Simulated Client workshop: Plenary wrap-up

by Paul Maharg on 16/08/2017

Final session…  I posed the last question set out in our programme: where to from here?  One participant answered it in an interestingly oblique way.  What about the model of the encounter, he said – is it all about an expert telling the student what he or she did wrong?  Surely there must be a negotiation and dialogue for there to be learning?  And isn’t it the case that the view that really matters is the view the students take of themselves and their performance?

Well, who could argue with that.  I recalled that our 2006 correlative study of simulated clients was a correlation not just between SCs and tutors and their assessments, but also of students and their self-assessment of their own performance.  And it was plain from the highly variable results that there was very little correlation between SC evaluation and student self-evaluation.  What this showed us was that while we had created a method of assessment that was new in legal education, and was a powerful way of embedding client experience in the assessment encounter, we still had a lot of work to do with students to align their self-assessment with the SCs’ evaluation of them.  Because of our success with training the SCs, we could dispense with tutor appraisals of student performance (except for fails and borderline cases).  But that third correlation, of student self-appraisal, was the one we really needed to crack.  Because if we can align student self-evaluations with SC evaluations, there’s less need for the SC, except as a calibration.  And sure, dialogue, negotiation, interior reflection, social discussions – these are all part of the learning experience, and there need to be spaces built around the method for them to flourish.

Another participant noted the that the SC method provided opportunities to practise across the years in a programme of study, and wondered about the effect that that might have on professional identity.  These were all good drivers for the method.  Even better drivers for the whole SCI would be money, in the form of grants.  When that was mentioned by a delegate there was universal agreement in the room.  Another delegate mentioned the need to have regulators with insight into the importance of the method, and how to enhance its use and its research; to which I would add that it’s our duty to educate our regulators on that issue.

We also need more educators involved (that’s probably you, dear reader).  And more SCs.  On that topic, a  delegate outlined a possible future where there was a company of SCs, SimClient Co, which provided interdisciplinary sim services to a whole range of disciplines.  Great idea.

Finally, AI entered our discursive field, an AI SC so human-like that it became indistinguishable from humans.  Why stop there?  What about AI lawyers?  I had a flashback: it reminded me of the Afterword to Transforming Legal Education, a decade old next month, with the second half given over to a Back in 2007 (internet time: 70 years ago…) I wrote the conclusion of Transforming Legal Education by drawing upon on Goethe’s resonant adaptation of the concept of elective affinities to describe the relationship between four critical educational concepts.  It was entitled, Afterword: Elective Affinities – Experience, Ethics, Technology, Collaboration, and ended with an attempt at futurology, a frankly hubristic description of legal education in 2047, then 40 years in the future.  There was a lot of sci-fi in it, with lengthy paratext in footnotes on how the future had come to be so wonderful (or awful, depending on your point of view).  I refer back to it occasionally in blog posts – this one from 2011, and this one from 2016.  The idea of an educative assistant is there, beyond the exo-cortices of augmented reality, and with human shape, one where there is, as Debra Nestel and Roger Kneebone point out of simulation approaches, reciprocal illumination, where roles are participative and mutually educative.

It was a good day – lots of discussion, fascinating insights and honest appraisals of the method.  My thanks to all speakers for their presentations.  All of them gave us inspiring examples to draw upon; and Debra Nestel’s keynote gave us legal educators a taste of the richness and sophistication of over half a century of healthcare literature on simulation.  By comparison with that, we are all at the start of the journey in our own discipline.

Slides and other resources will be up on the Simulated Client Initiative website.    I hope that after the third and final workshop in the series, to be held in Toronto next year, we can begin to pull together a publication which will mark the first 12 years or so of the SCI and the developing use of sims – the end of the beginning, as it were, and hopefully a springboard into the future development of simulated clients in legal education.



Vivien and Pamela presented on the work they’re doing on using video clips to enhance the approaches taken by Mary Gentile in her educational design work and in her fine book, Giving Voice to Values.  The video excerpts, produced in ANU College of Law, are well-acted, short piece-to-camera, direct and powerful. Students watch them, then with their mentors they practise having conversations where they enact what they would say and do as if in the situation of addressing the persons in the video.

The GVV approach was scaffolded into conversations with students, with a number of issues arising from the conversations that analysed how the subjects in the video clips framed issues, how the lawyer could reframe the problem to enable the student lawyer to act; what rationalisations are at stake; how will you, as lawyer, counter client or supervisor’s rationalisations; and finally which levers can you pull to increase the likelihood the person will act ethically?

The approach is structured to help students first understand the legal rule that should be brought to bear on the issue, and secondly, to be able to act in such a way as to achieve some kind of ethical outcome.  This approach to learning ethics, through ethical learning, is fascinating and an interesting development when set beside SC methods.  It raises questions such as how can we use immersive video with SCs; are there ways to splice video with SCs; are there ways we can prepare students using this method for the SC encounter?  Possibly use these video clips as witness statements or as videos of other, legally-relevant interviews?  Lots of potential extensions to the SC method here.  It reminded me of Brechtian dramatic techniques, and especially the work of Augusto Boal, which I’ve referenced in other posts in this blog, where the improv drama on the stage is stopped, and the audience become participants in the action.  How could we use that with SCs?  What sort of training would we need for that?  Lots of fascinating questions raised by this presentation.

And it works.  Thus when students were surveyed, pre-GVV 24% of them would do the unethical thing that was asked of them.  Post-GVV, only 7% would do that – very positive result.  This is reflected, too, in positive student comment on the heuristic.  Currently GVV is running with students’ real life examples (ie students bring their own examples from placements).  This encourages reflective practice.  It helps students to think how they can solve issues that are real to them; and above all it’s motivating for learning.

Great approach to ethical learning, and lots to think about in the context of SC use.


Moira described how the 2012 pilot project was designed in the ANU College of Law.  I trained the SCs for ANU CoL back then, the pilot was held, and there was consolidated and refresher training, too, of SCs.  Each student of 104 students in the pilot had a recorded interview with a client, and had role-play practice before encountering the SCs.  SCs gave a grade of Competent or Not Yet Competent based on the SC global criteria ratings (these are posted up on the SCI site), and gave feedback on specific assessment criteria.  All not yet competent videos were double-marked; and students could view their own recordings.

Part of the pilot was the introduction of web interviews, using skype.  Moira noted that this is happening more in legal practice.  Both students and clients found it surprisingly useful, and students could see the utility of the web interview for their future legal practice.  She noted that compared to the f2f interviews, there appeared to be fewer not yet competent interviews among students who interviewed their clients on skype.

Moira showed data from the pilot that proved how effective the standardisation process was throughout the pilot.  She assessed performance of clients on each question, too – interesting issues there.  Typical student comment –

Getting to practise on a ‘real person’ makes you feel more like you are a ‘real lawyer’ rather than just roleplaying with other students and with other people watching you.

Students took the SC interviews far more seriously than the student role-plays; and received much more useful personal feedback from SCs than from tutors or students in the prior roleplays.

There were challenges.  There was no further use of SCs at ANU College of Law, which is an indication of how challenging the heuristic is, even after the positive pilot.  The curriculum design challenges included the necessity to standardise performance and marking; writing scenarios that work; the integration of SCs into the curriculum, and finally the roll-out of web conferencing.  Use of SCs does indeed represent a challenge for conventional curricula.  But that is part of the disruptive innovation of the heuristic: it forces change, and change for the better in the curriculum.  Another challenge (especially in 2012) was the unreliability of the internet infrastructure (though as Moira noted, that is improving, as are the apps that can be used in virtual interviewing).  Another challenge was simply that in a professional legal education course (GDLP) where there was already considerable innovation, this became lower priority than other forms of simulation and other innovations.


Julienne Jen: Research into SCs – The Hong Kong University experience

August 16, 2017

Julienne was presenting on behalf of her and her colleagues, Wilson Chow and Michael Ng.  The context of the use of SCs was the Postgrad Certificate in Laws (PCLL) at HKU Faculty of Law, which is skills-based, with students training to be trainee solicitors or pupil barristers in Hong Kong, and which is monitored closely […]

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Lucy Evans: the experience of using SCs at Flinders Law School

August 16, 2017

Before Lucy’s session I gave a brief history of the SCI initiative in my slides ‘The Simulated Client Initiative: A portrait of the outsider as teacher’, and they’re up on the SCI site. Back to Flinders…  Lucy described how the SC innovation was carried out at Flinders – based, as Lucy pointed out, on the […]

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Simulated Client workshop, Canberra, 16.8.17 – Keynote, Debra Nestel

August 16, 2017

I’m back at ANU, Canberra, giving a series of workshops and seminars over three days, which I’ll liveblog or try to summarise in this and subsequent posts – part of my duties as an Honorary Prof at the ANU College of Law (I’m now with Osgoode Hall Law School). First up is an all-day workshop […]

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CLE Conference.  Final thoughts: doing and undoing

June 20, 2017

In the FT back in March, John Gapper wrote an interesting article on why Standard Life offered a whopping £3.8bn for Aberdeen Asset Management.  It wasn’t a merger based on strength on either side (Standard Life acquiring Aberdeen’s niche skills; Aberden accessing Standard Life’s strength in developed markets) but on joint weakness.  That weakness, Gapper […]

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CLE conference, day 2, session 6

June 17, 2017

Emily Allbon and Morris Pamplin, from City Law School now, on ‘Lagton Legal: Creating a transmedia story world for the LLB Legal Practice’.  This LLB is a fully-online supported distance learning programme, developed with CILEx for legal executives and others.  The students are returners to education, working while studying, with family and other commitments.  How […]

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CLE conference, day 2, session 3

June 17, 2017

Presentations by Matthew Homewood, NLS, and Neetu Chetty (Varsity College, South Africa).  Matthew up first, on ‘Extending learning spaces using social media’.  He’s been collecting prizes by the armful recently, and he compared the situation re digital tech and legal education to the situation with initial teacher resistance to calculators in school classrooms.  Interesting.  He […]

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CLE conference, day two, session 3

June 17, 2017

Third plenary, Craig Newbery-Jones, Plymouth University Law School, on ‘The courage to walk into the darkness, strength to return to the light.  Technological experimentation within legal education and legal practice’.  I’ve published Craig’s work in the past – he has a highly sophisticated view of digital technologies and their uses in legal education, well worth […]

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