Review: ‘Promoting Justice Through Clinical Legal Education’ by Jeff Giddings

Promoting_Justice_CLEAn excellent book for those interested in the Australian legal education continuum, rigorously studied, and comprehensively described.

Jeff Giddings’ book, recently published by Justice Press, is divided in three parts, beginning with ‘The Potential of Clinical Legal Education’, followed by ‘Four Case Studies of Australian Clinical Legal Education’, and ‘The Future of Clinical Legal Education’. Whatever you do, do not overlook the foreword by Chief Justice Robert S French, AC, commenting on the ‘untidy business of law’ applied by ‘human beings acting in private and public capacities and informed by a variety of perspectives and levels of competence.’

Of particular interest to me and relevant to my own research was Chapter Five, ‘Factors Influencing the Establishment and Sustainability of Clinical Programs’, including external factors including, ‘economic and social context’, ‘higher education policy and practice’, ‘legal education framework’, ‘legal services policy’, and ‘attitude of legal professional bodies’. The historical material is also invaluable for researchers in this area; Giddings had terrific access to documents and people both in Australian and overseas and helpfully distils his findings without oversimplification or lost detail.

The book supports the argument for a more integrated approach to the legal education continuum that allows for concurrency of academic education, clinical legal skills and practical legal training. Giddings highlights some of the internal and external structural obstacles to the concurrent approach, including the attitudes of regulators and parts of the profession, that are of interest to me in my research. For example, some jurisdictions require PLT be completed entirely as post-graduate training as part of the eligibility requirements for admission to the profession, which poses difficulties for graduates of concurrent programs seeking admission in those jurisdictions.

Practical legal training is not often mentioned in the book, save to contrast ‘real life’ clinical experiences with ‘simulated’ practical legal training experiences. Putting arguments about the effectiveness of simulation to one side for the moment, it is worthwhile observing that practical legal training usually involves a mandatory work experience component, to provide law graduates with opportunities to integrate their PLT with real life experiences – this is often overlooked in literature critical of PLT. The challenge, mentioned in passing by Giddings, is effective practical involvement of the profession and work experience supervisors as part of a holistic approach to legal education and professional training. My understanding from anecdotal evidence, and confirmed after reading Giddings’ book, is that integrated approaches to legal education depend on the profession ‘stepping up’ to support such programs in practical ways.

My still-developing personal view is that clinical legal education at law school supports learning foundational intellectual competencies, and can also provide excellent scaffolding for practical legal training. In this context, much could be gained from partnerships between clinical legal educators and practical legal training practitioners. Those contemplating such a partnership would be well-served by reading Giddings’ book.

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Legal Education and Training Review Report – England and Wales

letrThe final report of the  Legal Education and Training Review independent research team was released yesterday. The aims of the study reported in the 371-page document were extensive (set out at p. 2 of the report) and included:

  • Assessing: ‘strengths and weaknesses’ of existing regulated and unregulated legal education and training; ‘potential’ moves to ‘sector wide’ outcomes for the sector; ‘extension’ of regulation to the unregulated parts of the sector;
  • Identifying current and future ‘skills, knowledge and attributes’ required by ‘legal services providers’;
  • Recommendations as to how the sector can be more ‘responsive to emerging needs’; and
  • ‘Suggestions and alternative models to assure’ support and delivery of ‘high quality, competitive and ethical legal services’; and ‘flexible education and training options, responsive to the need for different career pathways, and capable of promoting diversity’.

I am ‘in the field’ conducting research interviews at present, but I hope to have an opportunity to study the report over the next few days, to consider and post potential discussion points for the Australian legal education and training context.

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Comments on Best Practices Australian Clinical Legal Education Report

Further to my previous post regarding the Best Practices Australian Clinical Legal Education Report, I make some brief comments from a PLT practitioner perspective.

The report states (p. 10) ‘CLE [clinical legal education] is similar to practical legal training (PLT) courses, work-integrated learning (WIL) and service learning in several respects’, however

there are some subtle differences between CLE and PLT or WIL. CLE is an approach to integrating and strengthening the academic phase of legal education in the interests of students and clients. Its emphasis on meeting the diverse and complex needs (legal, emotional, systemic and therapeutic) of real clients, either individuals or organisations, places it well beyond the vocational focus of PLT and WIL, which can limit themselves to a ‘how to’ approach to practising law.

I think it is useful to distinguish CLE as part of the ‘academic phase’ of the learning continuum in contrast to the post-graduate pre-admission PLT phase. On the basis of my own practical and research experience in teaching PLT, however, I do not agree that CLE’s emphasis on aspects of client needs ‘places it well beyond the vocational focus’ of PLT. The authors’ survey of clinical legal education in Australia appears to be rigorous, but I do not think it is sufficient to support this proposition concerning PLT.

The report authors observe (p. 11) that approaches to CLE are pedagogically diverse, CLE is vocational due to its context, CLE is ‘fundamental’ to learning the Priestley 11, and CLE supports the threshold learning outcomes (for the bachelor of laws degree). The authors state, however, there is a lack of recent ‘thorough inquiry’ into Australian legal education – on the basis of my own review of literature I especially agree with this.

In the context of my own study concerning scaffolded learning between law school and PLT, I am interested in the report authors’ observation at p. 38:

The link between a clinical program and the Threshold Learning Outcomes (TLOs) was articulated in terms of the role that the clinical program plays in getting students to threshold levels to then enter PLT.

My preliminary research into the transition between law school behavioural learning outcomes and commencement of PLT leads me to think that well-integrated CLE would scaffold law graduates’ transition into post-graduate pre-admission PLT. However, as the report notes, CLE programs are not consistently integrated or delivered in Australian law schools, and some clinics are more engaged with ‘credible educational pedagogy’ than others  (see the report’s preface and executive summary).

I recommend that you read the report, and I agree with the authors’ conclusion:

…clinical methods are among the most effective in achieving educational quality in law … the range of clinical methods extends from simulation to live-client experiences, it is likely that law schools that offer at least one live-client clinic will be providing to their students the best possible clinical experience.

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A Warm Welcome

Hi, I research and teach about professional practice, pedagogies, curricula, law, and policy in higher education and legal education. I am an Australian lawyer and have a PhD. I write about things to do with lawyering, legal education, clinical legal education, practical legal training, teaching, learning, qualitative and practice research. The opinions I express on this blog are personal and should not be taken to represent the views of my employers, or be taken as legal advice. Interdisciplinary educators follow this site too. You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter. Some of my work is available on Impactstory, Academia.edu, SSRN Deakin Research OnlineSlideShare, Prezi, and YouTube.


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