Review: ‘Promoting Justice Through Clinical Legal Education’ by Jeff Giddings

Promoting_Justice_CLEAn excellent book for those interested in the Australian legal education continuum, rigorously studied, and comprehensively described.

Jeff Giddings’ book, recently published by Justice Press, is divided in three parts, beginning with ‘The Potential of Clinical Legal Education’, followed by ‘Four Case Studies of Australian Clinical Legal Education’, and ‘The Future of Clinical Legal Education’. Whatever you do, do not overlook the foreword by Chief Justice Robert S French, AC, commenting on the ‘untidy business of law’ applied by ‘human beings acting in private and public capacities and informed by a variety of perspectives and levels of competence.’

Of particular interest to me and relevant to my own research was Chapter Five, ‘Factors Influencing the Establishment and Sustainability of Clinical Programs’, including external factors including, ‘economic and social context’, ‘higher education policy and practice’, ‘legal education framework’, ‘legal services policy’, and ‘attitude of legal professional bodies’. The historical material is also invaluable for researchers in this area; Giddings had terrific access to documents and people both in Australian and overseas and helpfully distils his findings without oversimplification or lost detail.

The book supports the argument for a more integrated approach to the legal education continuum that allows for concurrency of academic education, clinical legal skills and practical legal training. Giddings highlights some of the internal and external structural obstacles to the concurrent approach, including the attitudes of regulators and parts of the profession, that are of interest to me in my research. For example, some jurisdictions require PLT be completed entirely as post-graduate training as part of the eligibility requirements for admission to the profession, which poses difficulties for graduates of concurrent programs seeking admission in those jurisdictions.

Practical legal training is not often mentioned in the book, save to contrast ‘real life’ clinical experiences with ‘simulated’ practical legal training experiences. Putting arguments about the effectiveness of simulation to one side for the moment, it is worthwhile observing that practical legal training usually involves a mandatory work experience component, to provide law graduates with opportunities to integrate their PLT with real life experiences – this is often overlooked in literature critical of PLT. The challenge, mentioned in passing by Giddings, is effective practical involvement of the profession and work experience supervisors as part of a holistic approach to legal education and professional training. My understanding from anecdotal evidence, and confirmed after reading Giddings’ book, is that integrated approaches to legal education depend on the profession ‘stepping up’ to support such programs in practical ways.

My still-developing personal view is that clinical legal education at law school supports learning foundational intellectual competencies, and can also provide excellent scaffolding for practical legal training. In this context, much could be gained from partnerships between clinical legal educators and practical legal training practitioners. Those contemplating such a partnership would be well-served by reading Giddings’ book.

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