Seminars: Kobe University Faculty of Law

by Paul Maharg on 27/08/2009

I was invited by Akira Saito, professor of law at Kobe University Faculty of Law, to hold seminars on what we were doing in the GGSL with regard to transactional learning and technology.  I'd previously worked with another law school, Kwansei Gakuin, in Osaka, close by Kobe, where faculty developed a version of our sim software, and also used standardized clients.  On a visit to see this and to report on our progress in Glasgow what I found really interesting was the way that simulation had been interpreted locally, not just to fit legal educational and jurisdictional needs, but also to account for cultural differences in approaches to teaching and learning at a fairly deep level.  A bid to the MacArthur Foundation to investigate the way that six cultures internationally (Taiwan, Japan, Netherlands, Scotland, Australia, USA) interpreted the use of simulation in legal education didn't attract funding, but it's still a fascinating subject I want to investigate .

So when Akira's email landed in my inbox a while back I was keen to take it further.  We liaised by email and came up with a timetable for two days of seminars and talking shops, which finished yesterday — slides here.  I'm heading back to Scotland very early tomorrow this morning, so I want to get some thoughts down on this before jet lag catches up with me again.   

The recent story of Japanese legal education is not easy for either common lawyers or civilians to understand.  Some features are readily recognisable — the emphasis on lectures rather than the US case method, for instance.  The usual suspects appear — curriculum drift, increasingly irrelevant curriculum content, forms of assessment that are highly formalised (eg the Legal Examination); fairly traditional teaching that switched students off with its unreflective and normalised methods of knowledge dissemination.  Some issues are baffling (minute numbers of practising lawyers, eg) until one understands the cultural background to them.  

The most significant recent feature was an attempt at radical change around five years ago which now seems to be widely perceived as having not met the needs of the profession or the public.  I agree a lot with Luke Nottage's perceptive article, which points to inadequate design at the early stages of legal education as the place for major surgery, rather than the extension of legal education into practice courses and the like.  Why create an academic-professional divide when many commentators in most professions see that as a major barrier to progress?  On of the points I made during the seminars (and I make it in most chapters of Transforming) was that implementing pilots and projects are necessary for inspiring confidence and managing the change process, but there needs to be a wider vision of how the undergraduate curriculum will be transformed, and that includes (inter alia) taking account of the fourfold issues set out in my summary of Transforming's themes:

Transforming quadrant

Hence the visit, and the seminars, the context of which was the general acknowledgment that the reforms weren't working, and that local centres such as CDAMS needed to take the initiative to stimulate change.  The participants in the seminar included academics such as Professor Shiro Kasimiura (both Akira and Shiro have worked together as core members of CDAMS, the Centre for Legal Dynamics of Advanced Market Societies, and the Centre's work includes legal education), other academics such as Professor Reiko Hayashi (Grad School of Humanities and Sciences, & Faculty of Letters, Konan Women's University), Kobe university staff such as Kaori Sakurai (Diversity Promotion Co-Ordinator), and a number of postgraduate students.  

On the second day we had a fascinating discussion about the relevance of initiatives such as SIMPLE and transactional learning, the educational and philosophical bases of them and their relevance to Japanese education.  It was clear that there was much interest in further investigating this as an approach to some of the problems facing the Japanese legal educational process.   Watch this space for development, not just of implementations, but of theory as well.  

My thanks to all seminar participants for great discussions; and in particular to Akira and Shiro for their invitation and for all their kindness during my visit — I learned a huge amount in my short time as a visitor to CDAMS.  

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