Session 2: Clinical legal education & practical legal training

by Paul Maharg on 30/09/2013

There are three legal ed streams in the conference, so I’m following one at a time.  First up in this session are Barry Yau & Vivien Holmes — What’s ethics got to do with it?  Requiring students to be cognisant of ethical parameters in commercial practice’.  Barry described the context of the GDLP course and the Commercial Law subject, and noted two survey results.  At ANU, a survey showed that only 37.3% of students thought their undergrad experience cencouraged developed ethical practice.    Yet another survey from Sydney Law School showed that  50% of law grads practised Commercial Law in the first year of employment. There were two views on implementation of ethics courses — mixing ethics with a Commercial Practice course could be confusing, said some; some students said ethics should be taught as a separate subject.

What did they do?  They structured scenarios to counter the narrow or silo view of ethics, and Barry described these in detail.  And they’re planning research to explore and validate the role of commercial tutors in the simulation roles.  Some useful questions on whether ethics education in primary professional courses can transfer to practice.

Next up were Moira Murray and Anneka Ferguson, on ‘Preparing students for legal practice: how law teachers can assist students to develop teamwork and collaboration skills’.  She described the general background of the Virtual Office Space (VOS), the expectations of students, team dynamics and advantages / disadvantages online, and how this approach impacts on professionalism.

The survey of student expectations threw up some interesting results — students were split about whether they had concerns about group work.  Whether they had done it substantially before at undergrad depended on the type of university attended — Go8, no, other unis, yes.

Moira outlined what ANU did to mitigate concerns, particularly on the BAP, the initial week-long course.  They kept the team together by emphasising and working on trust, commitment phobia, the size of the team and workload, and free-loading.  She described how the PCC team mitigated the disadvantages to maximise the advantages of the team work.  Support for teams is essential, telling the students why they are working in teams is important; ensuring both individual and group accountability is working, and ensuring the technology is working well.

Final presentation in this session, ‘Shaping the shift to professional learning: transactional learning online in ANU Legal Workshop’s Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice’, with Aliya Steed, Margie Rowe and Liz Lee.  Liz started with outlining some of the issues and problems, particularly in an online environment.  These included helping students to build resilience or self-responsibility while designing the course to be flexible.  Margie described the diverse transactions, and  the diverse tutor personae.  She noted that they needed to work on outcomes on this, and described the standards to which staff were expected to work on the course.  The final category concerned diversity and equity — eg random pooling of students in firms, and discovering their strengths and the points they need to work on.

Aliya, finally, pulled the three sim presentations together by discussing authenticity — how authentic is the learning experience?  She pointed out other professions using the approach.  How should a sim be?  How ‘safe’ should the environment be? How should work be assessed?

Very interesting session, raising lots of issues, but showing how the team in the GDLP at ANU is creating a genuinely innovative environment for professional student learning.

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