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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "From the Editor" [2011] LegEdDig 1; (2011) 19(1) Legal Education Digest 3


It is not often that legal education can celebrate a win. Usually in the popular press and even in the articles digested in the pages of the Digest are reports of programs being reduced or even made redundant in order to save costs. Such was the recent Australian experience when Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister, announced the abolition of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC), previously the Carrick Institute, and its ongoing programs as part of funding cuts in order to finance disaster relief. This decision caused dismay in tertiary education circles, particularly among law academics, as the quality of law programs and specifically legal teaching had greatly improved under the aegis of the ALTC. This has included recent financial support for three ALTC Scholars in Law: Professors Des Butler, Mark Israel and Sally Kift and an ALTC Funded Research Project in Cooperation with the Council of Australian Law Deans entitled: Learning and Teaching in the Discipline of Law: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence in a Changed and Changing Environment. However, because the Prime Minister needed the support of Independent Members of the House of Representatives to ensure the passing of her Flood Levy legislation, Andrew Wilkie MHR (Ind), made the existing program of grants and awards to the value of $50m over four years conditional upon his support for the Prime Minister’s legislation. This means that the ALTC grants and awards program which has had such a beneficial effect on legal education since its establishment in 2005, will now continue, albeit under the direction of the Federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for 2012, but crucially benchmarked against the existing ALTC criteria.

The two books which have been selected for review are complimentary in that the first, Glanville Williams’: Learning the Law, was first published in 1945, and at that time was unique in the United Kingdom for offering advice to potential law students. It was thought that this was the appropriate time to revisit the book, now in its 14th edition and republished in 2010 under the Editorship of Professor A.T.C. Smith, thus celebrating 65 years of continuous publication.

In comparison there is also a review of a new text by Martina Muller and Duncan Nulty entitled Survive and Thrive. This projects a more holistic approach which is being adopted by authors and publishers when advising new law students not only on how to study law, but also how to adapt to life both in the Law School and within the University.

When reflecting on the articles digested in this edition the reader might be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu when the first article is designated under the heading of Assessment Methods. However the experienced law academic will realise that the searching for new approaches to assessment, as reflected in the development of the curriculum, is the very life blood needed to be injected in order to ensure the continuous renewal of legal education programs. In their article Sharp and Datt are concerned with improving the linkages between assessment and the quality of student learning, whilst striving to instil both Atax students and those studying tax law at the University of Auckland, New Zealand into a culture of learning as well as making them information literate. The focus of this article is on how the authors, having reviewed the literature and methods adopted by both Atax and the University of Auckland, are best able to utilise this knowledge and suggest how teaching and learning outcomes could be enhanced when teaching tax.

Education Theory is the subject heading for two articles. In the first Castan, Paterson, Richardson and Watt are concerned with the relationship between law students’ interest and expectations and their academic achievement. They comment on studies which indicate that there is often a misalignment between those expectations and the actual experience of studying and life at university. In this respect they also report on the outcomes of their own investigations of the career expectations of first-year law students in the early stages of law degree studies. One interesting aspect of this study is the fact that a large majority of first-year law students contemplated working in the law rather than regarding law as a ‘generalist’ degree, the latter being a common misconception as to why students take up the study of law. In the second article under this category Adcroft reflects on the growing concern about the quality of feedback to law students and how this might impact on their learning. The author’s reaction to this question is based on a study which was carried out by a questionnaire administered online to both law academic staff and students at a pre-1992 university in the UK. It will not surprise readers that there was a dichotomy between perceptions of academics and students as to what feedback is and its meaning.

Elder law is evolving as key subject in the law curriculum as more of the general population reach retirement age. Under Individual Subjects/Areas of Law Kohn and Spurgeon report on their findings arising from an empirical analysis conducted by them among all members of the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Ageing and the Law.

Digest readers are aware of the problem which sometimes arises over the allocation of an appropriate category for a particular article being considered in the Digest. Such was the dilemma for the Working Paper by Smits concerning the impact of European legal education. After much debate it was categorised under Learning Styles recognising its link to Teaching Methods & Media. In this article Smits argues that students should not just learn one system of law but should be exposed to alternative ways of achieving justice. The view put forward is that such a teaching method means moving away from teaching law as an authoritative system.

Under Legal Education Generally, Martin and Rand use an eye catching title to their article to attract legal educators to consider how they might engender hope in their students by revitalising legal preparation, as espoused in the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s recent report: Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law.

Legal Ethics is a mandatory subject both in law degrees and most continuing legal education programs. It is also a category which is increasingly the topic of many articles in the Digest the majority of which involve the vexed question of plagiarism on the part of law students and their submitted course-work assignments. In his article Todd considers some refreshing new aspects of both the problem and how it may be resolved. His approach may be encapsulated in the words which form part of his opening statement: In principle, at least, the Internet can be used to conquer plagiarism, at least as successfully as, up to now, it has facilitated it.

The Carnegie Foundation’s recent report as mentioned above is again quoted by Terry in the first of two articles under Practical Training. Terry is particularly concerned with that aspect of the report described as signature pedagogy which reflects the emphasis placed by law schools on what could be regarded as cognitive apprenticeship to the detriment of the apprenticeship of professional identity. To remedy this defect Terry advocates an externship program centred on the development of professional identity and values.

The merging of theory with practice is considered by Ver Ploeg and Hilbert in the second article under this category, when explaining how William Mitchell College of Law introduced a capstone course which involved students assuming full responsibility for completing a substantial and complex project for a real client. The course, entitled Advanced Alternative Dispute Resolution, is described as an extended exercise in creative problem solving.

There are three articles covered by Skills. In the first, Rabé and Rosenblaum propose that clinical and skills professors, as well as legal writing professors use their sabbatical leave to consider practising law rather than follow the traditional scholarship path of most tenured law academics. In the same manner, in the second article, Becker wishes law academics to instil in their students a sense of agency and competence which reflects the practice of law as a source of satisfaction in itself.

In the third article under this category De Jarnatt and Rahdert examine the best ways in which students can be prepared to deal with transnational law, particularly relating to by incorporating it into the legal writing curriculum.

Whilst Butler’s article is focused on ethics, its concentration on clinical training through the use of technology-based learning environments places it under the category of Technology. The article focuses on an innovative approach to an experimental learning environment – Second Life machinima – which proponents claim plays a significant role in engaging students.

As can be seen there is no doubt that this edition of the Digest includes a wide and varied collection of articles reflecting the increasing emphasis of diversity within legal education.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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