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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "From the Editor" [2010] LegEdDig 1; (2010) 18(1) Legal Education Digest 3


This first edition of the 2010 Digest coincides with the opening of the new academic year for Australian universities. However the legal year has already made a good start in Sydney when on the 9th and 10th of February the Law Council of Australia cooperated with the American Bar Association Section of International Law to organise a conference entitled ‘Cross-Border Collaboration, Convergence and Conflict’. The Conference was preceded by a seminar hosted by Australian law firm Gilbert and Tobin which included an inspiring address by Noel Pearson. An all-day session in the Banco Court, New South Wales Supreme Court on Tuesday 9th February incorporated a debate on a possible Charter of Human Rights for Australia between two heavy hitters of their respective legal worlds, the Hon Michael Kirby, formerly a Justice of the Australian High Court and US Supreme Court Associate Justice the Honourable Antonin Scalia. The conference was rounded off on Wednesday 10th February with a high-profile moot court demonstration: ‘The Art of Persuading Judges’, at the new University of Sydney Law School Building in which members of both the Australian and United States judiciary and bar participated. It must have been a long time, if ever, since this editor has witnessed such a long queue of members of the legal profession, law academics and students wanting to attend a law moot! Everyone agreed that it was a great initiative by the Law Council of Australia and the American Bar Association to bring all spectrums of the Australian and the United States legal community together in this way.

It is therefore in keeping with the international flavour of the Digest that the book review is of Stakeholders in the Law School, a compendium of essays from the United Kingdom edited by Fiona Cownie, which also incorporates contributions from Australia and South Africa relating to conflicting pressures of the various different ‘interest groups’ on the purposes of university law schools and legal education.

As always the articles digested in this edition are drawn from a variety of legal jurisdictions across the world, beginning with Hughes’ examination under the heading of Assessment Methods. This relates to an assessment project led by the Council of Australian Law Deans (CALD) and funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC). This incorporated a symposium centred on issues concerning the systematic assessment of law students’ abilities to undertake a variety of professional roles. The article includes a variety of aspects with regard to assessment, including the level of scaffolding provided to students and the possibilities of adjustment to the weighting attached to individual assessment tasks.

There are two articles under the heading of Clinical Legal Education. In the first, Feeley reviews the complex relationship of externship clinicians with field supervisors and examines the role which the latter have on students in developing their legal writing skills. The article contains ten suggestions to assist field supervisors to understand the underlying principles for assessing a student’s individual ability to hear and process information. In the second article under this category, Levy-Pounds and Tyner raise the controversial issue of involving social justice lawyering in the development of hands-on learning experiences and problem solving skills. The focus of the article on both the sub-Saharan African philosophy of Ubuntu and the incorporation of its principles in the Community Justice Project (‘CJP’) at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota is bound to create a degree of controversy among the readers of this text.

Controversy also arises where it is least expected in the first of the articles under Individual Subjects/Areas of Law in which Infanti identifies the introduction of sexual orientation and gender identity into tax classes, particularly with regard to issues involving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. The author makes use of the influence of the United States Federal legislation, Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in the discussion of this issue. The other article by Murphy under this heading involves a topic which does not appear to have arisen before in articles digested in the LED and yet which might have a profound effect on the reputation and role of law schools and their students – that of ‘reneging’. This occurs when a job offer has been accepted, and then one of the parties, either the prospective employer or the prospective employee, backs out before the work begins. This obviously involves not only issues relating to contract law and employment law, but also ethical dilemmas, and therefore provides a fruitful topic for in-class learning.

This topic leads into Kuehn and Joys’ article under Legal Ethics regarding the promotion of academic freedom with respect to law school teaching including clinical programs. Not only does this involve law school academics, it also impinges on the roles and responsibilities of law school administrators. Among the problems examined in this article is the vexed question of a law professor being called upon to represent a client in a controversy with an opponent who has a vested interest in the law school, such as a member of the governing body or a major donor to the university or law school.

Philosophy of Legal Education is the subject heading for Krannich, Holbrook and McAdams’ re-examination of the purpose of legal education which concludes that despite the differences among American law schools, there is a similarity among their respective law students legal experience. It includes an examination of the ongoing influence of Langdell’s case method model and the recommendations of the recent Carnegie Foundation’s Report (already mentioned in previous editions of the Digest) for law schools to ‘bridge the gap between analytical and practical knowledge’.

The burgeoning number of postgraduate students studying in Australian law schools is the topic of Loughan and Shackel’s article relating to all aspect of postgraduate degree programs in law under the heading of Postgraduate Programs. The article embraces all the challenges which face postgraduate law students, particularly those studying for a PhD, and incorporates the perennial problems of the role of supervisors and examiners.

Practical Training was eventually decided upon as the appropriate heading for Katz’s article which stresses the importance of a collaborative counselling relationship between law students and their faculty supervisors. This is a well-balanced article which deals with the main challenges for the counsellor, categorised by the author as: permission, competence and time.

There are three articles considered under Research. The first by Svantesson is a contribution to the fiercely debated topic of the ranking of law journals, both internationally and at the domestic level. As the article warns: ‘the most dangerous purpose for which journal ranking can be undertaken is as a shortcut for assessing research excellence’ – arguing that one of the more important benefits for the both the legal system and society as a whole is a diversity of legal research published in a diverse range of law journals. This is a ‘must read’ article for all those academics who have concerns regarding the use and misuse of the rankings of law journals, both at the international and domestic level. Bast and Samuels also touch on law journals but more within the context of the nature of peer reviews for journal articles and how their acceptance might add to a law professor’s prestige and acceptance within the scholarly community. The final article in this category is by Burns and Hutchinson and is concerned with the impact of ‘empirical facts’, which they describe as ‘assertions of fact about society’ on legal scholarship and legal research training. They express their concern at the lack of incentive for the undertaking of serious socio-legal research within law schools.

The final heading of Teachers enables this edition of the Digest to conclude its list of articles on a positive note. James discusses the support which is being offered to new law teachers by the UK Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) in the development of good practice in learning and teaching. The outcome of a survey conducted by the Centre among new law teachers has resulted in the Centre embarking on a three-year project to develop an online ‘Toolkit for New Law Teachers’. The review by the Centre was also supported by two discussion workshops. All these initiatives clarified the need for the development of subject-specific pedagogic knowledge and the assistance which new law teachers require in selecting and transferring valuable generic skills into the law pedagogy.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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