I’ve storified tweets from the annual conference for the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia, Melbourne, 8 July 2015:
I accepted an invitation to be a panelist at “Law Graduates of the Future” forum in Melbourne this morning. My co-panelists were Richard Besley, CEO of the Secretariat for the Victorian Council of Legal Education and Board of Examiners, and Vicki Kennedy, proprietor of Spring Legal, a legal career service. I was unable to stay beyond my session, so hopefully someone will report on the forum elsewhere.
The central topic for this morning’s session concerned the perceived “oversupply” of law graduates, and what should be done to better understand the current situation. This is not my area of expertise, but I sought to offer some insights from the pre-admission practical legal training perspective. What follows are my notes for a 5-minute presentation each panelist was asked to give before moving into questions and discussions.
My research focuses on institutional practical legal training in Australia (). Institutional is a mandatory requirement for admission to the profession, and must also include a work experience component. The research studies policy and regulation in , and lawyers working as practitioners. The research data includes interviews with 36 practitioners around Australia. During the interviews, some interviewees made comments relevant to today’s discussion —
Most interviewees agreed there was a professional responsibility to the courts, the profession, and law graduates — to make sure law graduates achieve learning outcomes specified in the National Competency Standards.
A law degree is a prerequisite for undertaking. Some interviewees said they encountered law graduates needing remedial support with foundational legal skills such as reasoning, research, writing, and drafting simple documents. Interviewees observed that law degrees involve 3-5 years full-time study around foundational legal skills, whereas has about 15 weeks full-time (~30 weeks part-time) to teach professional practice skills, values, and practice areas, under the National Competency Standards. I notice the Law Admissions Consultative Committee ( ), as part of its submissions to the Productivity Commission “Access to Justice Arrangements” inquiry, commented that it was unreasonable to expect to undertake such remedial work, given time and costs.
Work experience is a mandatory part ofadmission requirements. Some interviewees said parts of the profession should “step up” to give work experience opportunities, and good quality work experiences. Some interviewees said many graduates employed at law firms were not allocated adequate time to undertake coursework as a constructive learning experience, so that coursework becomes a “tick-a-box” activity.
Many interviewees perceived law graduates were under enormous pressure – having spent years of study to complete a law degree, then complete, whilst working to support themselves. Interviewees said many graduates were anxious about employment opportunities, and keenly aware of competition for these.
The interviewees’ comments are consistent with comments in reports from overseas. The “Legal Education and Training Review” in England and Wales, and the American Bar Association’s “Task Force on the Future of Legal Education”, explored new and possibly controversial approaches, with attention to the stratification, specialisation, breadth, and depth, of legal education. They expressly encouraged regulators to adopt flexible approaches to legal education and training. They contemplated new restricted and specialised education and qualifications that depart from a generalist approach, in response to changes to business structures, business procedures, and information communications and technology.
Rapidly emerging areas of computational and analytical methods in legal practice, including the use of big data, and decision-making applications, will re-shape some areas of practice. Practice innovations include outsourcing of procedural components of legal work. These changes respond to clients seeking set-price legal solutions. What legal practice “will look like” is changing for present and future law graduates.
It seems 19th and 20th century concepts of a lawyer are continuing to fragment. Change complicates and nuances questions about an “oversupply” of law graduates. Change has implications for clients, policy-makers, regulators, educators, and employers, in the legal field. We need to learn more about these implications, to anticipate and respond to them.
I support the proposal for in-depth research that asks questions about the “state of play” for established AND emergent factors in law graduates’ education and employment. This research needs to dig deep to elicit qualitative insights. I notice that a recommendation in the Productivity Commission’s “Access to Justice Arrangements” report called for a ‘holistic review’ of all stages of legal education. There seems to be shared interests in further investigations.
I am excited to learn that my abstract is accepted for the International Society of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annual Conference in Quebec City, Canada, later this year.
For me, this is an excellent opportunity to constructively confront my research with leading international scholars in the scholarship of teaching and learning (“SoTL”) field. I personally believe that we can raise the status of SoTL in legal education, and particularly practical legal training, by undertaking interdisciplinary work, so that we can learn from, and test our ideas with, scholars in other fields.
I’m very fortunate to have already presented at the British Sociological Association annual conference and the Association of Law Teachers annual conference (both in Leeds, England) earlier this year. That means I’ve already used up my institutional higher degree by research international conference allowance. If you have any tips about alternative sources, such as bursaries or scholarships, please let me know!
This week I am spending four days in retreat at Deakin University’s Warrnambool City Centre with 20 other PhD candidates and academics, led by Professor Trevor Gale. The group, known as “The Warrnambool Collective”, meets at least annually to focus on writing and research around “practice”. Most, not all, who attend are affiliated with Arts and Education. Each day begins at 9.00 a.m. with a “shut up and write” session that runs until we break for lunch at 1.00 p.m. After lunch there are streamed and plenary sessions, presentations, and discussions until 5.00 p.m. I am very fortunate to be included in this event (prompted by my thesis supervisor, Dr Julianne Lynch), and this year is my second visit to the retreat.
As a full-time PhD candidate, I’ve spent much of the last two years researching and writing alone. Indeed, over the last 15 years I’ve engaged in study of some sort, and I’ve become accustomed to the solitary nature of the work, with brief intense interactions at conferences or seminars. One of the things striking for me about the retreat is how the solidarity of quiet collective writing, the awareness of minds and bodies around you engaged in constructing and reflecting on texts, comforts, succours and encourages me. I am reminded that I am not alone, that I’m part of a larger quest. By itself, this activity is a powerful product of the retreat.
The afternoon sessions include presentations by PhD candidates about their work (at different stages of candidature), provide multi-perspectival insights about how individuals grapple with, and resolve, theoretical and methodological issues. The senior academics are supportive and constructively critical, with a focus on problem-solving and knowledge-sharing. Chaired discussions on topics as simple as “how do you keep up with the literature?”, “how do we conceptualise “practice””, lift the lid on privately-held innovative practices and ideas that are sometimes startling in their simplicity, but substantially effective. The chance mention of a theorist, an article, a concept can catalyse fresh insights, fresh directions.
It is, as Trevor remarked on Day 1, an enormous privilege to have time, funding and personnel allocated to the retreat. And it pays off, with a review of the previous year’s event noting manifold conference papers, journal articles or book chapters commenced, advanced or completed during the retreat. As far as I am aware few, if any, retreats like this exists for those engaged in practical legal training or professional legal education in Australia.* I think this is a great pity. We need reflective and creative spaces within the field, not just “professional development” activities.
Sincere thanks to Deakin University and all involved for making this event possible.
* If you’re involved with such an event, invite me!
(1) ‘Teaching makes learning possible’, whereas scholarship of teaching and learning (“SoTL”) shows how ‘learning is made possible’.
(2) SoTL raises ’the status of teaching’, (3) supports practitioners ‘to teach more knowledgeably’, (4) enables assessment of ‘quality of teaching’, (5) improves learning experiences of lawyers-to-be.
(6) Professionalism – a sense of professionalism and responsibility. This involves a practitioner’s profession, both as a lawyer and educator.
(7) Pragmatism – recognition that SoTL informs teaching and learning work in a way that is ‘transparent’ to external scrutiny, and informs individual practice.
(8) Policy – recognition of ‘national, state and local policy’, including policies of legal regulators, admission boards, and higher education regulators. Earn a seat at the policy-making table.
(9) Legislative intent of mandatoryincludes improvement of the protection of clients, improve the administration of justice, and assure quality legal services.
(10) Learning more about how teaching and learning works, using that knowledge, helps us to do“better”, rewards our efforts as practitioners (self-actualisation).
 Mick Healey, ‘Developing the scholarship of teaching in higher education: a discipline-based approach’ (2000) 19(2) Higher Education Research and Development 169 (italics added) 70-71.
 Keith Trigwell and Suzanne Shale, ‘Student learning and the scholarship of university teaching’ (2004) 29(4) Studies in Higher Education 523
 Lee S Shulman, ‘From Minsk to Pinsk: Why a scholarship of teaching and learning’ (2000) 1(1) Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 48
 Ibid, 50.
 Ibid, 52.
The online submission portal for proposed papers is open for the 2013 Australasian Law Teachers Association Conference at ANU this year. Includes a practical legal training / clinical legal education stream. More information here.
‘Skills’ in LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes and Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers – a Comparison using CAQDAS
I am presenting a brief paper at the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council conference hosted by the University of Tasmania Law School from 8 November 2012. The abstract follows:
This study analysed the Threshold Learning Outcomes (“TLOs) specified in the Bachelor of Laws Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement December 2010, and the Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers for Practical Legal Training, as updated by the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council and Law Admissions Consultative Committee in February 2002 (“Competency Standards”). Qualitative analysis was undertaken using the NVivo computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (“CAQDAS”), to investigate how skills were categorised and defined in each of the documents. The data were then analysed to compare the respective categorisation and definition of skills, and to identify potential complements, overlaps, conflicts, gaps, or blind spots, between the TLOs and the Competency Standards. The findings, and the methodology adopted, might provide insights for future instructional design, content, and delivery of Practical Legal Training programs, and for future reviews of the TLOs and Competency Standards.
I searched databases and journals to get a sense of what proportion of Australianteachers have published work on scholarship of teaching. I compared this data to data regarding proportion of teachers holding formal teaching qualifications.
I do not believe this data is wholly descriptive of Australian