“Digital Literacy” in #legaled, begins here?

There is an ongoing discussion about digital technologies in education and practice – in legal education, practical legal training and professional practice. It is a discussion that recasts itself from time to time, e.g. as “digital literacy”. My interest in this area involves a couple of prisms – academic and professional legal education, professional and individual practices. I studied flexible, online and distance education (“FODE”) as a subject back in 2009 as part of my Masters in Professional Education and Training at Deakin University. In the context of some recent discussions, e.g. Kate Galloway’s posts at the Curl blog, I reviewed my notes from 2009 and put these online via a YouTube video. (More after the video)

I’m focusing on teaching and learning here, whereas the digital literacy debate is broader, and includes issues such as the legal profession’s engagement with digital technologies in practice. I would argue, however, that some attitudes about digital literacy begin in the formative stages of legal education, and the assumptions of regulators who accredit and approve courses. These notes date from 2009, but some issues are durable. I’ll mention a few of these here.

“Interactions” – some commentators seem to conceptualise FODE interactions as wholly online interactions. Interactions in teaching and learning are important, and there appears to be some anxiety about the nature and quality of interactions in #legaled. See, for example the Roper Report [1] and Gaye Lansdell’s publications on this [2][3]. “Online-ness” is treated as antithetical in #legaled, and particularly in PLT. What is often overlooked is the “blended” nature of existing courses, i.e. a blend of face-to-face and online interactions, and in PLT the work experience and reflective component of the courses. I recall attending a final plenary session at the 2012 APLEC conference in Hobart, in which the panel was manifestly disengaged from the existence of blended learning with FODE as one (multi-dimensional) tool in the instructional design toolbox. The sector suffers from a lack of local empirical research concerning interactions in FODE and teaching and learning in legal education and PLT. We need this research to inform regulators and educators. Also, as the video mentions, FODE and non-FODE “interactions” occur across many dimensions. Interactions are important, and a holistic approach is necessary for effective teaching and learning. This includes recognition of a reflexive-dialectical dimension for interactions, involving reflections in individual and extra-individual aspects of teaching and learning.

“Enablement” and “Social Justice” – FODE has the capacity to overcome restrictions in time and space, and to provide alternative means of communication and engagement. This capacity potentially enables individuals, who might otherwise be denied equal opportunity, to engage in legal education and training. I have personal experience of this as a deaf person, but I’m not just talking about disability. In Australia, overcoming the “tyranny of distance” remains an issue for rural and regional areas. Information and communications technology is increasingly affordable across socio-economic levels. I believe the legal profession would be the better for diversity in its membership – and the equity and parity of opportunity that FODE can contribute in legal education plays its part in this.

“Flexibility and Overload” – It is a double-edged sword. Flexibility can offer equity and parity in opportunities, but there are some institutional and individual issues on the teaching side of things. There seems to me to be a widespread mistaken belief that FODE is a cheap business model. Well, it is, if you’re not really concerned about whether your teaching and learning model is effective and satisfactory. If you do care, then FODE takes substantial investment of planning, funding, time and personnel to realise  good outcomes. There seems to be an increasing tendency of institutions to casualise teaching positions in FODE environments, to use practitioners without adequate training in teaching and learning theory and practice and/or FODE technologies. That tendency, together with inadequate planning or instructional design, undermines the effectiveness of FODE. Also, I believe it places an unfair burden on teachers, particularly those who really care about their effectiveness, because they must often compensate for inadequacies in planning, design and training by contributing substantial hours of unpaid work.

“Industrialisation” of #legaled – Otto Peters [4][5] foresaw a situation where industrialised education would involve employing less-qualified instructors to “deliver” instruction to learners, with qualified personnel reserved for planning and policy. If teaching and learning was like the mass production of widgets (“work-ready lawyers”), the industrialised model might work okay. But I contend it isn’t, and it doesn’t. I mentioned above the reflexive-dialectical aspects of teaching and learning. Part of this involves thinking about the teachers and practical legal training practitioners. Individuals with substantial intellectual and practical expertise have self actualisation needs that should be considered, if they are to thrive and remain motivated.[6] To neglect this consideration disrespects and undermines those individuals. This aspect can communicate itself to learners, who might under-rate the relevance and importance of the teaching and so, in turn, undermine the learners’ motivation to engage with learning.

“thinking” – I am an “early adopter” of technologies, and personally believe FODE has enormous potential. I argue that it is important, however, to remember that technologies are extensions or enablers of action. They do not substitute for intellectual engagement, critical thinking, methodologies or planning, on which they depend.

[1] Christopher Roper, ‘Standards for Approving Practical Legal Training Courses and Providers’ (Victoria Council of Legal Education, 2008).
[2] Gaye Lansdell, Have We Forsaken Quality and Professionalism for Technological Convenience in the Training of Lawyers in the 21st Century? The ‘Flexible Learning’Paradigm (2010).
[3] Gaye T Lansdell, ‘Have We ‘Pushed the Boat Out Too Far’ in Providing Online Practical Legal Training? A Guide to Best Practices for Future Programs’ (2009) 19(1 & 2) Legal Education Review 149.
[4] Otto Peters, 1969, ‘New Perspectives in Correspondence Study in Europe’, paper presented to 8th conference of the International Council on Correspondence Education, Paris, May 1969, <http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/33/fb/4c.pdf>.
[5] Otto Peters, ‘Distance education and industrial production: a comparative interpretation in outine’ in D Stewart, D Keegan and B Holmberg (eds), Distance Education: International Perspectives (1983) 95.
[6] Abraham Harold Maslow, ‘A theory of human motivation’ (1943) 50(4) Psychological Review 370.


Symposium – Doing Cultural Studies: Interrogating Practice

doing cultural theoryI am pleased I will be attending and presenting at the “Doing Cultural Studies: Interrogating Practice” intermezzo symposium at Swinburne University of Technology on 3 December 2013. This will be a great opportunity to gain some interdisciplinary insights about culture and practice from emerging scholars in this area. The abstract for my proposed presentation is here.



Year 1 – Australian First Year Lawyers in Profile

photo-1I’ve been reading the 2011 Law Society National Profile Report* (‘Profile Report’) to learn a little more about lawyers in their first year post-admission after PLT. The Profile Report includes demographic information about solicitors, including lawyers at the 1-year post-admission stage, drawn from data supplied by Australian state and territory law societies as at October 2011.

6000 First Year Lawyers

Nationally, approximately 6000 solicitors were admitted to practice during the 12 months to October 2011 (Profile Report, p. 9).[1] I assume most of  ‘first year lawyers’ would complete PLT shortly before admission, allowing for exceptions such as those who delayed admission after completing academic and practical entry requirements, or overseas practitioners exempted from PLT.

Most (not all) First Year Lawyers  25-29 Years Old

In relation to the age of solicitors, those aged under 24 years comprised 1.8% of the national total,[2] and those aged 25-29 years comprised 16.8% (Profile Report, p. 6).
A proportion of the 25-29 year group would be first year lawyers. Bearing in mind first year lawyers would include mature-age graduates, and assuming all of those aged under 24 years are first year lawyers, approximately half of the 25-29 years group might be first year lawyers. This would be consistent with first year lawyers comprising a little over 10% of all solicitors nationally.

More Female First Year Lawyers

Of all 59,280 solicitors, 54.6% were male and 45.4% were female (Profile Report, p. i). Of first year lawyers, females comprised 61.1% and males 38.9% (Profile Report, p. 10). Females outnumbered males in the <24 years group (female: 692; male: 353) and in the 25-29 years group (female: 6218; male: 3441) (Profile Report, p. 7).[3][4]

Most First Year Lawyers in Private Practices

First year lawyers comprised 11.7% of solicitors in private practice, 8.5% in government roles and 4.2% in corporate roles. In private practice, regarding the size of the law firm measured by number of partners, first year lawyers comprised 17.3% of solicitors in firms with 40 partners or more, 14.4% in firms comprised of 21-39 partners and 11-20 partners, 12.9% in firms with 5-10 partners, 11.7% in firms with 2-4 partners, and 8.5% of sole practitioner firms (Profile Report, p. 11).

Most Young Lawyers Are In A City

Most ‘young lawyers’ (solicitors admitted for 5 years or less) worked in the city (62.7%) or the suburbs (23.2%), with the remainder at overseas or unknown locations.

The profile report provides some useful demographic information about Australian solicitors, which would be enhanced by additional qualitative research. I found it useful to learn more about where first year lawyers are located in the legal sector and geographically. I was a little surprised that nearly 6000 were admitted to the profession during the relevant period, but less surprised by the gender distribution because this was consistent with my observations in teaching PLT during 2007-2011. With seemingly very few first year lawyers moving into country or regional work, there might be a role for PLT teachers to provide insights to law graduates about the potential benefits of working outside of the city and suburban areas. Also, given the higher proportion of women joining the profession, it will be interesting to see whether there will be a reversal of the historical reduction of women in the profession as the cohort grows older.

* Urbis for The Law Society of New South Wales, ‘2011 Law Society National Profile – Final Report’ (The Law Society of New South Wales, 2012).

[1] It is difficult to be precise because the Profile Report did not include admission figures for ACT and Tasmania, because those jurisdictions did not report admission statistics (Profile Report, p. 9).
[2] Excludes ACT and Tasmania: Note to Table 3 (Profile Report, p. 6).
[3] Excludes ACT and Tasmania: Note to Table 4 (Profile Report, p. 7).
[4] In older age groups the proportion of females to males decreases rapidly, beginning with the 40-44 year age group and upward (Profile Report, p. 8).


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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Law Institute of Victoria – Inaugural Law Graduates of the Future Forum

The Law Institute of Victoria’s ‘Future Focus’ committee, has conducted research under the heading of ‘The Law Graduates of the Future’. This has involved a survey of law graduates and employers during 2011 and 2012. Being unable to attend the inaugural forum in Melbourne, I am looking forward to seeing the material that was presented there and hearing/reading reactions to the presentation and discussion. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you did attend and would like to comment. I noticed that  the LIV’s President Blog, mentioned some interesting issues, including an ‘expectation gap’

between what universities and practical legal training providers are producing and what law firms believe they need from graduate employees

and that graduates tended to rate their skills more highly than their employees.
I have not seen the survey questions or a summary of the responses. I think it is important to look closely at those before commenting on the above finding.
I also notice that the LIV President’s Blog states:

I hope that this will be an opportunity for all of those involved or that have an interest in the legal profession to work together to ensure we are creating “work ready” lawyers that are well placed to address the challenges that lie ahead for the legal profession.

I am interested to learn more about what “work ready” means in the context of the Future Focus committee’s work. I observe that the national practical legal training competency standards for entry-level lawyers (NCS) uses different language, and a comparison of the language used during the 2006 Legal Education Review (the Campbell Report), the NCS, and that used by the Future Focus committee might be interesting.


Presentation in November – APLEC 2012 – Hobart

‘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.


Are Lawyers using Computer-Aided Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS)?

I have attended two introductory and three advanced training sessions on using NVivo, which is a computer-aided qualitative data analysis software. I plan on using this tool as part of my research into practical legal training teacher engagement with scholarship of teaching.

I have started using the software to undertake literature reviews and I have found it to be a very powerful tool, particularly when comparing critical writings around a specific topic, such as a sociological theory.

In brief, the software allows you to code parts of text (documents) and media (pictures, video, audio) and to classify the sources and coding for certain attributes. The data can then be explored, analysed, charted, and modeled to draw out and represent insights concerning convergences, conflicts, gaps and blind spots, around a concept.

My experience with this software has made me wish that I had access to it when undertaking legal research (analysing primary and secondary legal materials) and also in legal practice (analysing evidence such as affidavit material, exhibits, witness statements, and transcripts).

I would be very interested to know if there are any lawyers already using CAQDAS for this purpose. I certainly would encourage lawyers to consider learning about these tools if they have not done so already. Have you experience with CAQDAS in legal research or legal practice? If so, please let me know via the comments.