ALTA Conference, plenary 1

by Paul Maharg on 30/09/2013

I’m live blogging the ALTA conference, held this year at ANU College of Law.  The theme of the conference invites us to explore the idea of law teachers as gatekeepers.  First plenary is Carrie Menkel-Meadow, who started by talking about gatecrashing or rather gate-opening as characterising her career.  Question:  are we teaching sovereignty or humanity?  What is it that we teach that must be taught within cities, regions, nations, transnational?  Important to know, but just as if not more important are the inter-sovereign or inter-jural competences, eg ADR.

She outlined false dichotomies — theory and practice, academy & profession, law as autonomy vs interdisciplinary inquiry, are we are a profession or a much bigger entity thinking about human problems.  She outlined her traditional education in law at UPenn — as an outsider, a woman, someone interested in civil rights.  She talked of the ‘brittle’ resolution of legal action in her legal rights work, as a poverty lawyer in Philadelphia.  A generalist approach in her education helped in categorising client fact patterns.  But watching a colleague solving a client’s problem not by taking it to court but by contacting informally the root of a client’s problem.  From that stemmed her interest in negotiation and later ADR.  Interdisciplinary foundations: anthropology political science, game theory and more.

Giving up a clerkship, she worked on experiential education: her teachers helped her define her approach to it — another form of gatecrashing activity, she observed, since so few teachers are actually taught how to teach well.  She developed ‘case rounds’, in medical terms, for legal education in clinical education — collaborative and hypothetical thinking about legal problems and solutions.  She also avoided ‘scripting’ — instead, practising

Third gatecrashing — feminist legal theory, which she taught.  eg sexual harassment law, using the work of Catherine MacKinnon and others.  Carrie pointed to interdisciplinary learning as essential to that project — jurisprudence and sociolegal forms of inquiry, giving rise to new legal claims, new forms of law and legal action.

Fourth — law & literature.  What do we learn from literary analysis about textual analysis in law.  She worked in the field of law & popular culture — published on this recently.

Fifth — ethics, taught experientially, with role plays, later published.  Still, she teaches in all her courses, to teach experientially.

Sixth — dispute resolution, and now involved in multi-party DR, negotiation of multiple issues, public & private partnerships, many constituents — how do we help decision-making?  At Melbourne she teaches dispute system design, with students as facilitators and working in experiential learning designs.  Final comments, on transnational systems, part of the centre that she is working on  — bringing together students and teachers from different systems to discuss problems that are often transnational in their origins and effects.

Vintage Menkel-Meadow — an inspirational personal, intellectual account of working in legal education for justice and peace in the world.

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