Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA) conference, Melbourne 2017, session 1

by Paul Maharg on 22/03/2017

I’m attending the CLEA conference, and giving a paper with Julian Webb (slides up on the Slides tab above). Welcome and Acknowledgment of Country by David Barker, who also presented a paper giving a general summary of the history of Australian law schools from 1960 onwards.

In their paper Claire Carroll and Brad Jessup examined ‘The sustainability business clinic (SBC) — a model for Australian clinical legal education for a ‘new environmentalism and integrative environmental law’.  Key points:

  • Sustainability legal education remains impractical and siloed
  • a focus on skills, attitudes, competencies and values
  • Key competencies include: systemic thinking, handling complexity, anticipatory thinking, acting fairly and ecologically, co-operation, evaluation.

In putting the SBC together the presenters focused on reflective practice and wellbeing, eg reflection on self, on life in the law, on justice, on skills, autonomy, relatedness and competence.  Conclusions?  SBC provides student with transferable skills and an understanding of law in context.  SBC students acquire a robust appreciation of environmental law in context and experience autonomy-support teaching which may facilitate their wellbeing.  These conclusions were supported by data.  They distributed student quotes that demonstrated this…  Interesting quotes over the range of reflective practice, eg ‘how can a lawyer be both dispassionate and empathetic?’ ‘Being part of the clinic has helped me to clarify why I was interested in the law in the first place’.  And ‘I find it interesting — and slightly disconcerting — that law school focuses so much on case law and not that much on reading and analysing legislation’.  What next?  There will be data collection over the next five years, and they will use additional methods to facilitate comparison of pedagogies between clinical and traditional subjects.  They hoped that they were making a modest contribution to legal education by providing some insights into the effects of clinical pedagogy and the best practices in teaching environmental law.  Good paper on a great project.

After coffee, Siva Sivakumar and colleague, from the Indian Law Institute, on ‘The role of ethics in legal education in the Commonwealth’. Law is one of the most popular subjects in HE in India — over 1300 law schools nationally.  Fast-paced paper and I missed part of it so I won’t try to summarise, but full of interesting data and contextual information.

Liz Curran, a colleague from ANU College of Law and an associate director of PEARL, is next up, on ‘Envisioning student learning in a multi-disciplinary student clinic – future practitioners learning about working collaboratively across disciplines to better help community’.  Liz wants students to learn with lawyers and other practitioners.  She showed a video clip on Health-Justice Partnerships (HJPs), which Liz described in the video as an efficient, targeted and helpful way of assisting people to tackle the problems of both health care and justiciable issues that so often are intertwined in patients’/clients’ lives.  Liz differentiated ‘interdisciplinary student clinics’ (IDSCs) from MDPs — multi-disciplinary practices.  Student law clinics in MDPs tend to be limited and can go further with students fro different schools (nursing, medicine, teaching, social work etc).  In an IDSC all can be learning skills together first, and then moving into an advice setting once grounding was in place.  In IDSCs students learned by participating with other professionals, the problem-solving, the patterns of problems and assistance that could be offered.  She noted from her study in Bendigo, VIC it was shown that, as a result of HJPs, clients’ knowledge and confidence in engaging with the HJP increased by 90.9%.  Prior to HJPs, 40% of clients interviewed were deterred from seeking legal help due to poor experiences with lawyers or the legal system.  She quoted similarly very positive statistics.  There were also positive responses from health staff.   Levels of trust between the professionals and patients, responsiveness, and engagement, all increases by 87.5%.  Clients in HJP were getting better help and there were positive impacts, eg no drug relapse, reduced stress, and reductions in suicidal ideation were reported.  Liz’s aim is to see an interdisciplinary clinic for different fields of professional training at graduate and undergraduate level to break down barriers between professionals to improve social justice and health outcomes and in a model where, mindful of professional ethical boundaries and under ID supervision, students of different fields learn to work collaboratively to deliver holistic client care and reach those currently excluded.  Students often learn client interviewing, triage, peer2peer learning and the like.  Similarly, professionals can learn from each other.  Great projects, and a fine demonstration of the power and value of interdisciplinarity in the legal educational field.

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