Directions conference, final thoughts

by Paul Maharg on 06/06/2016

At the conference dinner Dean Chris Gane offered his closing remarks.  Legal education was fast-changing; the pace of change increasing.  Having said that, he observed that he hadn’t expected to see the glossators (who put in an appearance on my slides as an early example of knowledge disintermediation).  He noted that the conference had introduced us to new colleagues, from Myanmar, India, Indonesia and elsewhere; our shared understandings about what constituted legal education were enhanced, we understood more about our differences, and in that context a body such as SOLTA was essential to draw us together in the longer term, in the Asian and the Oceanic spheres.[1]  Would the conference be repeated?  Yes, probably on a biannual basis, with 2018 seeing the tenth anniversary of the PCLL at CUHK.  My question to myself then was, should it be repeated?

And my immediate response was yes of course.  It’s been a great conference.  I learned such a lot from being here, listening to and talking with my colleagues in legal education from a whole range of jurisdictions; and there were so many fruitful conversations with colleagues at various times during the conference and on lots of topics.  I was just sorry I couldn’t be in all the parallel sessions at once.

I’ve had a few presentations from those I did see still rattling around my head.  Peter Barnes’ (summarised in the last post) was one.  It was an unlikely paper but it raised many issues in my head.  The key issue that surfaced overnight was that Peter didn’t discuss the significant difficulty of how to help students transfer their learning from an earlier discipline into that of law.  Even my wording here is problematic: it makes it sound like the earlier discipline — arts, science, social science, whatever — is the handmaid to law.  As a student coming from the arts to law, though, I found it the very opposite: it was difficult to divest myself of ways of thinking in the arts that had become second nature to me; and I needed to rethink it in order to learn legal reasoning, legal argument and much else.  Then there’s the issue of how we can co-opt or integrate the earlier discipline into legal thinking, so that one supports or maybe even coherently challenges the other.  That’s even more difficult.  It seemed to me that Peter was arguing for multi-disciplinary learnings, but unless you try to account for how the earlier disciplinary thinking enhances that of law, you’re just left with something like a line of disciplinary silos.  Interdisciplinary thinking is hard, always has been.  But that’s a whole new paper on its own…

Second, it seemed to me that a shadow lay behind the conference — that of regulation and regulatory control by the regulator.  It’s significant that there was no representation from the Law Society of Hong Kong, though I believe it was invited.  Its absence was particularly felt at the Big Debate.  I’d want a Team LSHK at the conference, and for someone to go to every single parallel session and report back on the wonderful legal educational initiatives and innovation taking place globally.  There needs to be regulatory education, and conferences are only the start of it.  At a deeper level, though, we also need to rethink how legal regulation is regulated.  For too long in HK it’s been about cramming more and more into the PCLL, or creating curriculum drift in the LLB.  As we argued in LETR, the nature of the regulatory relationship in legal education generally needs to change.  As a result, we advocated an approach to regulatory reform known as meta-regulation or multi-modal regulation (influenced in part by Colin Scott’s work, and Christine Parker’s), and in particular (given the proclivities of regulators to regulate only their own particular silos – their personnel, programmes, providers, cultures, jurisdictions) a shared space comprising ‘a community of educators, regulators, policy-makers and professionals working in provision of legal services, drawing information from other jurisdictions, other professions and other regulators to identify best practices in LSET [legal services education and training] and its regulation.’ (LETR, 268)  That’s partly what is required in HK, and in many other jurisdictions.

One final comment.  A few people were surprised that I liveblogged the conference and asked me why.  I said that it was from a private point of view good to have a record of the meeting for my own purposes; that going live with the comments made me think harder about what I recorded and how; that blogging helped others who couldn’t be here appreciate (some of) the debates that were going on; and finally that legal education and our thinking about it deserved to be out there in the public domain.  How much did the blog contribute to that?  Well, I didn’t count heads but there could have been 100 attendees at the conference.  There have been over 400 views of conference blog content throughout the course of the conference and since, and that number will probably increase by around 50-60% over the next few days.  To be sure, that doesn’t mean 400 unique viewers; but it does mean many more readers were reading about the conference from this blog than were present at the conference.  They were getting my perspective of course, though I try to be as helpful to readers as I can.  And I can’t attend every parallel session, much as I would have liked to.  Maybe if there is a 2018 conference organisers could nominate bloggers to attend each session, much as Pamela Henderson and I planned beforehand to blog the Nottingham Trent CLE conference last year — much to my chagrin, you’ll remember, dear reader, when Pamela’s witty postings were read far more than mine…

Finally, my thanks to the conference organising committee — Luke Marsh, Steven Gallagher, Elsa Kelly, Esther Erlings and others — for their invitation to join the conference.  Thanks also to the fantastic administrative staff, and particularly Karrie Li, for looking after us all so well before and during the conference.  In fact it’s fair to say the conference just wouldn’t have happened without them.

  1. [1]SOLTA is the name of a proposed network, Society of Law Teachers in Asia, which we discussed before the start of the conference.  I think it’s an excellent idea and, well-developed, could perform many of the functions for legal education in Asia and Oceania that UKCLE performed for legal education in the jurisdictions of the UK.  My thanks, by the way, to Angela Melville at that meeting for suggesting the inclusion of ‘Oceania’ in the title alongside Asia — the comparable sizes in terms of legal education infrastructure are huge (1,500 law schools in India alone, as Dr Gigimon VS reminded us), but the cultures quite different, and I agree it should be in there.

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