Nottingham Law School, Centre for Legal Education

by Paul Maharg on 05/04/2013

I’ve accepted a position as a part-time professor in Nottingham Law School, starting this month, and concurrent with my position at ANU.  I’ll be working on research and publication projects with staff in the Centre for Legal Education (CLE) where there’s synergy with the projects that I’ll be setting up  in the Centre at ANU, in the field of regulation, technology-enhanced learning and educational design.  Why work with CLE …?

First, the quality of the work on a number of important subjects.  They’re doing fine research on work-based learning and regulation (Jane Ching, my colleague on LETR [see her research record here]); they are working with centres in Europe on regulatory and other activities (headed up by Dean Andrea Nollent), and the Centre is involved in innovative PBL-style initiatives (Rebecca Huxley-Binns, Reader in Legal Education).  Rebecca has already published a chapter in a book I co-edited with Caroline Maughan, Affect and Legal Education, and is working on on similar publications; and of course Jane and I will be working on regulation projects and publications.  Janice Denoncourt was published, on legal education & film, in the recent EJLT BILETA special edition.  In addition, all this fits well with plans at the ANU Centre for research and publications.

Second, and on purely practical grounds, it makes sense for research centres doing similar work to collaborate and share, not just theoretical but developmental projects as well (and coming from a Pragmatist, Deweyan perspective, I try to integrate these two where I can).  There is so much that needs to be done to improve legal education, and centres internationally need to support each other in this crucial work.  I’ve argued this since the 1990s, and my experience at the Glasgow Graduate School of Law confirmed the necessity for and value of such collaborative work.

Third, and perhaps most important, centres need to focus not just on their own jurisdictions, but also take account of global perspectives in legal education.  This makes sense on a purely practical level, too; and it involves the necessity for and urgency of change in legal education.  But there is more to it than that.  My argument needs a little unpacking — it appears in part in a recent article on change and innovation in legal education, in the International Journal of the Legal Profession), and in compressed form below the fold…

William Twining, and his description of the challenges of globalisation, is a good place to start.  In his Epilogue to Globalisation and Legal Theory (London, Butterworths, 2000) he comprehensively set out the challenges of globalisation to our understanding of law.  He defined globalisation’s challenges to traditional legal theory as being threefold:

  1. its attack upon the black box theory of nations and legal systems as closed and isolated entities
  2. its denial of the separation of municipal state law and public international law
  3. its challenge to the present conceptual framework and vocabulary of legal discourse (Twining, 252).

He rightly identifies that one implication of globalisation has been to make more relevant and pressing the need for a revival of general jurisprudence, and in a series of ten points he outlines what this might involve.[1]  Globalisation’s threefold challenge to traditional legal theory is also a challenge to the future of law schools.  As Twining pointed out way back in his famous inaugural lecture ‘Pericles and the Plumber’ (1967), most law schools still do not give radical educational theory and praxis sufficient consideration.  Too often pedagogy is dismissed as mere classroom technicism, or a black box imported from another discipline, and regarded neither as law-talk nor talk about law.

Legal education, in any jurisdiction, can be law-talk, and it often is talk about law, though rarely recognised as such.  As Dewey’s career and work reminds us, philosophy and education cannot be treated as separate disciplines or even as distinct categories of thought.[2]  Viewed in this way, education presents a perennial epistemological challenge to law, and the nature of the challenges can be defined in terms close to Twining’s threefold definition of globalisation’s challenges to traditional legal theory above.  Thus, education and educational research denies the ‘black box’ of the legal classroom: the class is part of a complex web of experiences for students and teachers, and must be treated as such.  Second, the separation of legal education itself from other aspects of professional life and wider social issues cannot be sustained.  In particular, regulation of legal education within a jurisdiction cannot be sustained unless viewed globally and in the context of developing professional contexts.  How do we create and take in regulation, and how does regulation create our legal education, how does it shape us, how does it (in every sense) take us in?   Finally, educational theory challenges the conceptual framework of the law school, its structure (both material and human) and its conventional discourse, not least the scripts with which staff explain their professional lives to themselves, and the scripts that students create around their emerging professional identities.

That’s a sketch of the basic argument.  Now set it in the context of international financial and labour flows, new economic and political environments, the increasing globalisation of legal work, and the basics take on a new complexity that we need to address.  There’s already a literature on many aspects of this, of course — see for example Thornton (2001), Faulconbridge & Muzio (2009), Silver et al (2008), some of whose work shows how education can be used to support discourses that seek to mitigate, stifle or deny these three challenges, or misread them in the thrall of neoliberal agendas.[3]   Education is, after all, a highly political process at every level.  The key problem, identified in Twining’s article back in 1967 and perennially with us, is the issue of change that these challenges inexorably bring: what change can/will happen, and how it can be shaped in our law schools (and how is it shaping us), and how can we achieve critical dialogue and praxis on the issues?

In Transforming Legal Education I outlined four ways in which legal education needed to be transformed, which I summarised in the following graphic.

Slide1The four book publications I’ve worked on in that period were, in a sense, attempts to map out change in each of the lozenges; or at least to begin the process of drawing attention to how law schools could begin to address some of the issues.  In the graphic, they broadly map onto their place in the matrix — Transforming for example focuses on experiential learning, top left int he graphic, (though also technology and the history of technology in legal education, seeing both as essential to a material understanding of experiential learning).  The two book series I co-edit have in part the same transformative agenda.

In the six years since Transforming was written, the agenda hasn’t altered that much which, given the radical outline of the agenda, is hardly surprising; but dismaying all the same.  There is so much that we need to do to improve legal education.  For example the effort to create discipline-specific technologies appropriate for our curriculum designs is considerable: we need to collaborate on that, on the process of design, specification, build, testing, use, feedback and so on.

We cannot go on as we have done, in our separate jurisdictions, when law itself is increasing globalised.  The ANU Centre will therefore be a distributed centre, working in joint scholarly projects on a global scale, and not just with centres such as Nottingham Law School’s CLE in England but with centres elsewhere in Australia, and with other centres in the US, Canada, Scotland, Wales.  And not only on the above challenges.  The globalisation of comparative international legal education theory and practice is still under-theorised and under-researched – that too needs to change.

[1] Twining is analysing globalisation and its effects; but it is interesting to note that in his book’s Epilogue’s section on ‘general jurisprudence’, if we should replace those two words with ‘general education’ throughout the ten points, we have a picture of how educational theory might affect and be affected by, globalisation.

[2] Dewey would have appreciated the debate between plumber and statesman on key political issues as critical to the health of a democracy, whether fifth-century BCE Athens or twentieth-century America.

[3] Thornton, M. (2001). The demise of diversity in legal education: Globalisation and the new knowledge economy.  International Journal of the Legal Profession, 8, 1, 37-56;  Faulconbridge, J.R., Muzio, D. (2009). Legal education, globalisation, and the cultures of professional practice. Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, 22, 1335-1362; Silver, C., Zandt, van, D., Bruin, de, N. (2008).  Globalization and the business of law: Lessons for legal education.  Northwestern Journal of International Law and Business, 28, 399-414.



{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Richard Moorhead April 17, 2013 at 08:19

Best of luck Paul, that’s quite a commute! Enjoyed the post.


2 Jon Harman April 17, 2013 at 08:56

Excellent piece Paul and looks like Nottingham is building a powerhouse of thought there. Trying to engage legal ed in the wider notions of educational design often seems an uphill challenge, but maybe we’re all starting to come of age in an ed world ripe for some disruption. Need to all start collaborating more! If you haven’t read yet, strongly recommend:

Also some musings on higher ed shifts:


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