Session 3a: Legal Education

by Paul Maharg on 30/09/2013

Leonie Kelleher & Hubert Algie, ‘Gatekeepers of the Law: Revising the roles of academics, students and the profession’.  Descriptions of activities where students practise skills eg advocacy.  Hubert described generally the context that one might find in good advocacy courses, focusing especially on risk, failure in public in front of one’s peers.  One interesting point among others — that advocacy can assist academia.  He claimed advocacy can assist learning of the law.  I asked him later how he knew that that had taken place — he was referring to the skills of case preparation.  I agreed, and argued that this should be happening in other legal modules on law degrees generally, since it is so central to what students need to understand about legal reasoning.  Other points raised: very good feedback (no surprising, given students’ uncertainty in the field and the value of the experience); but little detailed measurement of specific sub-skills.  He did note that measurement needs improving.   We cd learn a lot from medical educational standards here.

Case study 2 was a clinical module, initiated and designed by an Elder of an Indigenous people.  The students acted for the Indigenous Elder.  An interview was the first element, ‘on country’, and there were later classes in Melbourne.  The assignment topic, interestingly enough, was not fixed.  Strengths: overhwelmingly positive for students and the indigenous community; it was pro bono; it transformed student understanding of Indigenous legal principles; the university was supportive; staff were funded ‘on country’, travel costs were met, as was a meeting with Michael Kirby.  Difficulties: the personal and financial obligations, not least calendar obligations for students; the outback location was difficult to reach; perplexities with university admin.  Opportunities: this was serious work; the developing trust between students & community; mentoring; practical legal skills; Federal Court test case; it permanently changed perceptions; there was commitment to Indigenous issues as a result.  Threats: level of responsibility; case subject not re-run (extraordinarily).

Summary: both case studies captured a real love for learning; it improved abilities of students; the students who were ‘outside the mould’ of usual teaching & learning especially appreciated this; both taught resilience, they were challenging.

Next up, Kristoffer Greaves, ‘A unanimous tacit complicity: does reproduction inculcate gatekeeping?’. He focused on one question in his research (how PLT teachers use research) — how does the paramount duty to the court intersect with PLT when assessing competence?  About two thirds said yes: but there’s a duty to the public too.  Some felt conflicted or confronted sometimes.  What about law school graduates with basic competencies…?  Those who said no, also commented that they weren’t gatekeepers, market forces take care of it, the protection of clients prevails.  He noted his theoretical bases, especially Bourdieu, on forms of capital — cultural, social, symbolic and economic.  He saw social stratification and professional training spliced.  Good points on Bourdieu, citing Dezelay & Madsen (2012), and especially on the struggle between structure and agency.  He also cited de Certeau, eg the way agents’ tactics resist dominant strategies/structures in their work.  Good presentation.

Finally, my colleagues at ANU Chris Trevitt & Lynn Du Moulin, on ‘Gatekeepers meet stakeholder interests: Managing the tensions arising from the changing nature of professional dialogues in legal education’, presented by Chris.  He focused (as in part did Kristoffer) on the model of stakeholder dialogue, emphasising assessment for and of learning, teacher performativity dialogue.  He gave a model of dialogue, two cols, adversarial vs dialogic (from Escobar).  He raced over topics: authority & power in student assessment, including negotiated assessment and self-assessment; student agency; trust building — a precondition for effective feedback.

Good question time.  Fine session.

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