Kwansei Gakuin University Law School Workshop

by Paul Maharg on 14/03/2008

I spent five days last week in Japan, in Osaka, at the invitation of Professor Naoki Ikeda, at the Kwansei Gakuin University Law School, Umeda campus, in the centre of Osaka.  I was presenting a paper at the workshop & seminar held by the Law School on simulation in legal education, 8.3.08.  It was my first time in Japan, and I have to say I was moved by the difference (and differance) of the urban culture I came across. 

I cancelled a visit to Kyoto on the day after the workshop because I needed to work on a couple of things, but having walked around the Chayamachi shopping centre for a break from the computer screen, I think Kyoto would have been overwhelming: I just wouldn’t have understood anything.  As it was, and feeling like a visitor from Mars, it was all enough to cope with.  Small exchanges told me how much I had to learn.  For instance when I arrived the baggage handler who put my case onto the bus, bowed to the bus when it departed.  What was that about?  Was it recognition of the bus driver, its passengers, a way of saying goodbye formally to the bus on its journey (though he must do that many times a day), or he just did it as a matter of decency?  Or travelling back to the airport, when the bus driver stood outside the bus to take tickets: some passengers gave formally with both hands and a nod or slight bow, both young and old Japanese, but most gave with one hand and no bow.  Those who nodded and gave with both hands – were they old-fashioned in their manners, or well-mannered, or simply mannered, or uncertain about what to do?  Hard to read the variation in the signs. 

This was evident at dinner especially.  At the farewell dinner after the workshop I sat beside a professor who spoke English (I have no Japanese), and to make conversation I asked him about the characters on my chopsticks porcelain rest.  They wish you a clean and pure heart, he said.  Why, I asked, thinking it was part of another ritual.  Because it’s important, he said, with mild surprise. 

Technology was part of people’s lives much more than in the UK.  Mobiles seemed to be used more imaginatively.  They were certainly marketed more imaginatively.  Walking around the area about the hotel I came across what looked like a sports pavilion that had sprung up overnight, called ‘Let’s walk!’ with a running machine and lots of sporty-looking youngsters who were handing out leaflets that turned out to be adverts for mobile phones – they were doing a brisk trade, too.  On the way to dinner the night before the seminar there was some debate about where the restaurant was in the maze of the underground Hankyu mall.  One of the professors whipped out his notebook, nearly a handheld, opened the GPRS connection, looked up the directory of restaurants, then used GPS to find out where it was.  Cool I thought; it was pretty ordinary for him.

This also was the visit to the East where I learned to love sushi.  I’ve always been constitutionally suspicious of shellfish, having had a couple of bad experiences early on, and extended the rules re cooking to fish as well, so raw fish was always going to be, psychologically, a challenge.  Having read my Levi-Strauss I knew all the reasons why, but that was just the way it was.  Taiwan was difficult that way.  But at the farewell dinner it finally clicked – so much so that the next day I walked past the pasta restaurant, and into the local sushi shop.  It was delicious.  I even had miso soup, which I remembered from my student days in Edinburgh, when I was interested in Zen Buddhism (via William Archer & late nineteenth century English lit crit – it’s a long story…), except that this was exponentially more tasty, so much so that I asked for a second bowl, and had no pudding.  No pudding.  Reader, this was a major moment in my culinary education. 

Another transitional moment was when I was leaving, sitting in the departure lounge, the only westerner in the airport it seemed, when in the opposite row of seats two Brits sat down.  I noticed two things about them I wouldn’t have normally given second thought to.  First, the guys’ actions seemed loud and crude – they sat with their legs open or insolently crossed; they stared too long at people around them, they talked too loud.  Second, they were eating in public in an area not designed for it, with their mouths open, taking bites that were too big.  And it was junk food.  Actually, by Brit standards they weren’t loutish at all.  But by comparison with the people I’d been among for the last five days (almost all of them strangers) it struck me as nearly offensive.  On one level these are fairly superficial notes from a naïve observer.  But for the observer it was a lesson in otherness, as well as humility, and my naïveté about Japanese history and urban culture made the contrast more striking for me. 

Naoki had invited me to the workshop to talk about simulation generally, but especially about our SIMPLE project.  He also presented what the law school at Kwansei Gakuin were doing in that regard, after a visit to Glasgow to see what we were doing.  It was impressive.  They have a working ‘firm’ environment, and they had a simulated client programme.  Two of the simulated clients (SCs) addressed the workshop on their experiences, and two others spoke from the floor.  It was moving to listen to their experiences, and I realized that we needed to do the same in Glasgow – we needed to foreground the experiences of our SCs, too, in this way.  Kwansei Gakuin were also innovating in that they integrated the use of SCs with their virtual environment.  Naoki showed a video of a session where a SC, a woman in her fifties, was explaining to her (student) lawyer why she wanted a divorce from her husband.  The student, several times, tried to persuade her otherwise, to the extent that she became a little irritated.  It was fascinating to watch, and I’d have liked to have seen a debrief with the student later.  On one level the student was simply not listening to the client.  On another, the video may have been representing the divide between the moral universe of the client and that of the lawyer (as analysed in the classic work of Felstiner & Sarat, for instance).  On another the student was learning to negotiate the difference between giving advice and accepting instruction; and at yet another, more personal, level there may have been psychological processes emerging between the older woman and the much younger male student.  The video was proof of how powerful SC approaches can be, how well the clients were performing, and how much students could learn from it. 

The panel session after the individual presentations was very interesting, with questions from the floor, and brief presentations from Naoki, myself, and Professors Shiro Kashimura of Kobe University Law School and Satoshi Miyagi from Ryukyu University Law School.  Shiro is a sociolegal academic, a non-practising lawyer.  Before the session Shiro and I had a brief conversation about the work of Lucy Suchmann on situated learning and the anthropology of learning – like me he’s an admirer of her approach.  He raised interesting issues about identification of the competency of a lawyer.  For him, competence was not just about the process of a transaction, but about the establishment of trust.  Bearing this in mind, he asked how far could we develop simulations, and how, and whether they could be used in doctrinal and sociolegal classes.  Naoki talked about a survey of the public about the performance of lawyers.  Interesting findings that mirrored some studies.  Technically, clients were satisfied (though of course there’s the competency issue there); lower results for knowledge of the client affairs beyond the lawyer’s specialism, and lower still for listening to clients.  Satoshi wondered why a virtual town was necessary?  He also wondered if we were training students to use IT that wouldn’t be available in many offices.  He also pointed out that, because transactions were so specific, students should have the opportunity to choose areas of law that they would, ideally, want to enter later in their career.  I answered some of these points, as well as showing what we were doing in Practice Management to facilitate professionalism.  I cited the example of the Torts class at U. of Glamorgan Law School (led by Karen Counsel) in the SIMPLE project as an example of a substantive law class that was using simulation – in first year undergraduate, too.  Simulation, I said, was not the complete solution – nothing was.  But it was a powerful method of learning in its diversity; and it encouraged diversity of learning methods, including collaboration and social learning, and could be a vehicle for change management in approaches to legal education. 

I found it hard to judge what the audience made of it all.  We’ll see.  Slides as usual will be on Slideshare.  Paper to follow in the next few months. I gave a slightly modified & updated version of the paper that Martin Owen and I wrote for the Journal of Information, Law & Technology last year; but I told Naoki that I’d write another paper later, once I’d been to the workshop and understood more about the micro- and macro-politics of legal education in Japan.  They’re at a fascinating stage of development, moving from a system heavily influenced by German / US traditional forms of education, into a new domain, where legal education is opening up to other methods than the deeply conservative forms of instruction and assessment that had dominated before.  Astonishingly, in the recent past, the Bar exam pass rate was of an order of two or three percent per annum.  Under the new reforms around five years ago that increased to about 30%, but is now falling again.  It seems that the process of educational reform is not achieving as much as might have been hoped.  In part I suspect that this is structural rather than methodological in cause, and that assessment, particularly later at the professional end of the process needs re-alignment with new educational learning & teaching processes; and there’s also some work to be done in aligning the processes of education with what lawyers actually do in society.  But I have some research & thinking to do about the whole nexus, and the paper is the place I’ll be doing that. 

More than ever, though (and bearing in mind Shiro’s key questions), I’m convinced that the time is ripe for an international project on simulation learning.  Our Cyberdam cousins are doing well in the Netherlands, and our own SIMPLE project finishes in July 2008; but these are national projects only.  In the UK we’re currently putting together the groundwork for a community of practice post-project; but there’s also a need to start conducting research and evaluation on an international level.  More of this later, but meanwhile if you’re interested in taking part in such an international project, drop me a line. 

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