Parallel session 1, UNSW legal research conference

by Paul Maharg on 04/12/2017

First up, Tony Bradney, talking on ‘Who controls university legal education in UK’.  In contemporary E+W the value of legal education research has grown in value in a pragmatic sense.  It gives law schools a sense of what they want to do in their courses and schools.  Tony described the situation re the SQE that I outlined here and similarly though for different reasons he is against the proposal.  He summarised the Bar Standard Board’s position, and the Law Benchmark in the QAA’s position, citing teamwork, and the Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling on The University of Law Ltd and Marketing VF Ltd.    His point is that you can decide what you think you are doing in your law school, and then play off one regulator against another in order to do it.

Sally Kift next.  Typically robust slides, roller-coaster of a talk: ‘A virtuous journey through the regulation minefield’.  More colleges are offering micro-credentials; unbundling of legal services.  Lots of themes arising – new knowledge and skills, re-imagining accreditation, integrative learning for tech-ready grads, much else.  There is a need to align new educational practices with Law’s Threshold Learning Outcomes; the regulatory risks lie in complexity, multiple standards, lack of harmonisation and uniformity, lack of agility.   We need to use the new law stuff in our courses.  Our students are not unaware, not un-agentic (nice phrase).  Slides were a blast…

John Flood, denying any responsibility for legal education mess, now.  Regulators and judges are involved, and shouldn’t be: they’re not immersed in theory or research.  We have the wrong institutions to handle legal education.  He proposed a new institution – not Bill Henderson’s, College of Legal Ops, but something else.  Not a Palo Alto lab.  Not another ABF: an institution that will sit inside a science park.  It should have a number of roles: it should be a R&D outfit, it should be interdisciplinary, should be involved with technology and spin-offs, it should be a think-tank, informing policy, education and training for all involved in the legal education endeavour.

Finally Julian Webb, ‘Trends in legal education reform’.  He started with an overview of the recent ferment of regulatory activities, which we summarised in our CLEA presentation.  Why so much activity:  Growing complexity and multi-functionality of LET.  We have a more sophisticated understanding of HE and workplace learning.  There’s a perceived need to respond the diversitication and segmentation of legal work.  There’s a growing demand for more ‘practice-ready’ graduates and trainees.  Doubts about standards and consistency of education and training provision.  The increased student numbers – gatekeeping, progression and QA concerns; and defence of professional ‘jurisdiction’.

Emerging themes?  The proper scope and form of regulation, ie content vs outcomes, outcomes vs process, minimum or aspirational standards, competence vs capability.  But in whose interests?  public vs private interests, the risk of regulatory overreach and unintended consequences.  Tipping points?  These could be around how useful/relevant is the stages model?  And the greater emphasis on ‘continuing competence’.

The common problems… Lack of clear problem definition; paucity of evidence; political economy.  On problem definition – eg fitness for purpose, limited evidence base, and big assumptions about causality.  Julian’s points were mine too about the quality of evidence, and no replication.  Re political economy – law schools operating between the state, the university and the profession; reviews not driven by evidence but by regulatory crisis.  Julian then summarised the methods used in LETR. He then summarised the lessons to be learned.  Great paper.



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