WG Hart, day 2, session 4

by Paul Maharg on 25/06/2014

Kicking off with Richard Collier — ‘Love law, love life’: Wellbeing in the legal profession — some critical reflections on recent developments.  Recurring theme: well-being, stress, is a problem in the legal profession, the literature and the research is saying.  Richard sped over a whole range of issues that were intersecting on this issue: catastrophising, perfectionism, cognitive distortion, mental grids that focus on the worst of scenarios.  He considered how well wellbeing is understood in the debates, and how this relates to both equality and diversity agendas in the profession.  Also how gender and professional identity (as he points out in his abstract) intersect.  The problem of definition is critical.  Is there political significance (track to economy, culture, emotional life).  Three emerging themes: equality and diversity in law, the legitimacy of legal education, the ethical obligation of law school.  Hugely wide-ranging, interesting presentation on the research in and around wellbeing, and critical of both the concept and the context, as well.

Next, Caroline Strevens, Clare Wilson and Liz Lee on Expectations of students and coping strategies in the face of ‘distress’: implications for legal education.  Caroline outlined the project and some of the issues in the UK.  Liz Lee outlined the research carried out in AU since 2004/5 (U of Western Au project), and the series of studies from 2009 onwards.  Law students come to university with higher expectations, the research showed, but in first year suffer decline in mental health.  Liz summarised the research of Rachael Field and others; and Wendy Larcombe’s cross-Faculty Melbourne Study.  Clare Wilson (clinical psychologist) then talked about the nature of research on the topic, the cultural specificity of much of it, and the (lack of) sophistication of it in much of the government’s research.  She referred to self-determination theory, which takes into account, inter alia, autonomy, competence and relatedness (Deci & Ryan).  She described the structure of the research project at Portsmouth, including use of instruments, groups, and consultation with staff.  Fascinating project.

Finally, Susan Watson and Susan Scott Hunt, on using mediation techniques in disputes between institutions and students — The Kingston Law School Project.  Student complaints to the OIA are increasing annually, particularly from law students.  From their abstract: ‘how will law schools manage students’ expectations and their anxieties about gaining credentials and skills needed for future employment amidst dramatic changes in the professions and the market for legal services while also recognising the impact that complaints and appeals have on staff?’  Susan Hunt commented that complaints from foreign students and postgraduates are disproportionate, significantly.  Can mediation manage students’ expectations as well as help deal with the problem?  The project aimed to establish an evidence baseline on the numbers and types of complaints, the internal complaints systems and to examine a range of issues arising from the student complaints.   Susan Watson talked about how useful it was for staff to learn some of the approaches used by mediators.  Very useful research project.

Rick put forward three research questions — does the economy affect well-being of lawyers?  Is the way men in law school construct their wellbeing affected by the feminisation of the law school?  Lawyers can not choose the ends to which their skills and knowledge are put — does that affect their mental health?  Nigel Duncan observed mediation can be lengthy and expensive; Susan replied that yes, it can be; but that the process is more useful than the cost.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caroline Gibby July 7, 2014 at 03:07

This is really about the first two sessions.
I think that the session brought together some much bigger implications to the profession in general. If we fail to support our students in their studies how effectively are we equipping them for practice, let alone life.
At Newcastle Uni , medics are provided with an opportunity to build on key cross communication and counselling skills which support the student in life and the patient in practice. I am sure that this practice could be rolled out across other environments. After all if medics do it.. why shouldn’t lawyers?


2 Paul Maharg July 10, 2014 at 05:29

Entirely agree Caroline. That’s why I’m interested in standardised or simulated patients, and their use in law as standardised or simulated clients. We’ve a lot to learn from medics in that regard, which I knew about from my work with SCs, and which was confirmed when I was on the SRA Working Party for the QLTS. It’s an area of research that’s just waiting to be developed in a substantial way.


3 Caroline Gibby July 11, 2014 at 22:27

Absolutely. This would provide an opportunity for inter and cross disciplinary development which makes for a richer and diverse programme of study, but also reinforces the relationships and role of lawyers and medics in the world.
It would also reinforce the public good element of legal study and the legal profession, moving away from the economic culture which we seem to have moved into.


4 Caroline Gibby September 22, 2014 at 03:21

Just thought that I should touch base about the Fd A Paralegal practice which we have set up in Newcastle. The PBL approach seems to be well received across the student base ( small in number) , research is already active across Fd and the level 3 paralegal practice students who also started in September. Online interactions going well so far too! I am really keen to move on to simulated client training !
All the best


5 Paul Maharg September 22, 2014 at 03:28

Fantastic Caroline. On LETR we were always aware that much of the innovation in legal education in E + W would rise from the non-traditional routes and stakeholders, and you’re proving that to be the case. I’d certainly like to know more about what you’re doing, particularly as regards PBL (and of course the other stuff too). I’m in Denver just now, about to head off for five weeks in ANU — maybe we can meet up to discuss in early November, and in particular PBL and how you might take forward a Sim Client project?


6 Caroline Gibby September 22, 2014 at 21:14

Sounds like a plan!


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