Afterthoughts on Legal Education in Crisis

by Paul Maharg on 06/03/2017

So a massively busy two days.  I was planning to sneak off at some point to see U of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools, and pay a quiet visit to the Dewey’s legacies there (he’s been much in my mind, being here, and I reread the late Laurel N. Tanner’s fine account before I came over), but there was no time because I was drawn to what was being discussed.  Lots of animating talk, great ideas, not just in the sessions but at dinners and over coffees.  It was a fine conference, well organised by Beth and the committee.  Kudos to them and to the ABF.  We so miss an institution like that in the UK, and in Australia too.

As always, no matter where a legal education conference or workshop is held, I’m struck by two things.  First, how unorganised our research field is, no matter what the jurisdiction.  Being here for the conference, there was a constant comparison going on in my head between the differences in what we do and know as regards research in Australia, Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Ireland, and how scholars do research in the US.  Increasingly, it seems to me, there are divergences in the ways that we talk about and do legal educational research.  These always existed of course; but lack of international organisation is magnifying the problems for us.   Second, we don’t organise our research in the ways, eg, that our colleagues in medical education do, and that is affecting the quality of our work.  Look at the Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE), and go to their Initiatives page. See how ASPIRE, BEME, ESME all facilitate, analyse and then disseminate the primary research in the field.  Look at how that locks into (further down the column on the LHS) AMEE Guides, BEME Guides, Occasional Papers, Translations and, best of all, MedEdWorld.  Here’s the general description:

AMEE MedEdWorld was launched by AMEE in 2009 to help all with an interest in health professions education to learn, connect and debate key issues in education. Stakeholders include teachers and trainers, educationists, researchers, course leaders, deans, students, administrators, medical schools and education organisations.

Based on experience gained an extensive redevelopment of MedEdWorld took place in 2012 and a number of exciting new services were added to those already valued by members.

If you have an interest in medical or health professions education or administer a medical school or other education organisation you are invited to join the MedEdWorld Community by registering as a user or joining as a member. AMEE membership includes full access to  MedEdWorld.

Further down the page we’re given the astonishing variety and depth of information contained in MedEdWorld.  The fact of such organisation stimulates more and better research.  Medical educational research is generally of a higher quality than legal educational research because of the powerful infrastructure that clarifies and analyses what has been written and understood.  If we don’t know that, or can’t find it easily, the quality of our own work is compromised.  Policymakers, too, need up to date information on research.  On LETR we produced by far and away the largest literature review in professional legal education; but it was out of date the moment it was published in 2013, because there was no plan to update or maintain it — hence, in part, Recommendation 25, which regulators and the Legal Services Board in England have largely ignored to date, though they would undoubtedly be one of the foremost beneficiaries of such a project.  We should be doing such work as a basic function of our scholarly research lives.  Who scatters their work chaotically in wee clusters over their computer desktop?  Don’t we all organise it, file it away, and update it, and do housekeeping occasionally?  How much more important is it to do that for the discipline that we all work in, and for all jurisdictions, globally?

Nothing remotely like AMEE exists for legal education.  We need resource-platforms like it.  We need to organise the funding, creation and setup, and maintenance of a website along the lines of MedEdWorld.  Yet we’re nowhere near getting it together for our community.  If ABF and NSF are looking for projects, this is one vitally-important infrastructure project which, cross-jurisdictionally, would significantly improve the content, organisation and status of legal education.  It’s a project that Dewey would thoroughly approve.

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