather than acknowledgement of individuality.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiopolitics and Structure in Legal Education
EditorsLuca Siliquini-Cinelli, Thomas Giddens
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781003175193
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


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