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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "From the Editor" [2010] LegEdDig 32; (2010) 18(3) Legal Education Digest 3


This concluding edition of the Digest for 2010 marks the close of an extremely active year for legal education in Australasia. There has been a highly successful ALTA Conference in July, in Auckland, which was marked by a record attendance of delegates at an ALTA New Zealand Conference. The venue also hosted the launch by Robert Orr, QC. Chief General Counsel of the Australian Government Solicitor, of the ALTA’s Research Initiative – ALTA Law Research Series (ALRS) – in conjunction with the Australian International Legal Information Institute (AusLII). The Conference was also highly honoured to have the Chief Justice of New Zealand, Dame Sian Elias, as a participant at one of the Conference’s Plenary Sessions. This aspect of Australian/New Zealand co-operation was continued when the AustLII International Library was launched by Sir Kenneth Keith, a New Zealand judge of the International Court of Justice, at AustLII’s offices in Sydney on the 6 September 2010. The library includes over 25,000 decisions of International Courts and Tribunals, and over 30,000 treaties and international agreements, law journals and law reform materials. The library is available at:

Elsewhere, in the United Kingdom, the Association of Law Teachers (ALT) will be holding their 2010 Lord Upjohn Annual Lecture on 19 November presented by David Edmonds, the inaugural Chairman of the Legal Service Board. The topic of his lecture will centre on legal education and regulation. The Lecture will be the culmination of a busy day for the Association as it will follow the Legal Education Research Network (LERN) Workshop on ‘Developing and Managing a Research Project in Legal Education’. This will be chaired by Professor Patricia Leighton and organised by the ALT in association with the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

Also in November the United Kingdom Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE) will be launching its National Law Student Forum initiative at the Manchester Conference Centre on the 3 and 4 November. It is intended that the Forum will offer an opportunity to set up a network for law students in the United Kingdom, apart from demonstrating how they can actively develop their contribution to the learning process and enhance their skills when communicating or negotiating with staff and other students.

It is appropriate therefore that the two books reviewed in this edition both have a student focus. They are The Law Workbook and the Students’ Guide to Legal Writing, Law Exams and Self Assessment. Both books are published by the Federation Press.

Reflecting the continuing ongoing debate regarding the teaching of law in context, the first of three articles digested under Clinical Legal Education is an examination by Maranville, Lynch, Kay, Goldfarb and Engler of the structural options available for developing experiential programs involving law students in all aspects of what the authors describe as courses involving real lawyering. However Robbins questions whether the tensions between academic and practical aspects of legal education can be resolved, and in this respect queries whether the Clinical Legal Education Association’s publication Best Practices for Legal Education can achieve its stated objectives of ‘best practices’ and how these might be the subject of benchmarking. The crux of his argument is that there is no place in legal education for the best practices concept. This theme is carried over into the third article under this heading in a riposte by Stuckey, a contributing editor to the Best Practices’ publication, to Robbins’ critique of the ‘best practice’ concept by questioning the importance of a debate over the aptness of the use of the term ‘best practices’. In Stuckey’s view it is important to focus on what is the overall purpose of a legal education, the core of which he believes is a professional education for the preparation of students to enter the legal profession. Contrary to the views expressed by Robbins, he also contends that Best Practices does recommend specific outcomes which law schools should seek to achieve, and that law schools do have common goals and that it is possible for ‘best practices’ to be objectively verified He goes on to state that it might be better if the next version of the book be titled ‘Best Practices in Legal Education’ rather than Best Practices for Legal Education.’ Obviously this is an ongoing debate which will be pursued in the future in both the Clinical Law Review and other journals interested in the outcomes of legal education.

The heading Educational Theory is applied to two articles. In the first Burns and Hutchinson trace the development of ‘empirical facts’ and how they reflect the influence of an expanding body of social science literature on the development of legal research scholarship. The authors emphasise the influence of the empirical studies movement on the move away from doctrinal methodologies in legal research. The other article under this heading by Burton and McNamara focuses on the importance of law students engaging in reflective practice as part of their education. The authors explain that this means the transformation of reflection into critical reflection which arises when it is extended to the evaluation of what is being reflected upon. The article examines the benefits of reflective practice in the context of experiential learning and its importance in assisting students to adjust to their roles as professionals.

Elder Law is a fast developing elective subject in law degree programs and the article by Kohn and Spurgeon is therefore acknowledged for this innovative aspect by being placed under the category of Individual Subjects/Areas of Law. The article emphasis that the increase in the elderly population creates a challenge to the legal profession with elder law being poised to play a key role, and it stresses the importance for law schools to make quality elder law education and knowledge a priority for the future.

The importance of Legal Ethics in legal education is again highlighted by the inclusion of two articles. The first by Mitchel and Yordy introduces Cover an ethical decision-making model adopted to assist business-law students through the process of analysing and resolving problems giving rise to ethical dilemmas. In the other article Wolski submits that mooting is of value in not only being used to teach skills and law, but also values and ethics. However the article is of interest to all legal educators in that it argues that the appellate nature of most moots often leads to the neglect of the ethical aspects of the problems explored, and draws attention to the need for overcoming this by encouraging new law students to become involved in simulations. This could be integrated into the law curriculum by way of a matrix course and it is explained how this has been successfully achieved at Bond University Law School when it introduced a skills, ethics and values matrix in 1997

Practical Training is the heading for the article by Nees, Willeynn and Mansfield. This is an account of how the introductory course in business law at Georgia State University has endeavoured to introduce their students to the significant role that the legal environment plays in facilitating and constraining business activity. Again, as with other law programs there is an emphasis on the importance which experiential learning plays in this educational process.

Skills has two articles in this edition. The first by Alaka reflects the concerns of law schools that American students are underperforming in basic knowledge and skill acquisition, including reading and writing skills and the challenges which this places on legal writing instructors. It also dwells on the fact that legal writing courses are the principal setting in which to address skills that students should really have learned before they entered law school. The article recognizes that whilst law schools are not able to fill the gap which students should have learned previously, they have a duty to provide motivated students with opportunity to learn better communication skills.

In the other article under this hearing Lande and Sternlight highlight the means by which ADR can contribute to an integrated curriculum and how it may prepare students for the real world of lawyering.

Under Teaching Methods Merritt is another author who refers to the Carnegie 2007 Publication (already referred earlier under Clinical Legal Education). He explains how an original group of ten law schools formed a network to support further innovation in legal education, and how this has been followed by other law schools adopting systemic reforms to enhance their skills training and experiential education. In this respect the article explores how the development of law school portfolios can introduce students to the concept of controlling their own future educational career. In the final article of this edition under the heading of Technology Todd has written an informative and thoughtful article on ways in which the law school can engage to counter plagiarism. He concludes that the routine use of plagiarism detection software should encourage the law academic to think more carefully on how he or she teaches and assesses.

In this final edition of the Digest for 2010 the Editor is encouraged by the wide range and diversity of the articles reviewed. The fact that this is only a limited selection of all articles reviewed by our researchers is a reflection on the commendably high standard of legal publications being currently produced.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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