The Future of Legal Education conference, GSU College of Law, Atlanta

by Paul Maharg on 22/02/2008

I’m at The Future of Education conference in Atlanta GA by kind permission of Clark Cunningham, conference chair and organiser.  I’ll be blogging the conference on this blog over the next three days or so, posting when I get back to my hotel. 

On the way over it was a freezing morning in Glasgow.  Gatwick was fog-bound, so we sat on the tarmac for an hour in Glasgow.  Wasn’t looking good for catching the connection to Atlanta.  I fretted at security, and sprinted through departures, red signs warning about last calls and closing gates – and when I got there everyone was waiting at the gate.   There had been a security alert on board, so passengers were de-boarded (first time I’d heard that one) as well as disgruntled.  Except me, who was feeling rather pleased with himself.  Ah, hubris…  when I got through customs at Atlanta I was met by an absence of luggage… 

Conference started yesterday.  I’ve met Liz Li, my co-presenter.  She’s a student at Georgia State U. College of Law, taking one of Clark Cunningham’s modules called The Future of Legal Education.  Amongst other things students get to travel to parts of the world where there are interesting or ground-breaking instances of legal education, and report on it.  Liz’s work entailed researching what we are doing in the Diploma in Legal Practice at GGSL, and then interviewing 12 trainees who had passed through our Diploma on their experience of transactional learning.  She’ll be reporting on that body of evidence to the conference. 

The conference started with a flag ceremony, where the saltire was on prominent display.  John Berry gave a powerful talk on professionalism and the problems of the profession: significant decline in professionalism, in perception of lawyers among the public, in depression among law students.  John stated that the challenge of the third apprenticeship, as outline in the Carnegie Report, was there to be taken up.  Advocacy was not enough: we need accountability (as per the work of Papadakis et al) and actual reform within the law school.  He advocated visits by the Bar representatives to law schools to identify new approaches and new models, outcome measurements, the moral systems of the third apprenticeship (which John argued was more important than the other two).     

Following on, Clark Cunningham summarised the argument of the Carnegie Report.  He outlined the crisis of professionalism as developed in the Report – that lawyers have abandoned the contract of professionalism, a way of life with public value.  He went on to discuss what was missing from the Carnegie Report, by reference to the Flexner Report, the first Carnegie Report on professional education, on medical education, which according to him said nothing new, but enabled much more speed and depth of reforms.  He pointed out the role of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, then newly created, where training and research were carried out, and the rapid application of research to student care, together with innovations in pedagogy.  The role of the conference was to bring together people who are involved in new models, with staff and professional figures from the US legal profession.  

Clark was followed by Bill Sullivan of the Carnegie Foundation.  He began with remarks on the history of Carnegie reports on legal education; and he focused on three points: professionalism and its developments, and the understanding of education in a particular way, namely formative education and third, the need to align professionalism and technical aspects of legal education.  For Sullivan, discretion and initiative are the core of professionalism – not the conditions of employment.  Professional work, even within large bureaucratic structures, provides ‘shelters’ (quoting Friedsen’s work) that provide and sustain professional organisations.  Collegial relationships help to construct the values of such organisations.  After an analysis of this, Bill explored the concept of formative education, active learning, and entry into the practice of an activity or a profession, and the making clear to those who are learning what it is they learn.  Such activity can shape the growth, including the moral growth and sensibility of students, and shapes a sense of what the world is like, and who the student might become in terms of professional and moral identity. 

For this to happen, there needs to be alignment with the code of the profession, and its domain.  The domain is fragile because it always needs to be enacted in the ‘field’, in the institutions and roles through which the domain is carried through time.  So the apprentices must share the same values & attitudes; and the stakeholders (ie clients, public, government) must share these two.  And of course the professional schools are there too – the root, in many respects, of this tree.  In conclusion, professionals depend upon the creation and reinforcement of formation, so that high ethics & performance becomes the norm in the organisations of the field, and is judged a valuable activity by the stakeholders. 

Next session was started by Sally Kift of QUT, taking us at breathless speed through the aims and process of curriculum development at QUT, Brisbane, Australia.  Three levels, grad attributes, skills and course objectives, including demonstrating ability, eg written communication, legal letter writing.  She showed us how the curriculum mapping was carried out on the basis of this taxonomy, ie mapping of skills & objectives, according to the careful sequencing of skills.  Eg the careful alignment of skill with subject content.  Which meant revisiting the first year programme entirely so that the rest of the curriculum could be built upon it. 

Among the lessons learned, was the need for a big culture shift, the process takes time, assessment is challenging, and there is a need to attend to tertiary literacies of law students, particularly those coming from another discipline.  She would be even more explicit in communication with students, and trying for more ‘cross-integration’ at higher levels.  There were potential problems about over assessment, and a need to ‘refresh’ teaching delivery, especially in regard to blended learning environment.  Throughout, there was emphasis on the social nature of learning.  Sally ended by giving tools – she emphasised the need to agree new learning objectives, to chose your key Grad Attributes, which should be do-able at any level, and the like. The presentation was a whirlwind introduction to the Australian context, from which all jurisdictions can learn. 

Next up was Richard Johnstone from Griffith U. Law School, on the integration of ethics, skills and knowledge.  He gave us much of the background in Australia, in terms of the reports and the initiatives that had grown up to develop this integration, together with a brief analysis of how it comes about. Disappointingly, according to the ‘Stocktake’ report, individualism seems to be triumphing over planned integration in some law schools. 

He then went on to describe the ‘Griffith Law Graduate’ profile in terms of legal knowledge, knowledge of legal theory and interdisciplinarity, team work and ethics, generic legal skills, internationalisation, indigenous issues, and diversity.    These are developed in vertical subjects, ie types of subjects.  Assessment is crucial, defining the de facto curriculum.  Assessment activities are designed, and some are used twice, so that assessment is a part of ongoing learning.  He concluded that he aimed to be resource-neutral (measured in teaching hours); that what he described was an example of a comprehensive and integrated approach; the approach relies on collegiality, where leadership & implementation is crucial; and there was the opportunity for social constructivist approaches to the learning of skills, knowledge and values. 

Finally Buckie Askew, substituting for Chris Johnson of GM Motors (who is also a member of an ABA legal education committee), presented (impressively almost off-the-cuff) on ABA Outcome Measures, and other initiatives, such as new measures on Bar exam passage.

Next up was Liz Li and myself.  I won’t comment on that except to say that Liz presented very well on trainee and newly-qualified feedback on transactional learning, and that the slides are available at http://www.slideshare.net/paulmaharg.  Following on, Martin Boehmer gave a careful and quite remarkable presentation about the structure and content of his new law school at Universidad de St Andres in Buenos Aires (founded by a Scotsman in the nineteenth century, apparently).  Democracy, constitutional analysis is key, but after an overview of law when entering the programme, students then take simulation and clinic programmes.  Martin talked about sensitivity to equality and diversity, and the responsibility of lawyers to those who don’t have rights to legal materials, advice, and the like.  Very interestingly, he defined politics as being important to the development of lawyers, not least because of the way that politics had defined the role of the judiciary and the role of lawyers in his country. 

After lunch there was a session on legal education in India.  That country has around a million registered lawyers, and M.K. Prasad outlined the economic context of law schools and the history of legal educational reform.  This included promoting legal literacy projects, the organisation of legal aid camps to carry legal services to the doorsteps of people, and carrying out class actions.  Clinical legal education was at the forefront of the national law school, established in 1987 in Bangalore under the directorship of Professor Madhava Menon.  The NLS began a national five year LLB.  The syllabus was revised and more national law schols (at present there are 10) were advocated.  The overview was brought up to date as of 2007. He finished by calling from traditional subjects to be integrated to make them more contextual, integrating teaching theory & practice; and transforming the end point – justice education. 

Following this, Anna Maria Flores, a student at GSU College of Law presented on her experiences in Bhopal and Goa on clinical education programmes.  She pointed out the differences between the concept of clinical education in the west, and social legal education, where students go into the homes and other places to help people.  Students are part of The Legal Aid Society, hold office hours, survey the needs of their community, plan workshops, interview clients, etc.  Legal aid work is no longer a burden, it’s part of the curriculum, where alumni come back to participate. 

Final speaker was Frank Bloch who made several comments, and chaired questions from the floor.  He focused first on the experiential context and the socially-relevant impact of the national law schools, where working for the poor is mandatory in the law school curriculum. 

After a Q&A session on the Indian legal educational reforms, came a technology session.  Stephen Levitt of the College of Law presented on the use of i-tutorials within the College of Law.  He outlined the legal educational framework in England & Wales, and then introduced the learning plan behind i-tutorials.  Next up was Gene Koo, of the Berkman Centre, on the way that the case book can be altered within the digital environments that are being developed.  He offered a vision of the future for case books and resources.  He describes legal education today: students are consumers of closed products.  He imagined open communities of practice, which everyone will draw upon – ie remixing the case book.  This would enable distributed authorship: more, better, faster. One example was the Connexions product at Rice University.  For this to happen, he said, we need organic communities with a culture of sharing, and material that is easy to modify. Christian Turner then demonstrated HydraText, a piece of software that enables staff to create textbooks.  Hardware was playing up, but he showed interesting functionality on cutting and pasting text and the creation of recognisable book formatting on a large scale.

In the final session, three ‘baby’ or adolescent law school programmes presented on what they were doing.  CUNY’s Mary Lewis gave an inspiring view of the programme they have, and the values that they teach to.  They’ve developed the clinic concept into an incubator programme where the desire to do good and the desire to make a business from law is supported by the law school who help arrange small office space in poor areas of Manhattan for new grads, and help with pooled legal research (eg WestLaw contracts). 

Peggy Maisel, FIU Law School, presented the excellences and strengths of her law school, and also the obstacles and pressures inhibiting innovation and change.  These include ABA accreditation standards, the small pool of faculty with non-traditional skills & values, and the desire to be ranked as elite.  Other issues in the first five years included founding faculty’s conservatism; faculty hierarchy that led to lecturer turnover and low morale; the curriculum was not entirely integrated, with legal analysis prioritized over skills & judgement; resources were problematic, in terms of cutbacks in state funding.  Peggy recommended faculty development and admin leadership; new reward systems for faculty; formative assessment for students, and a complete student survey. 

Final speaker of the day was Jerry Organ of St Thomas Law School, talking of how law schools shape the professional identity of law schools – success as defined by grades, atomism, cynicism, shift form intrinsic to extrinsic motivation; students lose touch with the value systems that have guided their lives, particularly their commitment to public service (hired gun, or as Prasad said more graphically, ‘hired knife-thrower’).  The latter was a ‘signature image’ of law school activity. 

St Thomas describes itself as a law school of faith, any faith.  Its signature image of a lawyer is as a ‘servant-leader’.  Greater commitment to public service is key, and recognised in a variety of ways.  For example, in the UST’s mentor externship programme, where each student is paired with a mentor for each of their three years, take part in five ‘experiences’ each year and reflect on some of those experiences with the mentor, and participates in a 16 week programme focusing on skills and law firm economics of practice, life-balance, gender & race discrimination in the profession, building a mentoring relationship, networking, marketing, billing, having difficult conversation, and listening.  Benefits include experiential learning and reflective dialogue, diff. Types of legal practice and contexts, becoming a professional and being successful as a professional, and having someone direct this learning.  This is a 300,000 investment for director & staff, but the costs are worthwhile.  Law school generates good will, has more satisfied students and alumni, and the profession benefits from the renewal that comes with interactions with students. 

What was my impression of the day’s activities.  First, I came away with the sense of the impressive variety of law schools.  There was, to my ears, strong criticism of current practice, aligned to what the Carnegie Report was saying.  It’s remarkable to see the process of change in action, and to see a community so willing to examine its own practices and to consider changing them at deep levels.  More of this later.

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1 minnesota meeting planners | event planners in mn | event planners twin cities March 21, 2008 at 15:24

In the future, this blog can serve as a place to: disseminate publicity regarding public forums and meetings of community- based groups like the Buchanan- Andrew Counties Transitional Advisory Committee and its sub- committees, findings and recommendations of those groups, publish articles or research, or even post inspirational stories on the topic of reentry.

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