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Legal Education Digest

Legal Education Digest
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Barker, D --- "From the Editor" [2011] LegEdDig 32; (2011) 19(3) Legal Education Digest 3


It is quite encouraging to return from the recent (3 to 6 July) 2011 Australasian Law Teachers’ Association (ALTA) Brisbane Conference hosted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Law Faculty, knowing that it has been regarded by all the participants as another outstanding success. Much of this was due to the additional events which surrounded the Conference which this year included not only meetings of the Council of Australian Law Deans and the Legal Education Review Editorial Committee but also, for the first time, an Australian Academy of Law Roundtable Symposium on the topic – Trends in Legal Education for Practice: Competing Tensions. This was chaired by the Hon. Justice John H Byrne RFD, with Professor Michael Coper, Dean of the ANU College of Law, Noela L’Estrange, Chief Executive Officer, Queensland Law Society and Rachael Field, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, QUT as the principal speakers. It was also a special occasion for the editors and authors of Excellence and Innovation in Legal Education launched at the Conference by the Hon. Chief Justice Robert French AC of the High Court of Australia, who was also the Conference’s opening plenary speaker. The book, published by Lexis Nexis, is the subject of this edition’s book review.

It is also appropriate to note in this editorial of the closing of the United Kingdom Centre for Legal Education (UKCLE), yet another victim of government spending cuts. During its 10 years existence the Centre has had a profound effect on the development and quality of law teaching in the United Kingdom, and its influence on legal education, not only there but world-wide, will be sadly missed.

Moving on to the articles digested in this edition of the Digest, the first is categorised under Ethics. Here Wiley and Burke adopt what they describe as a constructivist approach to business ethics whereby they seek to develop a student code of professional conduct.

Under the rarely used heading of History, Chester recounts the saga of the founding of Boston’s Portia Law School for women in 1908, intertwining the story of its increasing expansion during the 1920s and 1930s until its demise in 1944 with that of its founder and mentor Arthur Winfield MacLean. However this is not the end of the story as readers learn that the law school was re-established subsequently in Boston as the New England School of Law.

Individual Subject/Areas of Law covers an article by Danov which explains some successful techniques which were adopted for the teaching of international commercial arbitration to postgraduate students who had obtained their first degrees overseas prior to their coming to the United Kingdom. The author explains that the research outcomes of the project carried out during the teaching of the postgraduate program concluded that a ‘deep [learning] approach required the adoption of a mix of teaching methods which took account of each individual students’ interests, needs and abilities’.

Legal Education Generally incorporates three contrasting articles. The first by Johnson challenges the prevailing attitude of most law academics that ‘learning the law’ must not be made ‘too easy for our students’. The main thrust of the article is an argument for the re-introduction of the textbook in contrast to the casebook. It is for the reader of the article to judge the effectiveness of the author’s group study outline entitled the ‘wypadki’. This is a most stimulating and evocative article. In contrast Ribstein examines the developments which have taken place in the history of legal education arguing that law schools are increasingly subject to the effect of market forces. The author argues that the increasing competition placed on large law firms leaves them with less time to focus on the training of young lawyers thereby increasing the law schools’ overall training burden. The final article under this heading is by Coper, a highly respected Australian law professor. Anyone who is seeking to gain an insight into contemporary developments in Australian legal education is well-advised to read his article.

Practical Training is the heading for the review by Evers, Olliffe and Petit of the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) Law Faculty’s practical legal training program introduced in 1996, when this Editor was the Associate Dean of the Faculty. A distinctive feature of the UTS Law degree at that time was the introduction of an option to include the practical legal training programme in the final year of law study. The article incorporates the results of a survey made incorporating three groups of PLT students who had studied in the UTS law programme since its introduction in 1996.

Magat under Research deals with a problem being faced by an ever increasing number of students undertaking assignments and more in-depth research as to how to facilitate the proper use of footnotes as a form of referencing.

It is difficult to avoid the influence of the Carnegie Foundation when considering any facet of legal education, particularly its practical application. Within the heading of Skills Cunningham and Alexander explain the techniques adopted by their law school in developing professional judgement as a response to the Carnegie Foundation’s critique of American legal education. Under the same heading Kowalski describes the methods adopted for the teaching of legal writing in law school clinics.

Students encapsulates the approach adopted by Corbin, Burns and Chrzanowski in seeking to challenge law students, both in respect of class attendance and their engagement when in the classroom situation. This response is based upon a study that examined student attendance across the law degree taught at the authors’ law school.

The next article digested in this edition is by Collins, Brackin and Hart, which although it involves assessment, is placed within the wider setting of Teaching Methods & Media. The authors express their concern in respect of the difficulties placed on law academics by the introduction in Australia of increasing numbers of students at tertiary level, and the way in which ‘academics are therefore tasked with overcoming this problem by engaging students through the use of ever-changing new technologies’. They stress that this involves the importance of affording students the opportunities for ‘active’ learning with both the time for student reflection and the ability to manage their own learning processes.

Technology is the appropriate heading for the final and challenging article by Jones who explains that: ‘In the online environment [whereby] the students and instructor are virtually, but not physically, present in the same environment’, stating that this is just as, or even more effective, than the conventional professor/student physical classroom relationship. In the view of the author the online environment creates greater pressure on the instructor ‘to create an effective learning environment in a virtual setting’.

The articles digested in this edition are yet again illustrative of the amount of care and innovation which law academics exercise in order to ensure that their teaching can be effective within the modern learning environment, particularly where there are constraints of large numbers of students or lack of funding.

Emeritus Professor David Barker AM


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