CLE conference wrap-up

by Paul Maharg on 22/06/2015

During the final session just blogged by Pamela, Pat Leighton mentioned this was a thought-provoking conference, and she’s right.  There was theory, but there was also a care for  intelligent practice, and this contributed to the tone.  I’ve been to conferences that were edgier, others that were abrasively critical, and some that were distant and chilly in tone.  What I liked about this conference of under 50 delegates was that it was quietly supportive and welcoming, but at the same time it opened balanced dialogue, not just between participants and audiences at paper delivery sessions, but between everyone, at breaks and elsewhere.  This isn’t just a result of size: it’s a quality that can be absent in small conferences, and present in large conferences (CALI consistently achieves it in the US, because of the careful planning by John Mayer and his team to bring it about between the three key constituent groups of academics, librarians and technical staff, with hundreds attending the conference).  It’s the result of planning to define the tone and manner of the meeting – for example limiting parallel sessions and extending the time span of the conference.  The result was a measured conference where there was enough space to think about the issues raised, meet others, make plans, think about the future in a collegiate and collaborative way.  It reminded me of a miniature version of the convivium Michael McGhee and I organised on Papay.

This was present in the conference interpretations of the theme, access to justice.  It was a component of a surprising number of papers, demonstrating the breadth of the concept, and within the domain of legal education.  It thus extended legal education by taking a concept that isn’t only a legal educational concept, and allowing speakers to explore it within education.  Ron Staudt noted how he was struck by the emphasis on education, when in US law schools there’s still an emphasis on the crisis of student numbers at conferences.  I’d argue that that crisis was already well-developed when the Carnegie Report pointed out how to avoid it — back in 2007, it was already too late.  We had been looking away, and for too long.  OK, it’s a general point, but probably holds true for most law schools, caught within an unsustainable model.  Pat Leighton made a similar point in her Reflections session.  And she pointed out what we need — more research, co-ordination of projects and ideas, more confirmatory and larger studies.  It’s the point I’ve been making at least since Transforming – that we need to organise our tools and our time, and map our field, not just the varied topography of it, but also the rich archaeological dimensions that lie underneath the quotidian surface of our lives in that field.  If there was anything we needed to do more of in this conference, it was to unearth the past, explore the radical futures that were envisioned in that past, and think about how they could help us in our own contemporary dilemmas, our complexed, compromised futures.

Another unusual feature of this conference: it was relatively small, with less than 50 participants and speakers, held outside London (which does make a difference), but still managed to be international in scope.  There were posters from Hungary and India; papers from Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, India, Turkey, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Canada; participants from Fiji, Chile and China.  And we had a relatively high proportion of doctoral students (at least six in total, which was encouraging).  The international dimension was so welcome, giving rise to fascinating conversations paralleling what happens in various jurisdictions.

Many thanks to Jane Ching and Jo Boylan-Kemp and their team for organising such a great conference.  Extra special thanks to my fellow-blogger Pamela Henderson for her extensive and witty postings – to judge from the blog stats on who is reading what, unlike this hack she has a second career as a celebrity blogger…

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