#APLEC2014 – Impressions from Day One

This post is a week late because I have been immersed in working with my supervisor comments and review of my thesis chapters, but here goes…

APLEC2014_Sung_Welcome
IPLS Faculty Sing a Maori Welcome at #APLEC2014

The Australasian Professional Legal Education Council annual conference was held in Auckland, New Zealand during 14-15 November 2014. Congratulations to the host, the Institute of Professional Legal Studies (IPLS), for a well-organised and well-resourced conference – my experience as a presenter and attendee was enjoyable, and support staff inspired confidence when setting up for the presentation. The Conference Theme was ‘Creating Communities of Learning’.

Day One commenced with a beautifully-sung  welcome in Maori by members of IPLS (a motif that continued at the conference dinner, with several participants standing to sing in different genres).

Associate Professor Shirley Reushle from the Digital Futures Institute at the University of Southern Queensland spoke to the theme of ‘Learning Community: If I Build It, Will They Come?’

Shirley said we’re all struggling with the same issues – looking for answers – what needs to be done to provide successful learning experiences for students? She outlined the concept of learning community, and spoke to concepts of ‘leadership in creating and maintaining a learning community’ and ‘methods for conducting a learning community’.

Shirley observed  the concept of ‘community’ is highly valued by society, that students want hands-on, interactive, social learning activities – dislike passive learning – and a community of learning needs effective leadership to keep community alive. It is 2-way process – community belongs to everyone – it is about leadership and responsibility, not control. Innovation and fund needs to be a part of a community of learning – it is important to remember learners are people. Collaborative work is something special, it needs structure and purpose also flexibility and fluidity – effective leadership and facilitation.

Shirley asked, do communities of learning work? Are they necessary? What purpose might they serve? She observed that communities of learning involve recognition, and demonstrate acceptance, of differences in perspectives, beliefs, values etc. They involve development of interactive and collaborative skills required in discipline contexts.

Regarding the online learning context, Shirley referred to Ohler JR (2010) Digital Community, Digital Citizen, Corwin – Sage: “many educational systems still force learners to have two lives…”, ie, ‘digitally saturated’ in day-to-day life but ‘unplugged’ in the learning environment. Shirley said a virtual community requires specific efforts including peer-to-peer support – visible presence – efforts to communicate – scholarly dialogue – collaborations with peers – shared resources and practices – and build and deepen knowledge and expertise.

Shirley  used Twitter and SMS polling to ask the audience to contribute their ideas about encouraging communities of learning in an online environment – audience members could tweet or text their responses, which were displayed on the screen via  a website. I have heard of, have not seen, this tech before and I liked it a lot – a cool way to encourage interactions with audience.

Overall this was a good introduction to the community of learning concept –  type the phrase into Google Scholar and you will see the concept pervades teaching and learning in many disciplines.

Then it was time for parallel sessions – this presented some especially difficult choices because so many of the presentations I wanted to attend were running concurrently.

First up I attended a session presented by Judy Bourke (College of Law Sydney) and Maxine Evers (University of Technology Sydney)  on ‘Promoting Graduate Competence in Resilience and Well-Being: Strategies for the New Competency’. It is very good to see  inter-institutional collaborations of this kind. The presentation began with background to the topic, including the work of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation, the resilience@law project, Wellness Network for Law, and the Council of Australian Law Deans (CALD) ‘Promoting Student Well-Being – Good Practice Guidelines for Law Schools‘. There was a discussion of elements of psycho-social factors relevant to employee responses to work, and work conditions, including organisational culture, clear leadership and expectations, good influence and involvement by workers, and balance in work, family, and personal life.  There followed some information about relatively new regulatory changes, including the Law Admissions Consultative Committee (LACC) Uniform Admission Rules Competency Standards rr. 4.6 (‘Resilience and Well-Being’) and 5.16 (‘Self Management). We finished the session by breaking out into groups –  each discussing one of the following:

  1. How to raise graduates’ awareness of importance of personal resilience in legal practice?
  2. What information and resources should we provide to help develop resilience, maintain well-being and identify mental health difficulties e.g. Best Practice Guidelines?
  3. 
How will information and resources be provided?
  4. Should the new competency be integrated with other competencies and subjects?
  5. How can graduates demonstrate they have achieved the new Self-Management element?

Judy and Maxine plan to collate the answers and return them to us in due course.

Time for lunch, with a short but intellectually provocative session facilitated by Ann Beckingham (Leo Cussen Institute), comparing disclosure requirements for admission in different Australian jurisdictions. Discussion was prefaced by information about The Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Act 2014 (the Application Act) enacted in Victoria and New South Wales, and  implications for what might eventually be a national procedure for admission to the legal profession. Ann outlined disclosure requirements in the Victorian jurisdiction, which involves several Practice Directions and Notices, including Practice Notice No. 2 of 2012 (Disclosure Requirements for Applicants). The Victorian requirements for disclosure are extensive (possibly more so than other jurisdictions) and one question is whether these would be adopted by other jurisdictions under a national admissions scheme. Part of the group discussion in this session focused on the administrative load the Victorian requirements generate for individuals and institutions. Other parts of the group discussion centred on potential impingement on natural justice, and parity and equity of outcomes of the scheme. It is a complex and challenging area to research, and I look forward to seeing research developed in this area.

After lunch, we were back into the parallel sessions – Clinical Associate Professor Terri Mottershead (Bond University) presented on ‘Innovating Legal Education through Law School and Law Firm Collaborations’. Terri spoke to common drivers for change for higher education and the legal industry; the coming of age for practical legal education – challenges and opportunities; beyond learning outcomes to competencies; and the new way forward – outcomes, partnerships and collaborations. I really enjoyed this presentation, which covered a lot of ground in detail, and I cannot do it justice here. In discussing common drivers for change, Terri referred to ’21st century practice’ with change driven by ‘more for less’, ‘liberalisation’, and ‘IT’ – emergent themes include ‘globalisation’, ‘technology and access to knowledge/justice’, ‘liberalisation/democratisation of knowledge’, ‘fees/funding/value’, and ‘integration/collaboration/partnership’.  Of particular interest to me was Terri’s discussion of the coming of age of practical legal education and the rise of pracademics. Readers familiar with my research might recall one of my interests is the integration of evidence-based practices and practice-based evidence toward a synthesis of know-what and know-how – the term pracademics seems to be neat fit with this, although on reading Price (2001), Posner (2009), and Susskind (2013), an underlying sense ‘us’ and ‘them’ between practitioners and academics remains. That said, it was heartening to hear someone of Terri’s standing recognising the relevance of pracademic work in professional legal education.

Then it was time for me to present – I will publish a separate post on my session.

Next, Fabian Horton (College of Law Victoria) presented on ‘Future communities – a paradigm shift in knowledge and teaching’. Fabian argued a dichotomy exists wherein ‘the internet, social media and our hyperconnected world can draw us closer together through virtual spaces. Yet at the same time we are becoming more disassociated through the forces of faux relationships, metrics and big data’.  In this context ‘we must rethink the skills lawyers need to properly serve our various communities’ –  Fabian identified  ’emerging legal disrupts’ including  ‘new law’, ‘legal informatics’ and  ‘commoditisation’ of  law – affecting the roles of future lawyers. He questioned what are ‘possible future skills’ that lawyers, and law teachers, will need. I interpreted Fabian as suggesting that traditional attitudes to law and legal education obstruct the impetus and undertaking to investigate possible ‘future’ skills – but this needs to change if law and legal education is to be part of a ‘future community’ in which technology plays a fundamental part.

Fabian’s presentation was thoughtful, challenged to some extent in speaking to relatively new concepts such legal informatics, which are yet to be widely understood legal education audiences.

The final presentation I attended for Day One was Ann-Maree David (College of Law Queensland) on ‘Supervision: the key to surviving and thriving in legal practice?‘  I am very interested in presentations relevant to supervision of pre-admission graduate lawyers and post-admission entry-level lawyers in practice – I believe it to be a neglected area of research in legal education, although I hasten to add there is much useful literature around supervision in the clinical legal education context. Ann-Maree supplied some excellent insights about the interplay (or lack thereof) between institutional PLT, workplace experience, and supervised practice. She pointed to research showing ‘successful students’ had one or more teachers (e.g. PLT practitioners) who were mentors, and had an internship (e.g. work experience) related to what they were learning in institutional coursework. For me, this highlights the widely-held misconception that 4-5 months of PLT coursework is intended to substitute for what were articled clerkships lasting years. As Anne-Maree pointed out, the work experience component of PLT, plus the period of post-admission supervised practice, should work together as part of the legal education continuum – there seems to be some recognition of this in professional guidelines concerning the statutory period of supervised practice. Ann-Maree also described how work experience and supervised practice could and should supply spaces for reflection and reflexivity to integrate learning, understandings, professional and social relations and connections, and how feedback/feedforward and peer mentoring activities play their part in this. An informative presentation that stimulated much discussion.

So that was my #APLEC2014 Day One – I will post about Day Two shortly.


Price, WT 2001, ‘A Pracademic Research Agenda for Public Infrastructure Models/Results Public Works Practitioners Need to Know’, Public Works Management & Policy, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 287-96.

Posner, PL 2009, ‘The Pracademic: An Agenda for Re‐Engaging Practitioners and Academics’, Public Budgeting & Finance, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 12-26.

Susskind, L 2013, ‘Confessions of a Pracademic: Searching for a Virtuous Cycle of Theory Building, Teaching, and Action Research’, Negotiation Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 225-37.

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