Day 2: Developing holistic legal professional identity through clinical legal education (PM)

by Paul Maharg on 20/06/2015

Deborah Ankor, Tania Leiman and Lucy Evans from Flinders Law School, South Australia.  They are discussing Flinders’ innovative First Year Clinic Placement (FYCP), which is designed to allow first year students early exposure to clinical experience and to the social justice ethos of a legal advice clinic.  The Legal Advice Clinic provides advice by interns, free, under supervision of solicitors.  It started mid 2011, on a spoke & hub model.  It allows FY students to:

  • make specific connections with future career options
  • generate and encourage intrinsic motivation

It also enhances the clinic experience of interns.  FY students spend a day at the legal advice clinic, and are given credit for this training under a Professional Skills & Ethics module.  Clinic placement attendance can be substituted for assessment exercise (this is nicely flexible).  Students work with other clinic staff, meet real clients, observe interviews, type up file notes, use real legal practice management software.  Lunch is a real event (great cafe), where FY students learn from staff collegially.  Interview written record involves taking notes from several interviewers, and collating the record (under supervision) – lots of interesting legal writing skills there.

Last year, 52 FY students made bookings, 46 attended, very positive feedback from all FYs. Aims:

  • Trying to get students to see the bigger picture
  • real-life ethical implications?
  • concepts to people
  • sense of purpose
  • internal motivation

Other positive influences: legal and academic community, peers, senior students, identity, capacity-building, opportunities for experiencing empathy, practising justice and vocation.


Students gain significant value from clinic involvement, despite their minimal legal skills or knowledge.  It can thus stimulate and refine the values, ideals and inspirations that start to shape professional identity.

I like this approach to clinic, not just because of its flexibility, but because it embeds the clinical experience in first year, and allows students to learn from other students, interns and professionals — a rich learning environment, where there’s a focus less on knowledge building alone (though that’s necessary, of course), but the integration of knowledge-learning with other forms of skills learning.

Deborah and colleagues will be researching the effects that this is having on FY students, their academic results and other effects.  I’d be interested in hearing the results of both, but I suspect that assessment will need to be altered if it’s to take account of this type of experience, rather than simply assessing the learning that happens as a result of teacher:student interventions.  I’m sure Deborah has that covered, but it’s an issue that all innovative curricular designs need to take account of.  Fine project and paper.

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