Session 6: Legal education

by Paul Maharg on 01/10/2013

Missed the plenary — one of the dangers of having a conference in your workplace. This morning, another three legal education streams to choose from — riches!  I’m in a session with Michael McShane presenting on ‘Should law schools focus on the discipline or the profession of law?’

He takes issue with the Carnegie claims that law schools in the US do a good job in educating students into the intellectual structures of the discipline in the first year of the JD.  He sees a dichotomy between knowledge and  doing, mind and body, self and world that is damaging to legal education.  In place of this he advocates situational learning and the approaches taken by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid.  He sees a strong link between cognitive science and neoliberalism.  Cog sci focuses on the learner and learning as an individual phenomenon, taken out of its social context.  Can students audit themselves…?  The flexible, nimble responsive goal-averse student…?  Cog sci has been co-opted into the neoliberal regime.  Interesting argument — wide-ranging  in terms of theory, ambitious, and I hope it’s published, sooner than later.

Next up, Oyiela Litaba on ‘(Ab)using the court system: helping our students to get it right.’  Sim activity, road being built as airport access, interesting relationships built up in it.  Role play in character, with characters explaining their situations to the junior lawyer who then has to decide what to do.  Oyiela moves between groups, advising, guiding.  She finds that a whole range of issues arise, not merely to do with the case law, but other issues as well, often arising from student knowledge of the cases but also from student knowledge of the social and professional situation.  There’s a report-back session to the whole group, looking at motivations, pressures, interests and principles at stake.  And also ‘how can ethics be put into action’.  She asks: how best can we assist students to move beyond the first step of recognising the need to move beyond litigation?  Very interesting presentation of the issues.  Discussion after was interesting too:  Vivien mentioned Giving Voice to Values as possible helpful context; I mentioned Augusto Boal.

Katherine Curnow now, talking about ‘Putting civil procedure into action’ — skills learning and experiential learning theory, the project and findings.  Sills included were comms, info gathering, problem solving, drawing on Kolb as modified by Sally Kift and using experiential learning to help students be ‘job-ready’ — though she notes that that phrase is complicated and controversial.  I agree!  The subject is an elective in the latter two years of the programme.  There’s a well-planned syllabus and in feedback (bivariate analysis, too — first stats ref I’ve seen in the conference to date…), showed powerful results — strong on confidence for the tutorials, and the statement of claim discussion, and that this helped in drafting the second time round.  Students working in practice got more out of the Statement of Claim discussion than students who were not in practice.  Lots of potential parallels between this and the work done in civil procedure in the GGSL by my colleagues Karen Barton and Patricia McKellar.  Must send Katherine the references.

Third presentation — Brendan Gogarty on ‘Practicing the study of public law.  A skills based teaching and learning model for undergraduate law students’.  Interesting slides on recent statements on skills development in Australian legal education, and the debates between substantive knowledge and skills learning in undergraduate programmes.  He notes cultural resistance, graduate relevance and much else.  He and colleagues at UTAS went through lots of iterations, none entirely satisfactory.  Now, there is a theory / practice / context model, with a case that is at the heart of the three stages.  Case from practice, then theory, then context, then the students move into more experiential learning.  This is repeated over and over in public law topics.  At the start there is a an induction, and audit reflection and final moot.  Assessment: by time sheets, interlinked theory / practice/context, integrated assessment, group work, reporting timekeeping probity, student management/overview.  Firm activity involvement points useful for developing groupwork.

Benefits: active participation in semester long learning, analytical & critical understanding of law, legal principles in context, builds research, analysis & problem solving and much else.  In question time Brendan told us how he developed and sustained all this.  Very sophisticated model, and not just for constitutional learning and teaching.  Lots of thought and experience gone into this.

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