Standardized clients @ ANU Legal Workshop

by Paul Maharg on 13/11/2011

Still catching up on AU activities, before the plane later today flies me back to northern winter.  As Adjunct Prof at ANU I spent the earlier part of the week training Standardized Clients at ANU’s Legal Workshop, and simultaneously training the staff under Margie Rowe’s capable direction who will take on the future training.  Our SCs came from a variety of backgrounds — one of them was already a Standardized Patient with the Med Faculty at ANU.  It was interesting to hear Camilla compare her experiences of that and the training we were giving the Law SCs.

It was brought home to me yet again how important the first day is in which we discuss the case narrative, taking it apart detail by detail.  At one stage in the narrative the SC had to describe how a writ was served on him/her at his/her home.  Oddly enough, even with staff describing it, we couldn’t really visualise the impact of that.  One of the SCs, a philosophy doctoral student, suggested role play.  He played a sheriff and one of the SCs played, well, a SC.  The role-play within a role-play worked brilliantly — we were left in no doubt what was said, how it was said, and how it felt to be a SC at the receiving end of the writ.  Thanks Sven!

It was pretty full-on stuff, but by the end of the third day we’d achieved significant convergence in assessment across the eight global ratings that will be used by SCs at ANU.  I find these sessions inspirational: people from all walks of life coming together, bound by an interest in legal education and improving it, and undergoing pretty rigorous training to do that, and gaining in confidence as a result.  Another SC with a computing business background, Peter, watching me enter SC assessment results into a spreadsheet to feedback to the group, came up with some interesting ideas on visualizing that data as it accumulated throughout the repetitions of the rehearsal and assessment stages of training; and I hope he follows that up.

On the final day, and after the SCs had left, teaching staff and I had another session in which we went into minute detail how SCs would be used in the pilot early next year.  Project planning is essential because the assessment method is so unique.  But if assessment is to be aligned (Biggs, etc) to teaching and learning, then we needed to rethink that too.  It happens in every SC project, as it does with every significant assessment innovation.  And if we’re doing this for interviewing, can’t we continue it into writing and drafting, possibly negotiation too?  So we needed to think about making the T & L environment in (to use software terminology) extensible — its architecture needed to be open, so that future change was easier to implement: swift, and better organized as a result.  And why should only students on the professional courses have these experiences?  Why shouldn’t undergraduates experience this too, in what can be fairly wintry experiences of learning the law, as we know from the literature?  Newly-qualified lawyers?  Other legal personnel?

And finally, having seen at APLEC what Deborah Ankor and Lucy Evans are doing at Flinders, there’s surely no reason why, once ANU has run the pilot, and both ANU and Flinders have got more experience under their belts, a joint Standardized Client Initiative (SCI) workshop can’t be run for all other law schools in AU, maybe featuring live SC work, SCs talking about their experiences, students talking about the experience of interviewing a SC, speakers from med faculties, future workshops at APLEC and other forums, I can already see the website:…  But alas I must stop here, and head off for Sydney airport, with Shelley’s inspiring thought that if I’m bound for winter, can spring be far behind?

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