APLEC 2013 – Call For Papers

The 2013 Australasian Professional Legal Education Council Conference is being jointly hosted by Flinders Law School and the Law Society of South Australia/Adelaide Law School.

The conference will be held at the Flinders University City Campus, 182 Victoria Square during 15 – 16 November 2013.

Call for Papers is open – Submissions should be sent to deborah.ankor@flinders.edu.au.

I cannot locate a conference web page at this stage.


Standards for PLT Courses and PLT Providers

Slide02The Australian Law Admissions Consultative Committee (LACC) has circulated the Victorian Council of Legal Education’s ‘Standards for PLT Providers and Courses – February 2013‘. LACC commends the standards (“the 2013 Standards”) to admitting authorities outside of Victoria, observing the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (APLEC) has approved the 2013 standards.

My own interest in the 2013 standards relates to two main themes:

  1. The treatment of online or blended PLT programs for accreditation or evaluation; and
  2. Teaching and learning requirements.

As to my first theme, by way of background the 2013 Standards were preceded by a ‘preliminary’ report commissioned by the Victorian Council of Legal Education and prepared by Christopher Roper AM (the ‘Roper Report’)[1]. I was troubled by some proposed standards in the Roper Report including Standard 1.3(e):

The PLT provider must provide an argument for the basis upon which the effectiveness of the distance learning can be assured…

‘Distance learning’, in the Roper Report, included ‘online learning’. My view is the criterion for ‘an argument for the basis upon which the effectiveness of … learning can be assured’, would be problematic, and if it were adopted should apply whether a wholly face-to-face or blended program of online and face-to-face instruction is involved. In other words, the medium is not the message and evaluation should be holistic and not discriminate between one mode of delivery or another solely on that basis.

It is good to see the 2013 Standards are substantially revised on this point at part 1.4(d):

to remove any possible implication that on-line teaching and learning is to be treated differently from other modes of teaching and learning.

As to my second theme, ‘teaching and learning requirements’, part 2.4 of the 2013 Standards focuses on ‘appropriate’ design, teacher-student interactions, timely feedback, adequate supervision of students, hours needed for learning, assessment methods, and monitoring of student work .

Part 2.5 mentions student-teacher ratios, simply stating the ratio should be ‘adequate and appropriate’.

Part 3.1 of the 2013 Standards specifies that teaching staff must be ‘appropriately qualified’, have ‘substantial recent experience practising law in Australia, or comparable relevant qualifications and experience’. Those involved with designing instruction should have ‘appropriate qualifications and experience’. PLT providers ‘must operate … adequately resourced and appropriate development programs’ for teaching and assessment staff. Finally, annual evaluations are required for teachers, designers and assessors. It is interesting to note that if PLT teaching staff are not substantially full-time employees, PLT providers are required to explain to admitting authorities why the arrangement is appropriate.

In time we might see how ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant’ qualifications and experience for teaching staff are determined, and whether ‘scholarship of teaching’ attributes are included.

Also, if PLT providers employ practising lawyers as assessors (encouraged at 2013 Standards p. 10), will those individuals take part in the ‘development programs’ and annual evaluations mentioned at Part 3.1?


[1] Christopher Roper, ‘Standards for Approving Practical Legal Training Courses and Providers’ (Victoria Council of Legal Education, 2008).



APLEC 2012 Day 2 – 10 November

I missed the first plenary session, unfortunately, because I was setting up my poster presentation based around my survey of PLT teacher qualifications and teaching scholarship outputs.

The first parallel session I attended was Tony Cibiras’s, ‘What does the Australian Quality Framework mean for Practical Legal Education?’. Tony provided an introduction to the AQF and the implications that has for the existing graduate diploma of legal practice offerings, particularly in relation to equivalent full-time student load weightings. But the discussion really became interesting around the issue of non-formal recognised prior learning. That is, where applicants could claim advanced standing on the basis of professional work experience, rather than academic qualifications. The discussion highlighted the fact that this would be an administrative challenge for PLT providers, given the infinite possible varieties of claims that would need to be evaluated. Also, it would be interesting to see how the regulators approach accreditation of PLT courses that propose to include RPL as part of the course design. It was recognised that the VET sector has already met the challenge of RPL, and that we might learn a lot from that experience. Also, the portfolio approach to course design might represent a way of resolving differences between full-course students and those who successfully claim RPL for part of their PLT.

The second session I attended was presented by Moira Murray and Margie Rowe, ‘Teaching and learning in teams in a Professional Practice course’. The presenters made some introductory comments and then opened up the session to a discussion format, and this was very successful. In essence, students were working in teams in virtual firms, charged with producing items of work; I think this was along the lines of John Harvey and Paul Maharg’s simulated practical learning environment (SIMPLE) design. Lecturers also worked in teams to manage the activities and to interact with the students and the virtual law firms. Issues about unsatisfactory participation and ‘dysfunctional’ firms, were discussed. The presenters noted that while these problems did not often occur, when they did arise they needed prompt action by the lecturer. This is consistent with my own observations in my online discussion research that it is important to have a lecturer’s (available, non-intrusive) teaching presence in the virtual environment. It was good to hear about the experience of using virtual firms and the benefits of collaboration in both the student and teaching domains.

After morning tea we attended a plenary panel session, chaired by His Excellency, The Honorable Peter Underwood, AC, Governor of Tasmania, with The Honorable Justice Alan Blow, OAM, Magistrate Peter Dixon, and Professor Peter Lyons. The subject was, ‘Advocacy Training’. It was interesting to hear different perspectives about what was important in advocacy training (although I was surprised that communication skills did not get much of a run). The ability to empathise was mentioned more than once. I was a bit dismayed that when the topic of whether advocacy could be taught by ‘online learning’ was discussed, there appeared to be a widely-shared misconception that advocacy was being taught by wholly online courses, rather than through blended program designs, that involve online instruction, together with face-to-face coaching, feedback, and assessment. The senior observers in the room seemed a bit surprised when I explained that ‘online learning’ is a bit of a misnomer in relation to the programs actually supplied in Australia, and that most, if not all, programs are blended programs.  It seems we have a long way to go before most of the profession understand how blended program designs actually work.

Associate Professor Allan Chay provided the closing remarks, and rightly observed, I think, that this was one of the best conferences ever in terms of the number of attendees, and the variety and quality of presentations. In my view, the outlook for scholarship of teaching in PLT is looking good – something I did not really believe 12 months ago!

These conferences are incredibly valuable learning experience and I encourage PLT teachers to get involved with them. I think the University of Tasmania Law School and the Centre for Legal Studies provided an excellent conference, and the organisers (including Naomi Bryant and her team) should be congratulated.



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.


Mapping the PLT Competency Standards

I have created some maps of the current Australian Competency Standards for Entry Level Lawyers adopted for Practical Legal Training Programs.

See more!

Competency Standards Overview Map


Support for Law Graduates Undertaking Practical Legal Training?

…employers and supervisors do have ethical, legal and professional obligations to ensure the graduate actually does receive and undertake their practical legal training.

I submit that it is in everybody’s interest to provide a supportive environment for PLT graduates to undertake their practical legal training.  Real support would include actual time being allocated (and taken) to properly undertake the PLT coursework, and legal practitioners supporting PLT as a worthwhile undertaking that is important and relevant to building an entry-level lawyer’s competency to undertake legal practice.


Read More…