Third National Symposium on Experiential Learning in Law, Saturday am: small group sessions

by Paul Maharg on 12/06/2016

Just spent a fascinating two days at Osgoode Hall, talking to staff there about many aspects of legal education.  More of that later.  But it’s Saturday, New York Law School, and day 2 of the above Symposium.  David Thomson invited me along to a panel on assessment tools for practice skills, which we’re doing tomorrow.  Arrived this morning, after the red-eye from Toronto, and caught the end of a good plenary, with the inestimable Sophie Sparrow giving a great commentary on the speakers.

Now small group sessions, and I’m attending the interviewing skills session.  Goals for this session — to create a dialogue on assessment with priority on social justice goals, discuss an excerpt from a client interviewing rubric that participants can tailor for their own use, and analyse learning outcomes with focus on client interviewing skills.  With Davida Finger and Christine Cerviglia Brown.  They worked us hard, setting us questions we had to discuss and feed back to the plenary, eg ‘Should assessment bolster social justice values — at the law school and in the community?’  My answer – no not just that — it should enable students to question them and deepen the resonance of social justice values for students.  Well it was a small box on the discussion sheet, and it does take me 5,000 words to draw breath.  Some participants noted that in law schools trying to develop social justice values is like swimming upstream.

Davida and Christine then showed us how they retooled rubrics for social justice assessment.  Early rubrics were clunky — student ‘can identify and understand interviewing skills necessary for the interaction with clients.  Revised rubric broke down the components of an interview eg in ‘Preparation’, ‘visit the interview room to arrange seething and ensure it is equipped with any needs’.  Some of their difficulties in assessment included: clinic assessment may only occur in broad categories.  Their experience was that the measure doesn’t have to be specific and accurate, it is a reiterative process, a work-in-progress.  Step back and focus on what you really want students to practice.  Insights from Sophie — rubrics are great for student to self-assess; create efficiency to the work that is already being done; take a rubric and make it better for you and your own school; always use numbers in the rubric in order to reference in conversation.  I’d agree with all those.  We do it in simulated client work.  Davida and Christine then gave us a nice activity — they asked us to retool a few rubrics on paper eg ‘Visited the interview room to arrange seething and ensure room is equipped with any needs’.  I said: students could research for themselves the literature on space, gesture, comms, etc, and bring that to the class.  Their retool: Visited the interview room with consideration for power dynamics including seating and other needs’.

They then asked for feedback on their rewrite.  Thinking about this, the main difference between my approach to all the rubric-writing and their approach is that the rubrics were all directed from faculty.  But what about making the client experience central?  What about involving the students in researching the literature?  It’s a different approach entirely.

I found this a really powerful activity, and one that made me think quite deeply about my own practices, so my thanks to Davida and Christine for that.[1]  It also reminded me of the debates and arguments, years ago, in the Delphi processes we used to create the Simulated Client Initiative Global Criteria.  Very good session.
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  1. [1]Also loved the idea of reading then unfolding paper to reveal prepared answers that were a comment on my answer.  Like the Surrealist game of cadavre exquis

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