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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "From the Editor" [2011] LegEdDig 17; (2011) 19(2) Legal Education Digest 3


Already this year there have been some educational conferences that forecast what will be the important topics for the future of legal education. At the Association of American Law Schools’ (AALS) January Conference and Annual Meeting held in Washington DC, the theme centred around academic freedom and academic duty – including threats to tenure and academic freedom. At the Annual Meeting, Professor Lauren K. Robel took over from Professor Michael A Olivas as the new AALS president. In Australia Professor Jill McKeough succeeded Professor Bill Ford as the new Chairperson of the Council of Australian Law Deans, finalising the support of CALD for the Australian Learning and Teaching Council’s research project for the setting of minimum standards in the form of threshold learning outcomes for law graduates. In the United Kingdom the Easter Conference of the Association of Law Teachers was held in Cardiff where the theme was: Crossing Borders: Legal Education United.

Another event worthy of note in the Digest has been the publication by the Melbourne University Law Review Association and the Melbourne Journal of International Law of the third edition of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (‘Guide’). In her foreword Professor Hilary Charlesworth of the Australian National University and a former Editor of the Melbourne University Law Review in 1979, states that this event: deserves celebration. She quite rightly adds that: This volume mirrors the increasing significance of both comparative and international law in Australian legal scholarship. This a sentiment with which the editorial staff of the Digest fully agree.

In this edition the book review is of another introductory text for potential and current law students. Entitled What About Law? Studying Law at University by C Barnard, J O’Sullivan and G Virgo, it is the second edition of what has been recognised as a highly successful approach to introducing young people to the study of law at university.

Although not a topic which is of major appeal to law academics, assessment is inevitably part of everyday life in the law school and not surprisingly there are usually at least one or two articles on this topic in each edition of the Digest. In this edition the first article digested under Assessment Methods is a report by Field and Jones of reforms introduced into the law program at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom relating to assessment of a 100 per cent seen examination incorporating blended learning activities. The finding of the accompanying research project demonstrated that blended learning was capable of supporting shifts in assessment practices, with the seen examinations appearing to work well as a halfway house between assessment by coursework and the traditional unseen examination. In the second article Phillips, Clarke, Crofts and Laycock relate their experiences within the Law and Criminology Department at the UK’s Greenwich University in attempting to obtain a close alignment between teaching, learning outcomes and assessment firstly in a new legal method course and subsequently the law school’s land law and human rights courses. The law school is currently conducting long-term research into the effectiveness of these new assessment strategies.

There are four articles considered under Individual Subjects/Areas of Law. The first by Dietrich expresses concern as to the relationship between statutes and the common law when teaching torts law, and the challenges posed for the law academic of the predominance of statute when teaching, researching and learning the law. The second article under this heading by Douglas focuses on how the law teacher may promote non-adversarial practices when teaching stand-alone ADR courses and those combined with civil procedure courses. In the third article Epstein returns to the teaching of torts and how students may be stimulated in their studies when torts involving the outcomes of sporting activities are incorporated into the subject. The author expresses the view that introducing students to the relationship between torts and sports can have a positive impact on the students’ learning environment. The final article by Gerber under this subject heading expresses concern that whilst most major US and Australian law firms promote construction law as one of their major areas of expertise, this is not reflected in the law school programs in these two jurisdictions. In the author’s view a course on construction law would address concerns regarding the criticism of legal education for separating theory from practice and for failing to prepare laws students in the practice of law.

Practical Training is the subject heading for the article by Thies who considers the effect that the pyramid/large firm model has had on legal education whereby there has been little incentive for law schools in the USA to ensure that their graduates have sufficient practical training on graduation. In the view of the author the current economic recession has presented a unique opportunity for legal education to seek a new way to train students in practical skills.

For Skills Wardell adapts a catchy title for the article under this heading to consider the issue of the authority of legal information now available in digital form to legal research practitioners and educators. As in the earlier article by Field and Jones, Wardell also considers the development of blended or converged learning models with law programs, focusing particularly on those being implemented within the School of Law & Justice at Southern Cross University, New South Wales.

Students involves two articles. In the first Galloway and Bradshaw reflect on the pastoral care exercised by the School of Law at James Cook University in North Queensland, in an effort to counteract high attrition rates and an unacceptably high failure rate during the first year of the LLB program. The Law School’s pastoral care support program involves a Law School Peer Assisted Learning (‘PAL’) program and the ongoing social presence of academic staff. The authors argue that the importance of the ‘care factor’ needs to be recognised as an integral part of the teaching role. The other article under this heading expresses the concerns of the authors, Kelk, Medlow and Hickie as to the impact of attending law school upon students’ mental health. They report on the outcomes of research studies designed to discover whether or not law students differ significantly from the general population and other undergraduate students prior to entering law school and whether or not their well-being deteriorates during their time at law school. This article is of obvious interest to all law academics and also publicises the public activities of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation in raising awareness within Australia of the problem of depression among law students.

Under Teachers Pattison, Hale and Gowens report on their use of critical incident technique methods to identify the teaching behaviours that will guide law professors in connecting with their students. They conclude that the four principal categories of behaviour which identify excellent law teachers are affirmation of students, taking time, the teaching task and communication techniques.

Teaching Methods & Media contains an unusual but compelling article by Morris and Lewis which observes that New Zealand fictional and visual media portray the vital motives identified by Debra Schleef, of ‘ambivalence, default, parental influence or class maintenance’ for attending law school.

The final article by Donahoe in this edition under the heading of Technology is an account by the author of her attempt to counter the problems presented by student laptop usage in the lecture room. She did this by developing an interactive electronic book which attempted to overcome the linear fashion approach of a law professor as compared to the three dimensional thinking of the digital focused law student. This is an ideal article with which to conclude this editorial illustrating as it does the manner in which a law academic has endeavoured to adapt her teaching technique to bridge the perceived digital divide between the law teacher and the law student.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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