#aplec2013 Day 2 Parallel Session

Postcards from the Edge: Proposed DIY Devolutionary Changes to PLT in Hong Kong

Jack Burke

City University Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, law graduates are required to complete a post-graduate certificate in laws program to be eligible for admission to the profession. The Law Society of Hong Kong proposes to introduce a qualifying exam, with the aim of ensuring uniform standards. The timing of the examination is yet to be decided pending a consultation process. Uncertainty about the timing of such an exam raises the prospect of graduates being able to qualify for admission without completing a practical legal training requirement. In the present circumstances many law graduates are unable to obtain placements in the post-graduate certificate program. Jack argued against the potential abolition of mandatory practical legal training, and canvassed other approaches to ensuring uniform standards and parity of access to PLT and admission processes.

UK LETR 2013 – found current model of doctrinal law degree followed by post-graduate skills training works well. Recommendation that current system of apprenticeships be extended. Also recommended for greater focus on professional competencies, e.g. professionalism, professional standards, learning attainment, reflection, emotional intelligence, dealing with uncertainty. Concern with standardisation and integrity – query whether centrally-based assessment should be adopted. Urged great consultation between stakeholders, e.g. profession, educators, regulators, trainees etc. Need for greater consistency between what is taught and what occurs in practice.

Ontario – has system of articled training. 2012 report ‘Pathways to the Profession: A Roadmap for the Reform of Lawyer Licensing in Ontario’. Perceived problems with articles – patchy work experiences, large firm focused, lack of effective feedback and instruction to clerks, single rotation in one practice area common. Reports that good training is excellent experience, but inconsistency in quality of training. Collecting data over 5 years re merits of pathways to admission. Separate minority report recommended that articles be abandoned because outdated, inconsistent. Recommended introduction of some online instruction.

USA – educational debt and high graduate unemployment is the current crisis. American Bar Association Draft Report (2013) – urging move from academic to vocational focus in JD programs. What would be the outcome of shifting away from doctrinal study?

Hong Kong – discussion of introducing a bar exam in 2018. Not clear whether in place of or in addition to the PCLL. Is the real issue a lack of standards, or a shortage of PCLL places? Situation in Hong Kong, many students do law school and PLT overseas and then seek to return to Hong Kong to practice. About 2000 students with law degrees, but only 600 PCLL places each year! PCLL is 26 week long intensive skills training. Benchmarked by law society and bar association. 1:10 teaching ratio; primarily F2F with some online instruction. Redmond Roper Report 2001 – identified problems in PCLL – criticised for overly being academic – since then instruction largely skills based and interactive.  Law society very interactive with PCLL – external academic advisers (EAAs) assess all exam scripts, and check marked assessments before signing off on results, must vet all PCLL course materials. EAAs sit in on instruction and evaluate instructors. Personal experience of this is a bit scary but has improved standards of teaching. Standing committee on legal education and training.

Jack argues for increased training places in Hong Kong and against abolition of PLT requirement.


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).



Taking into account ‘affect’ in Practical Legal Training

This post is an edited version of a comment that I posted to the Practical Legal Training Educators Australia discussion group.

I recently finished re-reading Julian Webb’s chapter, ‘The Body in (E)motion: Thinking through Embodiment in Legal Education’ in Paul Maharg and Caroline Maughan (eds), Affect and Legal Education – Emotion in Learning and Teaching the Law, Emerging Legal Learning (Ashgate, 2011) 211.

I think Julian Webb makes a compelling argument (at p 227) that, ‘By enabling our students to get social in the classroom, to come together in a more structured and reflective way, group learning can actively support their social and moral development, and – maybe, just maybe – enhance their ability to become ‘better’ social actors…’

This chapter follows nicely from Graham Ferris and Rebecca Huxley-Binns’ chapter, ‘What Students Care About and Why We Should Care’ in the same book. They rightly argue at p 195, ‘…that those delivering education should explicitly and deliberately consider the purposes of learners, meaning the things they do or might value, or care about, or strive for. Whilst the choice of purpose is that of the learner, we can use our experience and knowledge of teaching law in higher education to facilitate purpose, choice or value adoption or rejection.’

It seems to me that these positions are applicable to the practical legal training environment, not just the academy. That said, some might be understandably concerned about leaning too far toward what students care about and losing sight of the integrity of the training and the PLT accreditation. This is the ‘springboard’ for my following comments.

Taking the skills workshop situation as an example, we can design the instruction and plan certain learning objectives for this experiential learning experience.
There may be ‘global’ objectives embodied by ‘global’ statements in the Competency Standards for Entry-Level Lawyers; ‘instructional’ objectives the students’ performance goals, the conditions for that performance, and the the criterion for satisfactory performance. We can frame specific educational objectives as a subject-verb-object sentence: ‘[During the role-play interview] the student will be able to obtain all instructions necessary [to commence work on the client’s problem and to provide preliminary advice in plain language]’. We could specify what ‘plain language’ means in this context (e.g. we could decide to exclude ‘txt-speech’, and explain why – notions of professionalism, regularity, respect, integrity, etc.) Here, I’ve drawn on Mager, R.F., Preparing Instructional Objectives. 1997, Atlanta, Georgia, USA: CEP Press.

It is also possible to explicitly plan the learning across different levels of processing (e.g. retrieval, comprehension, analysis, knowledge utilisation, meta-cognition, and the self-system/affective level) across different domains of learning (information, mental procedures, psychomotor procedures). Here, I’ve drawn on Marzano, R.J. and J.S. Kendall, eds. The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. 2nd ed. 2007, Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California. I have previously blogged about this taxonomy.

Taking the above into account when planning the workshop, we can decide to adopt certain evidence-based teaching methods, such as advanced organisers, graphic organisers, whole-class interactive or co-operative learning approaches, and use a range of media to do this. I am drawing on Petty, Geoff, Evidence-based Teaching – A Practical Approach (Nelson Thornes, 2nd ed, 2009) here. Of course, it is important that the material and methods we use are ‘authentic’ and relevant to the learning objectives.

When we actually ‘perform’ or ‘deliver’ the workshop, ‘stuff’ comes up during discussions or arising out of the practice role-play interviews. It may be the student asks a question about how to handle a certain situation, or a student recalls an analogous situation from their volunteer legal work or graduate placement. We might respond by opening the question up to discussion, or share an illustrative ‘war story’ anecdote from our own practice to give an example of how we solved a problem. These are usually good opportunities to employ, and model, ‘reflection-in-action’, and ‘reflection-on-action’ approaches to teaching, learning and professional practice. I am thinking about the work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schön, but in particular Schön’s book., Educating the reflective practitioner, Jossey-Bass higher education series. (Jossey-Bass, 1st pbk. print. ed, 1990). Peter Senge is also good to read about this – Senge, Peter M., The Fifth Discipline – The Art & Practice of the Learning Organisation (Doubleday Business, 2nd ed, 2006).

These interactions have social as well as educational qualities; both of which involve the students emotionally to some extent.

Running through all of this, from planning to delivery, are considerations concerning the affective domain / self-system level of processing learning. What students want and feel is relevant to emotionally driven judgements about whether the learning task is important and relevant to their learning goals and their ability to complete the learning task: motivation to learn = value x expectancy. This can be especially important with adult learners who can resist what they perceive as ‘supplementary’ learning (Atherton, James, ‘Resistance to Learning: A Discussion Based on Participants in In-Service Professional Training Programme’ (1999) 51(1) Journal of Vocational Education and Training: The Vocational Aspect of Education 77).

Some tend to focus on these aspects in relation to initial engagement, but I think they’re equally important to student satisfaction with the learning and could possibly affect their feelings about continuing professional education. In other words, what we do during the interactions is relevant to the immediate educational objective, but also could affect young lawyers’ commitment to life-long learning, and either impinge or enhance their satisfaction with their professional development, and their chosen profession. I think these factors are also relevant in training entry-level lawyers to pursue thinking about ethics and professional responsibility.

So, I agree that it is important to be clear about what are our teaching and learning goals in facilitating our students construction of themselves as lawyers; I think it is important that we are able to justify our instructional decision-making; it seems to me that both of those propositions involve developing our understanding of the affective domain of learning in practical legal training so we can continually improve the way we train lawyers.


Update – DSM-5 – Mental Health Disclosures for Lawyers

As reported in my earlier blog post…

It is my understanding that most Australian medical practitioners would refer to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) to categorise and assist in the identification of mental disorders.

By way of update – A revised edition of the manual (DSM-5) is due to be published in 2013.  Apparently each revision of the DSM attracts some controversy. The lead up to the release of DSM-5 is no exception. Some commentators in the mental health field are concerned about the broadening of criteria for identification of certain mental health disorders; see this article in The Age, for example.  It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this issue has for the development of mental health policy in within the jurisdiction of disclosures for admission to the profession and grant/renewal of practising certificates.

You can read my original blog post here.


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