Panel presentation: law teachers as gatekeepers

by Paul Maharg on 30/09/2013

The full title is: ‘Law teachers as gatekeepers — How effectively are legal educators teaching students about the role of lawyers and the nature of legal practice’.  Kim Economides, Tim Bugg, Jemima Roe, Bradley Chenoweth on the panel, chaired by Michael Coper.

Kim up first.  He started by noting that he took a cradle-to-grave approach, including CPD, so he saw the other side of the gate as not just legal practice, but involving inter alia truth, knowledge of the law.  He makes the case that students can do legal work without becoming solicitors or barristers.  Compared the Indigenous participation in NZ with very poorer participation in AU; evoked Susskind’s argument to the future of law.  Humane professionalism was key.  The distribution of lawyers was also key, particularly for RRR AU.  In other words, not too many lawyers, but where they choose to live & practise and why.  How are these challenges to be met?  At Flinders & Newcastle law schools there is an integrated approach, with work-integrated learning, emphasising the ethical learning.  He wanted pluralism amongst law schools to remain; and criticised the funding model for not supporting innovation in teaching and learning.

Tim Bugg next.  For him, threshold learning outcomes was a succinct version of what law teachers ought to be trying to achieve.  Urged law schools to take back self-regulation.  Quoted the effect that the ABA has on the accreditation of US law schools.  Was involved in a law school review recently and dismayed by the burdens imposed on staff.

Jemima noted, from her position as Vice President (Education) of the Australian Law Students’ Association, how widely practices in legal education differed from one law school to the next.  She noted the advantages of practical legal education, both learning and assessment, for legal careers, and for entering professions other than law; and she observed the results of the well-being literature, and balanced this against the advantages of practical legal education (which in her terms included skills such as advocacy).  On the JD/LLB course fusion,  she noted that expectations, methods of delivery, JD not eligible for Hons, unavailability of electives to JD students were issues for concern to students.  They are different degrees, she argued, and should not be coalesced.  She wanted, if I’ve got her right, a different approach to the design of the JD.

Bradley expressed his interest in non-adversarial methods of solving problems.  He sees lawyers in the context of mediations.  He’s interested in the extent to which we can focus on the complexity that lies beyond mere application of a legal rule might be, regardless of context and situation.  He agreed with Carrie on her approach to law and legal education.   He drew the distinction between technical and adaptive leadership skills.  We focus on technical leadership skills & knowledge, but this is insufficient he argues, for technical and especially social complexity.  Dialogic accountability is essential, given the uncertainty of the job market of the future — what are we really preparing our students for?  For which jobs?  Which context?  He wants lawyers to be skilled leaders in and readers of situations where trust and accountability can be employed effectively (if I’ve understood that correct).  Wanted us to educate students so that they could not only be experts but also enablers.  It takes courage, he noted, to engage in dialogue.

Michael started off audience questions by noted the contrast between law as intellectual activity, and law as practical activity in the world.  He invited Carrie to respond, and there were other questions and comments from the floor along the lines of this theme.  One contributor, Paul Fairall, noted more complexity but also an increasing loss of control and autonomy for law schools, and on so many fronts: choice of students, design of curriculum, funding and much else.  Very good points.  And I hope to discuss an approach to the regulatory aspects of these issues in my plenary tomorrow.

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