‘Test Out the Scaffolding’: A Qualitative Comparison of LLB Threshold Learning Outcomes and the PLT Competency Standards for ‘Lawyers’ Skills’

This is one of my working papers, not yet published. I’m linking to it here because it might be of interest to PLT practitioners and I’m keen to have some feedback on the ideas expressed in the paper.

Threshold Learning Outcomes (‘TLOs’) for the Australian bachelor of laws and National Competency Standards (‘NCS’) for post-graduate pre-admission practical legal training include learning objectives for lawyers’ skills as part of a legal education continuum. How do behavioural learning objectives for ‘lawyers’ skills’ specified in the TLOs and the NCS compare? This practitioner-initiated qualitative study borrowed from a ‘grounded theory’ approach to analyze the TLOs and NCS learning objectives for lawyers’ skills. The study produced insights that might inform PLT teachers’ scaffolding around graduates’ intellectual competencies as part of practical legal training in lawyers’ skills.


Theory of Teaching Too Dense for PLT Practitioners?

I have been interviewing PLT practitioners around the country, (not finished yet) and one message that percolates through discussions is the opacity of theory of teaching and learning. The gist of what many (not all) say is, ‘just tell me what works’. That’s understandable, because PLT practitioners tend to be very busy mentoritheoryng trainees, resolving administrative issues, updating course content and so on. I think there might be other issues why PLT practitioners might not engage with scholarship of teaching and learning, but I will leave those for later.

For now, I’m interested in the comments practitioners make about teaching theory being expressed in overly dense and difficult language, making it seemingly impenetrable. Now, I confess I’m a bit of a theory-philiac, so I must be biased about theory. On the other hand, it’s interesting that lawyers who deal with fairly abstract concepts (discretionary trusts? restrictive covenants? detinue? feoffment with livery of seisen?) would think that teaching theory is dense or difficult. I suspect that the apparently abstract or complex nature of teaching theory might be less of an issue if opportunities to learn it were improved.

That said, there are critics who say that theory of teaching is a waste of time, and the better approach to researching and teaching practice is via action research driven by practical philosophy. Sounds like a theory worth testing, to me.


Dr Matthew Ball on power relations and legal identity in legal education

I have been reading a useful series of articles on the above topic by Dr Matthew Ball. I am interested in how Matthew uses Foucault’s concept of ‘governmentality’, to critically analyse approaches taken in critical legal studies, and legal education pedagogy, regarding law students and power relations. Matthew’s PhD thesis is a detailed and enjoyably readable investigation of the topic.

I am no expert on Foucault, but I tend to resist the treatment of acts of resistance to, or within, panoptic disciplinary ‘microbial practices’, as being subsumed into the system of discipline (yes, I know). I like to contemplate Foucault’s approach in conjunction with Certeau’s idea, that subjects/consumers can divert dominant practices into ‘other forms of operation’, through the ‘subjects” tactics, which inform their practices in ‘everyday life’. (Certeau employs the French term of ‘perruque’ – where workers divert employers’ resources to produce things things for their own consumption, for example). When I read about ‘perruque’ I cannot help thinking about the idea of ‘bricolage’, as advanced by Claude Lévi-Strauss in ‘The Savage Mind’ (1968, University of Chicago Press), in the sense that beliefs and practices of interpretative mastery can be remembered through folklore and rites, and experimentally (playfully) coalesced and reorganised, to produce new objects. I am also interested in comparing Certeau’s and Bourdieu’s approaches to this idea of ‘interpretive mastery’.

From the point of view of investigating how subjects/consumers/agents undertake acts of ‘interpretive mastery’, Jeremy Ahearne (and Certeau) has compared Bourdieu’s ‘objectification of objectification’, with Certeau’s explicit operation of ‘withdrawal and power’: Ahearne, J & de Certeau, M 1995, Michel de Certeau: Interpretation and its other, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. This seems to me to be partly a struggle about how to manage the situation, where the researchers enter into a power relation, with those occupying positions in the field under study, and the researchers bringing with them their own assumptions and preconceptions. I am exploring these issues, as I develop my own study of Australian PLT teachers’ engagement with scholarship of teaching.

I commend to you the following articles by Dr Ball:

Ball, MJ 2012, ‘Power in legal education: a (new) critical and analytical approach’, QUT Law and Justice Journal, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 157-77.

Ball, M 2012, ‘Becoming a ‘Bastion Against Tyranny’: Australian Legal Education and the Government of the Self’, Law and Critique, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 1-20, retrieved 10 April 2012, DOI 10.1007/s10978-012-9101-1, <http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10978-012-9101-1>.

Ball, M 2011, ‘Governing Depression in Australian Legal Education: Power, Psychology and Advanced Liberal Government’, Legal Education Review, vol. 21, pp. 277-301.

Ball, M 2011, ‘Self-Government and the Fashioning of Resilient Personae: Legal Education, Criminal Justice, and the Government of Mental Health’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 97-111.

Ball, M 2010, ‘Legal Education and the ‘Idealistic Student’: Using Foucault to Unpack the Critical Legal Narrative’, Monash University Law Review, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 80-107.

Ball, MJ 2008, ‘A ‘deleterious’ effect?: Australian legal education and the production of the legal identity’, PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.

Ball, M 2007, ‘The Construction of the Legal Identity: Governmentality in Australian Legal Education’, Queensland University of Technology Law & Justice Journal, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 444-63.