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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "From the Editor" [2009] LegEdDig 16; (2009) 17(1) Legal Education Digest 3


The Digest Editorial Team have just returned from the Australasian Law Teachers Association (ALTA) Conference hosted by the University of Western Sydney Law School at Parramatta, Sydney. It was an uplifting time for the record number of university law teachers who attended, with the re-introduction of the ALTA Teaching and Learning Workshop, the launch of the inaugural edition of the ALTA Journal (JALTA) comprising 35 refereed papers from last year’s ALTA Conference and the presentation at the Conference of approximately 154 interest group and plenary papers. The Conference also provided an excellent opportunity for the Digest editorial members to meet the many law publishers in attendance at the Conference, as well as readers of the Digest and many who have contributed to the digested articles or had a text highlighted in the Book Review. Your editor was most encouraged by the response of our readers to the various editions of the Digest which they felt were of value to all those interested in the ongoing development of legal education and its effect on the preparation of our future legal practitioners.

And so to this edition’s contributions which include a book review entitled: Community Engagement in Contemporary Legal Education edited by Patrick Keyzer, Amy Kenworthy and Gail Wilson which deals with pro bono, clinical legal education and service-learning.

The first article by Yordy is digested under the subject heading of Curriculum and relates to the challenge contained in a 2006 final report of the US Secretary of Education’s Commission entitled: A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of US Higher Education. This stated that present day graduates lacked such important skills as reading, writing, problem solving and critical thinking. The author argues that with regard to undergraduate legal education, law teachers are able to assist law students if they have an understanding of student cognitive development theory and if both curriculum development and pedagogical techniques are based on these theories.

Another article under this category is the description by Witzleb and Skead of the shifting ‘of the focus from teaching to learning; from what the teacher does to what the student does’ approach adopted by the University of Western Australia’s Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning under the description of ‘Outcomes-Based Education (‘OBE’).’ The article outlines the experience of both the University’s Law Faculty’s Education Committee’s Curriculum Review and the outcomes of the University’s Course Structure Review Steering Committee, advocating the development of discipline-specific graduate attributes from the ‘bottom up’ – starting with individual subjects, progressing to the course and checking against the University level attributes, rather than the usual approach of starting with a University statement of attributes, translating them into a discipline specific statement, and then embedding to the year and subject level.

Under the categorisation of Individual Subjects/Areas of Law, Dubery reflects the long-time views of many law students when stating that: ‘Land law has a fearsome reputation of being the most boring and the most difficult – difficult because it’s boring – course in the curriculum’. With such an unpromising opening the author goes on to conduct a fascinating examination as to why this view of land law prevails in current legal education teaching and as to how it might be remedied. This incorporates a research project involving 25 universities which found that a major problem is that real property is very rarely the primary interest of the lecturer teaching the subject. There is also a review of the educational literature related to modern real property. The view of the author is that it would be helpful if teaching is ‘based on the contemporary prevailing idea of property’, and that ‘it is preferable to learn from past ideologies rather than criticise them’. This article must be judged as being a refreshing contribution to the teaching one of the more difficult subjects in the law curriculum.

Learning Styles contains two contrasting aspects of legal education. In the first, Robbins-Tiscione examines the outcomes of a 2006 survey of Georgetown University Law Center Graduates which indicate the effect that email and other modern means of communication has had on the decline of the traditional legal memorandum. The effect of the internet is also considered by Ellis, Freeman and Bell in their article which considers the difficulties faced by students when undertaking referencing in their university essays.

The article by Vollans under Legal Ethics continues the ongoing concerns of legal educators with the aspects of plagiarism within undergraduate law degree programs, and the conflicting demands of professional bodies and university law schools which gives rise to all aspects of academic misconduct.

Under Legal Theory Tan reviews how important legal theory or jurisprudence is in the modern legal curriculum. In the view of the author an effective method of teaching jurisprudence is ‘to explore the philosophy of law thematically rather than through schools of philosophy or theories of law.’ The article also contains an outline of the introductory jurisprudence course in the National University of Singapore which utilises this approach as advocated by the author.

Philosophy of Legal Education is the heading for the article by Easteal which attempts to overcome the difficulties faced by a law teacher when trying to impart to law students an understanding of the societal context in which the law is practised by the use of an ‘action-learning approach’.

Research is a topic which is at the head of any discussion list at Law Faculty meetings and so it is timely that Arup reflects on the effect of the new Australian Government terminating the Research Quality Framework (RQF) and the author’s concern that the introduction of any research system assessment exercise might have on the undermining of the diversity and wisdom of current legal research.

The heading of Students focuses on research conducted by Larcombe, Nicholson and Malkin on the contrast of the first year experience between LLB undergraduate students in 2007 and graduate-entry Juris Doctor (JD) students at the Melbourne Law School in 2008. This article is particularly interesting when examining the differences between the LLB and JD students with regard to the higher levels of interest and academic skills of the JD students and how this will impact on first-year teachers of law in the latter students’ first-year program.

Teaching Methods and Media is the final heading for three articles. In the first, Johns examines the relevance of the teaching of law in collegiate schools of business, the usefulness of employment discrimination problems in this exercise with the prima facie case as the pedagogical tool. He argues that the Matrix, a standard format Descriptor and the Lists of Elements of the Prima Facie Cases serving as the contents of the Matrix, are all essential component elements for achieving successful outcomes in the teaching of law to business students. In contrast Vinson deals with the power of podcasts as a pedagogical tool with the latter part of the article providing different ideas of effective uses of podcasts in legal writing courses and how they might be utilised. Butler is well-known to ALTA conferences attendees as the presenter of his winning 2008 ALTA Teacher of Year program based on Air Gondwana, the fictional airline he created to teach contracts involving negotiation skills though the use of multimedia. There is no doubt of the impact which this project on student learning has had on both the students who participated in the course and the law lecturers who were privileged to attend its presentation at the 2008 ALTA Conference, and we look forward to his contribution in the next year as a fellow of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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