Teaching experiences in legal education

The theme of the morning plenary session of the third Legal Education Symposium was

Teaching experiences in legal education

It was chaired by UCD School of Law’s new Dean, Prof John Jackson, and the session examined the various ways in which the traditional legal curriculum could develop, including the integration of clinical education and interdisciplinary perspectives.

The first speaker was Prof Avrom Sherr, Director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, London, on the topic of Law Schools, Clinical Legal Education and the Research Model. He centered his presentation around a number of questions, the answers to which led in his view inexorably towards a clinical element in legal teaching:
What is legal education about? Law Schools are caught between the university and practice, and – unlike say medical schools – have not fully resolved that conflict. Many have left behind the model of lecturers who saw teaching was a tiresome appendage to practice, and having embraced a formal university-research model, are now uncomfortable with practical elements in law school curricula.
What do lawyers in practice actually do? Warwick conducted a survey of what lawyers in practice actually do; from the perspective of university law schools, it was surprising that advocacy and legal research together took about 5% of practitioners’ time, administration accounted for more than 20%, and client-handling filled around 40% of their time.
How should we proceed? So, it is obvious that Law Schools should focus on what lawyers do in guiding what and how to teach. I have looked at several US examples of developments in legal education on this blog (here, here, here, here, here, here and here, and there’s a good summary of recent developments here). Prof Sherr looked at American models of clinical education as informing how clinical legal education might work. He pointed out that whilst the UK and Ireland have a formal apprenticeship/traineeship element to professional legal education, the US does not, and law school clinics fill that gap. But that doesn’t mean that UK and Irish law schools shouldn’t also incorporate clinical elements into our curricula. He refracted US experience (where, he said, Gary Bellow was “the god” of clinical legal education) through the lens of professional legal education in the School of Law, University of Warwick, and argued that clinical legal education has an important role to play to deliver on the basic objectives of legal education.

It was a powerful presentation, and entirely appropriate to the context, as UCD is in the process of establishing a new 4 year BCL in Clinical Legal Education. And so to a UCD presentation. As if she didn’t have enough to do as one of the organisers, the second speaker was Dr Marie-Luce Paris-Dobozy of the School of Law, University College Dublin, on the topic Dual Legal Education: A Case Study on Teaching and Learning in Law with French Law Degrees. Law degrees that integrate other perspectives are an increasing part of the legal pedagogical landscape; Prof Sherr argued for the integration of clinical elements into the law school curriculum; and in this paper, Dr Paris-Dobozy drew on her extensive experience of teaching interdisciplinary degrees to consider what she described as Hiberno-French legal education in the context of the European Higher Education Area (in particular, the Bologna process which will be discussed later). She has developed two degrees in UCD incorporating significant elements of French law, which she said provide a positive and rewarding experience for her students (small group teaching can foster innovation in teaching techniques and class participation), for her (deepened her research base), and for the institution (in that shows the open-mindedness of the Law School and the University, increases the diversity of the students and courses).

Her degrees are not comparative, but they are trans-systemic, incorporating elements of two different legal cultures, languages and methodologies. These give rise to two main research questions:
What to teach? Accommodating two different legal systems gives rise to challenges in curriculum design and delivery. She pointed out that there are different methods of accreditation in the two jurisdictions, which give rise to different professional requirements: the French requirements are functionalist (do you have the Mairise?), whereas the common law requirements are package-based (did you study specific subjects?).
How to teach? By their nature, such courses promote legal diversity, incorporating language skills (parlez-vous comme un juriste?) and methodology (case-law vs Code).
In the 1970s: dual degrees then were professional in focus (leading to dual qualified (or “super”) lawyers, whereas modern equivalents are more academic in focus (the contrast with other systems puts one’s system in perspective). Such modern courses give rise to what she described as “a unity of differences”, and since they feed into EU policy, she argued that they should be enhanced and expanded.

There are significant challenges in expanding the traditional law curriculum to include other perspectives, whether clinical or substantive, and Dr Paris-Dobozy demonstrated the challenges of teaching Civil law in a Common law context. The third speaker Ms Raphael King, Director of Training, McCann Fitzgerald (a leading Dublin firm of solicitors) returned to Prof Sherr’s argument that the univerisites need to know what the firms do. Of the four stages of legal education (the academic, professional, training and continuing professional development), there is a reasonably good integration between the last three, but there is a disconnection between the universities and the professions, a disconnection which she largely deplored. Speaking of the graduates of university law degrees, she identified various characteristics necessary for practice: lawyers, she said, need energy and enthusiasm, balance and a sense of purpose. In terms of their education and training, she said that they need a good grounding in substantive law, an appetite for learning, an inquisitive mind open to new ideas, an ability to think strategically, and the ability to communicate clearly and with confidence. She said that firms think that the universities provide first two, but she said they were “not sure” about the second two (that “not sure” is interesting: she meant we don’t do it, but she was too polite to say so). She spoke positively about the US experience (the socratic method, continuous project work, clinical experience and so on) and encouraged university law schools in Ireland to think a little about their graduates’ needs as they head into the legal profession. And she closed with a stark demonstration of the evolution of the legal profession, comparing and contrasting the Richard Susskind‘s 1996’s book The Future of Law with his recent The End of Lawyers?.

It was a fascinating morning, and I look forward to the remainder of the day.