Access to Justice Arrangements Final Report – Quick Look re PLT

access-justice-volume1The Productivity Commission’s final inquiry report regarding Access to Justice Arrangements (5 September 2014) was released on 4 December 2014. You can download the report here.

I have previously discussed the draft report and some submissions to the inquiry here.

I have quickly scanned the report for what it states about practical legal training. Firstly, Recommendation 7.1 (underlining added):

RECOMMENDATION 7.1 The Law, Crime and Community Safety Council, in consultation with universities and the professions, should conduct a systemic review of the current status of the three stages 
of legal education (university, practical legal training and continuing professional development). The review should commence in 2015 and consider the: 


  • appropriate role of, and overall balance between, each of the three stages of legal education and training 

  • ongoing need for each of the core areas of knowledge in law degrees, as currently specified in the 11 Academic Requirements for Admission, and their relevance to legal practice 

  • best way to incorporate the full range of legal dispute resolution options, including non-adversarial and non-court options, and the ability 
appropriate resolution option to the dispute type and characteristics into one (or more) of the stages of legal education 

  • relative merits of increased clinical legal education at the university or practical 
training stages of education
  • regulatory oversight 
for each stage, including the nature of tasks that could 
appropriately be conducted by individuals who have completed each stage of education, and any potential to consolidate roles in regulating admission, practising certificates and continuing professional development. Consideration should be given to the Western Australian and Victorian models in this regard. 


The Law, Crime and Community Safety Council should consider the recommendations of the review in time to enable implementation of outcomes by the commencement of the 2017 academic year.

The first dot point is very interesting – Noel Jackling cites the Trew Report (1966), the Freadman Report (1969), the McDowell Report (1971), the Ormrod Report (1971) and the Victorian Joint Working Party Report (1985) as all adopting a ‘compartmentalised’ model, ‘in which the stages [of legal education] follow each other’.  A review of the three-stage model would have implications for those who have treated the three compartments as watertight in the past. I believe such a review is overdue.

Increased clinical legal education during the academic or PLT stage could have challenging consequences. I support clinical legal education for teaching and learning in law; however there are substantial administrative and financial factors associated with it. As the report observes at p. 249:

Although it has benefits, clinical legal education is very intensive in terms of staff resources, and is therefore relatively expensive when compared with more traditional university-based methods for teaching law.

I would not like to see an  approach to new requirements that might inhibit diversity, equity, and parity of access to legal education.

Regulatory oversight is also an interesting issue in PLT – I have received  feedback from PLT practitioners about  regulators’ resistance to change and innovation in teaching and learning theory and practices in PLT.

The recommendation contemplates the review of the three-stage model commencing next year and concluding before the 2017 academic year – so hold on to your hats – this will be an exciting ride!

Volume 1, p. 242 of the report includes a brief summary of ‘practical legal training and admission’.  Curiously, the report omits mention of one of the longest-serving PLT providers, the Leo Cussen Institute, when stating PLT courses ‘are offered online and throughout the country by universities, the College of Law and other select training bodies’.

Volume 1, p. 248 – the report states ‘Clinical legal education can provide more practical training’ but observes it should not just be an ‘add-on’ to the academic degree, later adding at p. 249 (underlining added):

Given the increasingly generalist role of the undergraduate law degree, a focus on elements that are specific to practising in the legal profession (as distinct from corporate or government work) could be misplaced. However, in postgraduate study (such as JDs or PLT), the use of clinical legal education to concurrently develop knowledge and skills may prove a valuable means to expedite courses while still maintaining quality.

It is not clear on first reading whether the Commission considered the work experience component of PLT. If the intention is to supplement the work experience component with clinical legal education, this may or may not solve the current problem of the shortage of work experience placements, provided the admission boards accept clinical legal education undertaken during PLT as part of the pre-admission work experience requirements. The Commission refers to the Newcastle University’s integrated program of academic, clinical legal education, and PLT, seemingly taking this as a model for what might be done. My understanding, however, is that graduates from integrated programs face difficulty in having the PLT qualification accepted for admission in some jurisdictions.

Vol 1, p. 252 – in discussing a ‘balancing’ of the three stages of legal education and training, the Commission states (underlining added):

Simply adding new elements to legal education (ADR, clinical legal education) risks driving up the cost and duration of education. Instead, the role of each of these stages in training professional lawyers should be examined. Such elements need to be incorporated or ‘embedded’ into the broader learning process. Given the tendency towards more ‘generalist’ undergraduate law degrees a tiered approach to education might be appropriate, with strengthened postgraduate or practical legal training for those who intend to practice.

This seems to contemplate a more integrated approach, but with qualifications structured for practitioners and non-practitioners. An integrated approach could have modules mandated for the practitioner stream, and to which non-practitioners could later return if they chose to qualify for practice. There might be some (not insurmountable) challenges for instructional design if an integrated approach is adopted. Consider, for example, a pervasive approach to teaching subjects such as professional responsibility and legal ethics across the curriculum – instructional designers would need to track whether learning concepts are adequately covered in both practitioner and non-practitioner streams.

So that’s a quick look – I hope to complete a more detailed examination of the report early next year, with a comparison between the final report and the submissions considered regarding PLT.


 

Noel Jackling, ‘Academic and Practical Legal Education: Where Next’ (1986) 4 Journal of Professional Legal Education 1.

Productivity Commission, ‘Access to Justice Arrangements – Productivity Commission Inquiry Report’ (Productivity Commission, 2014).

The Committee on Legal Education, ‘Report Of The Committee On Legal Education (“The Ormrod Report”)’ (The Committee on Legal Education, 1971).

Share