Parallel session 2

by Paul Maharg on 11/07/2012

I attended Prof Stuart Bell (York U) and Dr Rachel Field, (Queensland U of Technology) on regulation and innovation at the academic stage.

Stuart began by making the point that there was little on research on effectiveness of professional regulation in the undergraduate degree, one way or the other.  HE regulation has more of an impact.  The constraints that do exist are largely endemic in the HE sector, ie scale, path dependency and risk aversion and resource limitations. Two questions he was asked: what limits might existing education and training regimes set on innovation with the legal services sector; and what constraints does current regulation impose on innovation in legal education and training?  He queried: is innovation a good thing in HE?He said it was odd that in HE innovation wasn’t queried more than it is.  Curious point — to be fair, he just put it out as a point for consideration.

On the subject of innovation and legal services, he displayed two photos: one of an old-fashioned High St c.1930s, and home to DLA Piper when he joined it when it had 16 partners.  Now has 4,000 partners, massive global firm.  The contrast reflects the change in the legal services market.

Deja vu, though — he quotes Peter Birks from the 1996 collection of essays, and he argued that professional regulation is no longer a real concern to those designing undergrad legal education.  At York, the School’s remit was ‘to establish an innovative and distinctive law programme which is intellectually rigorous and develops relevant graduate skills’.  PBL curriculum design was integrated substantively, embedded across all of the curriculum and with skills and academic knowledge integrated.  PBL encompasses scope and sequence — a true curriculum concept.  There is compulsory ethics module, work done on normative and behavioural ethics and professionalism.  No service teaching: his School collaborates with other Schools.  Interdisciplinary learning and there is a commercial context option in which students carry out a simulation of a law firm.

JASB were very welcoming of the approach, as were the professional bodies. He observed that if a cogent argument is put forward for change, generally it will happen.  Ingredients for innovation include, in collaboration, encouraging the ‘collisions’ of creative people, open source and sharing, and risk taking.  Innovation inhibitors include scale, risk aversion and lack of resource bases.  Don’t agree re innovation; and yes, professional regulation hasn’t had much direct impact on u’grad curriculum.

Rachael Field next up.  She focused on two recent developments — development of Threshold Learning Outcomes for the u/grad law degree, and the development i nitiatives to address elevated levels of law student psychological distress.  Internationalization was another important theme.  Re the Australian context she pointed out that legal education is still u/grad largely, focused on the Priestley 11 (almost purely knowledge based, and held back innovation because of that); there is the development of graduate capabilities in most Australian universities, and a call for the profession for work-ready, resilient graduates with relevant skill-sets.  There had been empirical studies on law student psychological well-being; studies indicated less than 50% law grads employed in the legal profession 4 months after graduating.

TEQSA 2011 established TEQSA in response to the Bradley Review of 2009.  The AU government aims to reform HE to widen participation; and in so doing has also committed to underpinning this growth by a robust QA and regulatory framework.  The LTAS (Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Project) framework, authored by Sally Kift, Mark Israel and Rachael, was partly in response to Bradley, knowing that TEQsa was on the horizon.  Rachael described the consultation.  The drafting principles included being not too general, not too prescriptive, appropriately pitched, can be implement and much else.  They were careful to avoid standarization of currricula, teaching to the test, stifling of innovation, focus on low-order achievement.  She summarised the TLO framework, which she describes as challenging the Priestley 11.

On student distress, she presented some of the research on how this comes about and is manifested in student behaviours, and drew a line between that and the distress in the profession.  She cited competitive and adversarial nature of legal ed and culture, and the way law is taught.

Rachael was exploring non-adversarial practices in law school and in legal practice.  Her ALTC Fellowship aimed to promote sudent mental health by stimulating adacement in the legal curriculum, its pedagogy and much else.  She described the initiatives across law schools in Australia.  Fine presentation, full of fascinating insight.

If a session is to be judged by the discussion it stimulates, this was an excellent session. Absorbing conversation that ranged between funding for universities, effect of professional programmes on u’grad, effects of clinical legal education, how we can learn from kindergarten methods of learning, the uses of collaboration.


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