ALT Annual Conference 2014 Day 1

image I am at Leeds in England for the Association of Law Teachers’ Annual Conference. My attendance is supported by funding through Deakin University’ Higher Degree by Research Program, and ALT’s Stan Marsh Bursary. The conference venue is Leeds’ Queens Hotel, which is an Art Deco marvel. I’ve been made to feel welcome by the conference organisers, particularly Beckie Huxley-Binns and Jess Guth (thank you!). People are very friendly here in Leeds, which is nice after 35 hours travel with no sleep (delayed flights and missed connections etc).

Day One of the conference was opened by Rebecca Huxley-Binns with passionate (and often funny) remarks around the conference theme of “responding to change”. “Change”, here, is in the context of the recent Legal Education and Training Review and the ensuing reforms. Rebecca observed how personally felt some changes are, with responses analogous to Kubler-Ross’ description of stages of grief, and “genuine fear of what’s coming.” Rebecca called on law schools to “articulate their raison d’etre”, to declare what they stand for, to “embrace change”, and realise new opportunities for the future of legal education.

Pat Leighton, Director of the Legal Education Research Network (LERN) spoke to “The Urgency of Research for Legal Education” at the first keynote address. Pat described knowledge gaps in legal education, particularly around effective understanding and delivery of legal education, which is exacerbated by failures to take note of existing research. Pat identified policy and law-making as key areas neglected in legal education research, and noted the paucity of research regarding professional legal education. She described LETR as a usefully generative early stage report, that flags areas needing attention in future research. In other words, LETR is a preliminary report rather than a conclusive set of findings. Pat recommended that legal education researchers “find new friends” through interdisciplinary work, to generate fresh insights about research areas, methodologies and methods. These could include revisiting existing data to undertake secondary analyses. Pat described LERN’s facilitative role in legal education research, and urged attendees to engage with LERN’s resources. (I know I will).

We split up for parallel sessions (3 streams), and I attended sessions by Egle Dagilyte and Peter Coe from Buckinghamshire New University, and Kumari Lane from Birbeck College.

Egle and Peter’s session was entitled ‘Professionalism in Higher Education: Important Not Only For Lawyers’. They identified “narrow” and “broad” definitions of “professionalism”. Narrow definitions were aligned with conventional legal education and trajectories, whereas broad definitions were associated with new or evolving legal education trajectories, including unreserved legal practice. Both versions require lawyers to acquire skills, values and certain professional attributes. Here, some attributes were illustrated by fact situations involving early lawyers confronted with novel situations and dilemmas, without supervisor support. Individuals’ capacity to react appropriately was linked to professional attributes that ought to be acquired through legal education. There was some discussion of how lecturers ought to role model professionalism in their teaching and interactions with students. The concept of acquired embodiment of professional attributes is an ongoing preoccupation in legal education. I recently read similar discussions in the 1970s Bowen Report and Brown Report regarding professional legal education in New South Wales. In my opinion, embodied attributes take time to acquire, and appropriate learning conditions are necessary to support this. I am interested to see where Egle and Peter take their research.

Kumari’s presentation was about her research on using online discussion groups for teaching and learning. She found that most students agreed student-student interactions supported their own learning, but lecturer presence was important for guidance and support. Kumari passionately supported online discussion forums as a teaching medium, however she noted that they required substantial support and do not run themselves. Kumari remarked on the difficulty in persuading the organisation to include discussion group activities as assessable work, and the impact this had on student participation in the online discussions. This project looks interesting and I hope Kumari gets support to develop it further.

In the second parallel sessions I attended presentations by Lars Mosesson, Chloe Wallace and Cath Sylvester.
Lars (from Bucks New University) spoke to ‘Responding to What? Busy Chasing the Buzz’. Lars questioned assumptions about what has really changed in legal education, and asked if lecturers were any better at their work than in the years before legal education reforms. It is important to question what changes are proposed, the motivation for those proposals, and identify who is behind the proposals and who stands to benefit from change. It is also important to assess the effectiveness of changes brought about by the reforms. Lars questioned whether there ought to be compulsory CPD for law lecturers. Some in the audience appeared to support professional development for law lecturers, but balked at the proposition of compulsory CPD, with at least one person remarking that it could be counter-productive.

Chloe (from University of Leeds) presented a very interesting theory session, around “connectivism” (Bell 2009; Siemens 2011) and successor theory, in contrast with behaviourist and post-behaviourist theories. Chloe remarked on a “default to behaviourism” and cited legal education’s preoccupation with “thinking like a lawyer” as an example that could fall prey to the default to behaviourism. I am a keen reader of education theory and aware of Siemens’ work but would like to learn more about connectivism and the network theory approach to learning. Not often you see a good theory session at legal education conferences.

The final presentation of the day by Cath (from University of Northumbria) concerned “Measuring Competence In Legal Education: A View From the Bridge”. Cath spoke to a “richer concept of competence” and drew on Miller’s Pyramid (1990) and de Vleuten’s utility index (1996) to discuss how to test for competency in a regulatory environment pressing for “robust” and “rigorous” assessment. It’s a real issue, I agree, particularly in practical legal training, where it can be difficult to reach consensus between assessors about what “competence” is for a given task or practice.
A really good first day at the conference, stimulating and inspiring.


10 Reasons Why Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Matters in PLT

10 Reasons(1) ‘Teaching makes learning possible’, whereas scholarship of teaching and learning (“SoTL”) shows how ‘learning is made possible’.[1]

(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.[2]

(6) Professionalism – a sense of professionalism and responsibility. This involves a PLT practitioner’s profession, both as a lawyer and educator.[4]

(7) Pragmatism – recognition that SoTL informs teaching and learning work in a way that is ‘transparent’ to external scrutiny, and informs individual practice.[5]

(8) Policy – recognition of ‘national, state and local policy’, including policies of legal regulators, admission boards, and higher education regulators.[6] Earn a seat at the policy-making table.

(9) Legislative intent of mandatory PLT includes 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 PLT “better”, rewards our efforts as PLT practitioners (self-actualisation).

[1] 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.

[2] Keith Trigwell and Suzanne Shale, ‘Student learning and the scholarship of university teaching’ (2004) 29(4) Studies in Higher Education 523

[3] 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

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 50.

[6] Ibid, 52.


Association of Law Teachers (UK) – Stan Marsh Bursary

I am the grateful recipient of a Stan Marsh Bursary to support my attendance at ALT’s annual conference in Leeds during 13-15 April 2014. The theme of the conference is “Responding to Change”.

I am especially thankful to Professor Rebecca Huxley-Binns and Dr Jess Guth for their patient support during multiple exchanges of correspondence and planning my attendance at Leeds.

I am very fortunate to be in the position to undertake my PhD on a full-time basis, supported by an Australian scholarship award, and occasional funds from Deakin University for specific purposes. That said, the three years I’ve set aside for the research are lean times financially, and unexpected support like the Stan Marsh bursary is enormously helpful.

I’m really looking forward to this conference, and meeting the many legal education experts I’ve come to know through Twitter, LinkedIn and various blogs! The benefit of attending these conferences cannot be understated – exposure to others’ ideas, exposing own ideas to constructive confrontation, serendipitous moments that arise from discussions during breaks – they are substantially generative and informative.


To Leeds in April 2014

Old Map of LeedsI am really excited to have my presentation abstract accepted for the Association of Law Teachers (ALT) annual conference in Leeds during 13-15 April. The conference theme, “Responding to Change” is of particular interest to me in the context of my PhD research.

My presentation paper is entitled “‘O Where Are You Going? O Do You Imagine?’: Reproduction And Response –  A Reflexive Sociology Of Scholarship Of Teaching And Learning In Practical Legal Training?”. I think the nod to Auden’s poem is apposite to the conference theme.

The acceptance of that abstract means that I will be in Leeds for two conferences. The other conference is the British Sociological Association’s (BSA) annual conference, and the theme is “Changing Society”. My presentation paper for this conference is entitled “The Forks of Law: Structure and Agency in Australian Post-Graduate Pre-Admission Practical Legal Training.”

Each of the papers draws on different aspects of my PhD research about PLT practitioners’ engagement with scholarship of teaching and learning. The guiding questions in my research are: What are PLT practitioners’ motivations and capabilities for engaging with scholarship of teaching and learning? What symbolic support do PLT providers give to PLT practitioners’ engagement with scholarship of teaching and learning, and what resources do PLT providers allocate to this?

In approaching these questions, I am considering the relation between social structure and agency – are social structures “inscribed” into PLT practitioners’ practices? Can PLT practitioners’ practices affect structures in the PLT field? My approach is framed by sociology and cultural theory, rather than psychology.

In studying PLT practitioners in this way, I  effectively objectify them. In this context, I adopt Bourdieu’s “reflexive” sociology in which I, as the researcher, take “two steps back” to objectify my own objectification – this forces me to give an account of my own biases and assumptions.

In a similar but different way, I adopt de Certeau’s approach to “heterologies”, which involves both the “birds-eye” and the “kerb-side” view of PLT practitioners’ practices.

I am looking forward to learning from the other presenters at both conferences, and having an opportunity to subject my work to some constructive confrontation outside of Australia.



2014 ALTA Annual Conference dates announced

I am informed that Australasian Law Teachers Association has announced the 2014 ALTA Annual Conference will be held Thursday 10 July – Saturday 12 July at Bond University, Gold Coast.  The conference theme is  “Thriving in Turbulent Times: Re-imagining the Roles of Law, Law Schools and Lawyers”.


ALTA Conference 2013 – Draft Program Available

ALTAThe draft program for the 2013 Australasian Law Teachers Association Conference is available online.

I’m looking forward to seeing many of these sessions, particularly those on practical legal training and clinical legal education.

If you’re at the conference, come and say hello to me. I’m the big deaf old guy in a pinstriped navy blue blazer.


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.