Directions, day two: parallel sessions two

by Paul Maharg on 04/06/2016

The Organising C’ttee are working us hard.  Straight into the rigours of a group photo, brief caffeine break, then into the final session of the day and the conference.  I attended ‘Training for the Profession II, chaired by Luke Marsh.  First up, Dr Gigimon VS, on ‘Legal education: looking to an uncharted future.  Dr Gigimon teaches at the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, India.

Over 1,500 law schools in India — a mind-boggling statistic.  Most of the students, he said, were unprepared for practice.  From 1960-85, there were over 900 colleges (300 govt funded, the rest private), enrolling 200,000 students, regulated by the Bar Council of India.  Five year LLB programmes, post higher secondary education and three year LLB postgrad degree.  From 1985-2000, the (20) National Law School experiment took place, training students in skills; globalisation was an issue.  Private universities hosted law schools, with specialised areas of practice.  Legal Education was a priority for them.  The third generational reforms have now taken place: legal education quality was improved, the schools have better legal research capacity, internship opportunity was given in leading firms; students were trained to take professional decisions with responsibility in challenging circumstances, there were international faculties, and foreign students.  But there was a paucity of competent teachers, and highly capable graduates were not interested in teaching.

What will happen in the future?  The object of legal education, he argued, is multifarious.  He wanted to see academic autonomy with accountability at institutional level, and autonomous legal education research centres.  The changing nature of legal practice needed to be taken into account, and the linking of skills based subjects together in a coherent grouping.  There was a need for continuing legal education for law teachers or advocates, and he argued for interdisciplinary teaching.  Interesting ideas, well argued.  I especially like the idea of establishing legal education research centres.  And mandatory training for law teachers — who could argue with the principle. Of course the problem lies in the detail of how that’s designed and implemented.

Next up, Ms Virginia Tam, on ‘The role of lawyering skills’.  Virginia worked in a global law school after graduating from Columbia Law School, K&L Gates.  She started with an outline of law school knowledge, perspectives and outcome, and then under legal services, resources execution and solution.  This was a neat mapping and very interesting to see what the academy required, and what legal services as a business required.  Where is the gap, she asked?  Her diagram, below (sorry Luke…) was mapped out via tasks (issue, research, analysis, conclusion) against law professors and corporate clients:

2016-06-04 16.50.34

Under ‘bridging the gap’ she outlined the skill sets required and the qualities required:

2016-06-04 16.53.51

Law school professors, she pointed out, are not the best professionals to teach how to draft a share purchase agreement.  She seemed to be saying that law schools are doing a good enough job as it is, eg on legal analysis, thinking like a lawyer (not sure I agree with that at all).  And the detail of commercial and professional life should be left to lawyers.  Should law schools be more vocational?  Probably not, she said.  I disagree.  In fact her story at the start showed how variable supervision and legal education in law firms could be, and hence the need for intelligent drafting and other skills courses.

Finally, Peter Barnes, barrister, on ‘If you want to be a good lawyer, don’t (only) study law.’  He argued for the formal inclusion of non-law subjects as part of the students’ pre-professional training.  He stressed he didn’t have a single model of what constituted a good lawyer.  He reviewed (some of) the international situation, in the US and in Australia/NZ (eg in law/arts, law/commerce, law + others — an extraordinary range of specialities).  Why argue for this?  First, language: facility and ‘the acquisition of an antidote to rote-learning and cliche-driven laziness’.  Second, the general broadening of knowledge — is the study of law, and only law, best preparation for legal practice, even if it is regarded purely as ‘vocational training’?  Third, specialist knowledge is an opportunity to gain substantial skills in an additional field, whether or not anticipated to be the future area of practice; and it also gives competitive advantage.  Fourth, lawyers should be creative: originality, resourcefulness and expressiveness.  Fifth, personal satisfaction and fulfilment.

The case against?  It could be perceived as unnecessary — there is sufficient breadth obtained from the study of law.  And access arguments — the expense, diversity — and numbers/competition.  I didn’t think this argument stood up, from the point of view of issues of diversity and social mobility; but I liked a lot of Peter’s argument when he set it out.

At questions I cited LETR research to Peter on diversity of routes, the popularity of the GDL in traineeship interviews, and I also pointed out to Virginia that in Scotland the variability of training in traineeships was a source of concern not only for us teaching on the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (the equivalent of the PCLL in HK), but also was a concern for the Law Society of Scotland, hence the statement of the PEAT 2 outcomes.

This was a fine session, outlining many of the problematic issues facing academic and professional legal education today, and not just in HK, but in almost all jurisdictions.  Closing remarks by Chris Gane tonight at the dinner, and I’ll post my own after I think about it all for a bit, walking down the hill from CUHK back to the hotel.

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