Lucy Evans: the experience of using SCs at Flinders Law School

by Paul Maharg on 16/08/2017

Before Lucy’s session I gave a brief history of the SCI initiative in my slides ‘The Simulated Client Initiative: A portrait of the outsider as teacher’, and they’re up on the SCI site.

Back to Flinders…  Lucy described how the SC innovation was carried out at Flinders – based, as Lucy pointed out, on the work we did at Strathclyde (I didn’t know this – I was quite moved by it).  Deborah Ankor won a Flinders Teaching & Learning Innovation Grant and that funded research and development.  Interestingly, Lucy showed how SC practice was based upon the Transactional Legal Practice module, in 2011.

It’s now used in Torts 2, which is a second year core topic with approx 150 students.  There are practice workshop sessions, with the 20-minute interviews recorded.  Clients are trained to introduce personal issues in the interviews – Lucy said that this is a powerful element of the encounter (we certainly found that at Strathclyde).  No advice is given by student lawyers.  There is 10-minute feedback and reflection.  The grade standard is determined by the SC, with academic staff reviewing videos of borderline or resubmission grades.  In the current Transactional Legal Practice module, which is a PLT topic, there are wills & estates scenarios.

Flinders uses 4 or 5 different client scenarios for each topic, with 3 or 4 different SCs, depending on need and availability.  The SCs were med school SPs.  Lucy wanted to see an interdisciplinary group of SCs/SPs who could also be used in other disciplines, too (this is becoming an international theme, having been raised at the London SC event, too).

Observations – students take the SC experience seriously, with the experience of interviewing SCs much more authentic than interviewing tutors or other students. They’re also receptive to feedback from the SCs.  A SC scheme, Lucy observed, does require significant forward planning, and can be time-consuming for academic staff; but on balance, she thought it a worthwhile endeavour.  I agree.

Lucy then talked about the purpose of the activity – is it to assess students behaviour and skills or is it to assess aspects of substantive legal knowledge and its application?  Or is it a combination of both, and if so, how does one achieve the balance?  This is one of the fundamental questions raised by the method, one I’ve never really managed to resolve satisfactorily.

For students at Flinders the opportunities to practise were profound, and for Lucy included constructing a professional demeanour, listening, responding to emotionally challenging or awkward situations, responding to ethical dilemmas, communicating legal concepts in plain English, self-restraint and legal astuteness, taking notes and recording information, and reflection and responding to feedback.  It’s a cost-effective system of learning and assessment, too, that Flinders operates.

Lucy noted that the ‘flow-on’ effect from the initial interview into other assessments was a problem, eg client being interviewed on a wills matter, and the errors there feeding into the subsequent drafting activity.  It’s resolved, as one of the participants pointed out, by ‘re-issuing’ the task at the drafting phase, which at that point contains all correct and relevant information required.  But still, it kind of breaks the authenticity of the flow (flow, and flow-on are emerging as key concepts here).  Or perhaps we should take Debra Nestel’s point that in simulation, we don’t need to simulate everything: we only need to simulate the focal point of the activity at any particular moment.  Quite a profound epistemological point; and surely part of the general question: can an intervention as skills-based as SCs also assess substantive law?

 

 

 

 

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