Student Attitudes to Clinical Legal Education

As some of you may be aware, I am working towards a qualification in learning and teaching in higher education at the University of Aberdeen. The fourth submission (of four) that I have to make as part of this qualification is a largely self-directed project, which I decided to steer towards my emerging interest in clinical legal education (see this earlier blog post). A formative assessment stepping stone towards this summative assessment was the delivery of a presentation, which presentation’s visual aid and a wee explanation of my project is available here.

The specification of the project was such as to encourage candidates to engage in research techniques that might be slight unfamiliar. So I decided to undertake…(dramatic pause…dramatic CRESCENDO)…a survey! Okay, not exactly an earth-shattering technique, but a little bit removed from the usual literature review many law articles are based on. What follows (in slightly more formal prose, befitting an assessment) is an extract from the soon to be submitted project analysing the results and commenting on some student responses, but not before I: a)  explain and post a link to the ten question survey; and b) insert a quick ethical disclaimer (which I sent to all participants).

The survey and the background to it

The survey is available via this password protected link (please contact me if you want to see the survey in all its glory at SurveyMonkey).

I sent the survey to all students volunteers at the Aberdeen Law Project (on the Project, see either its website or my posts here, here and here).

By way of very quick explanation, students can volunteer to get involved in this student founded and essentially student run initiative when they are in first or second year of the University of Aberdeen LLB. There is neither compulsion to get involved nor, as it stands, is there any academic credit for being involved. The fact that the students provided the spark for the Project is something that the ever-churning student body quite rightly guards jealously. I am keen to introduce a credit bearing course to nail down some of the lessons of clinical practice (after all, clinical legal experience is not the same as clinical legal education, a point noted in Kevin Kerrigan and Victoria Murray’s leading text A student guide to clinical legal education and pro bono (Palgrave Macmillan: 2011)). The last thing I want to do is upset any apple-carts while I am doing that. Hence why canvassing student views was important to me.

Disclaimer

This is what I sent to all participants:

Participation in this study is voluntary. Anything you tell me will be entirely confidential. That means that I will not reveal your name, or any other way of identifying you (beyond the categorisation as a law student noted above), to anyone else. Your participation in this voluntary, confidential study shall indicate your consent for the data you provide to be used in my research.

Questions can be referred to m.m.combe@abdn.ac.uk at any time before, during or after your participation in the survey.

Full details of the relevant University of Aberdeen Research Ethics Framework can be found here: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/documents/research-governance-framework-appendix4.pdf

Survey and analysis of responses

As at today’s date (which I am going to regard as the survey closing, given the imminence of my submission deadline) I had 40 responses.

The questions posed by the survey are emboldened. Student responses are included (largely unedited) next to the relevant question, but readers may wish to skim over these indented quotes to get straight to the numerical or tabular analysis of responses.

I have awarded myself a Right of reply to certain student comments.

The remainder of the text in this blog is likely to form the appendix to my assessment.

Results of the Student Attitudes to Clinical Legal Education Survey

What made you choose to get involved with student pro bono publico legal advice (i.e. the provision of free legal advice to those with an unmet legal need)? Please rank your responses in order of importance to you, of:

Experience;

Social justice;

Social life;

Skills development;

Contribution to graduate profile (e.g. Graduate Attributes at the University of Aberdeen); and

Contribution to student accreditation (e.g. STAR “Students Taking an Active Role” Award at the University of Aberdeen).

Analysis

The results in table form (with student priorities towards the top) are as follows.

1

2

3

4

5

6

Average Ranking

Experience 55.00% 35% 7.50% 0% 2.50% 0% 5.40
Social justice 27.50% 22.50% 35% 12.50% 0% 2.50% 4.58
Skills development 12.50% 32.50% 37.50% 17.50% 0% 0% 4.40
Contribution to graduate profile (e.g. Graduate Attributes at the University of Aberdeen) 2.50% 7.50% 15% 45% 30% 0% 3.08
Social life 0% 2.50% 5% 25% 45% 22.50% 2.20
Contribution to student accreditation (e.g. STAR “Students Taking and Active Role” Award at the University of Aberdeen) 2.50% 0% 0% 0% 22.50% 75% 1.35

Students were given the option to explain their responses. A selection follows.

While I definitely wanted to make a contribution to the community, I thought that it was very important to try and obtain some hands on experience and develop a wider skill set before practising as a solicitor.

I became involved almost by accident but realised how helpful and useful the clinic was, I’m not concerned with what I get out of it on my CV.

I believe that the lack of legal help available for those in society who can’t afford a solicitor is a huge injustice, and for this reason I will always do pro bono when I can. However I must admit that the main reason I initially volunteered was due to the practical experience this would give me and the motivation I would gain to do well in my studies because of it.

I got involved … for a number of reasons. The biggest factor was that I needed a new extra-curricular activity to do. When thinking about it the law clinic seemed the best option. It would provide practical skills and help me understand how the law is applied.

I needed some more experience for the future and saw that this was a great way of gaining this experience whilst helping people at the same time.

The main reason was to gain experience as it is very difficult to get legal experience any where nowadays. The Project gives an excellent oppertunity (sic) to get experience and develop skills on a practical level. This is not provided by the law degree itself.

A variety of reasons, then, and to be honest the more facilitative (cynical?) access to justice advocate might not really mind why people got involved, just as long as they get involved and do some good when they are involved.

Right of reply: the last comment noted that practical skills are not really provided in the law degree itself. There is an element of truth here, but there are some practical elements of the undergraduate course and of course the vocational DPLP course is directed more at such skills than the undergraduate degree. Whether this should be the case is a debate not for this particular study.

Would you be in favour of the development of the law clinic experience into a credit-bearing academic course which is part of the curriculum offered to law students? A five-point Likert scale was adopted here, moving from strongly in favour (1) to strongly against (5).

Strongly in favour

Slightly in favour

No strong feelings

Slightly against

Strongly against

Average Rating

12.50% 22.50% 7.50% 37.50% 20% 3.30

The Likert scale analysis therefore shows the students in the “against” camp.

Students were given the option to explain their responses. A selection follows.

While I think that it would be beneficial to me, in that I would obtain more credits, I think people might join the project for the wrong reasons (I.e. they might think it would be an easy way to obtain credits) and would therefore not have the same attitude and commitment as existing members who joined knowing that there would be no ‘credit’ reward.

It may encourage individuals to take part in pro bono for the wrong reasons.

Not totally against the idea – however the curriculum is already pretty heavy and I enjoy partaking in it as an ‘extra curricular’ activity. Whilst it would reflect positively on the University to include it in their curriculum – I feel that it slightly devalues the voluntary participation aspect and takes away from the ‘student run’ element of the law clinic.

I’ve selected ‘No strong feelings’, but really what I mean is I am just not sure how I feel about it! On the one hand, I would be concerned about the motivation of members joining the Project – are they just joining for the credits? Conversely, however, if people do join just for the credits, they would hopefully work hard and to a high standard in order to obtain the best mark possible. Also, I am realistic enough to know that not all of our current members have joined solely to fight injustice in all its forms – seeking experience was also a major motivation for members joining. I would also be slightly concerned about the erosion of our student-led and run identity, but I’m sure such a concern comes from not knowing exactly.

I feel it might undermine the project and only make people get involved for their own personal benefit and only for credits.

I feel that what we do should be acknowledged, especially as it is so worthwhile, but if it becomes credit-bearing there is the problem that people may do it solely for this reason and that would take away from the project.

I would be concerned that people would not be joining the clinic for the right reasons and only for academic merit.

It would be excellent to have our work recognized academically, considering the amount of time we contribute to the project. The only negative I can see from it, is that motives for joining the project may be questioned.

The office works well due to everyone’s commitment to the cause if it was just something everyone did for a semester then there wouldn’t be such a drive to see [Aberdeen Law Project] succeed as a whole.

A credit-bearing course will give access to a lot more people and there are already a lot of people involved in Casus. Furthermore I trust that the people would no longer become involved in Casus for the right reasons but merely to get the credits. If it became a credit bearing-course, there would also me an issue concerning exams, I cannot imagine being examined on my work I am doing for Casus. The way it is organised now, the sector-heads are able to consider ones work responsibilities or other circumstances and go easier on you, if you are going through a rough time. This would be a lot harder in a credit-bearing course. On the other hand, it would be a nice reward for the hard work everyone at the project is doing.

I think that the law clinic as well as mooting are very worthwhile things for law students. I believe that both should be incorporated into the LLB in some way.

I think this would mean alot (sic) more people getting involved for some ‘easy’ credits and so there would be people there who dont (sic) want to put in any effort.

Turning the law clinic experience into a credit – bearing academic course is an attractive idea as we would be gaining something for the hard work we put in. However I do not feel this is essential and in some ways I think it may take away from the voluntary nature of the work. The work we do is already recognised by companies when we apply for placements/traineeships and I think they are often interested in students taking part in programmes which aren’t directly tied with our studies. It may also have a negative effect as students may get involved purely for the credits but with no real interest in contributing positively to the project.

The law clinic is something that is done outside our courses because it is run by students – that is the crucial factor. We choose what we want to do and have to conform to company law regulations. It shouldn’t be an academic thing because you have to want to join and contine (sic) and for want of a better phrase “things shouldn’t be handed on a plate.” [The Aberdeen Law Project] wouldn’t be what it is if we had to write up about what we did on a case or add more documentation to the project. It is like a society but with more responsibility where for example the housing sector has joined up with [The Aberdeen University Student Association] to get a drop-in session going. That was the housing sector’s idea not something we had to do, we put in the work because we thought students needed it.

I feel that students should have passion to be involved in casus and I believe that opening [the Aberdeen Law Project] up to being credit bearing would change the dynamic of the clinic.

[This student chose “Strongly against…] because in my own experience the work produced by members of Aberdeen student law clinic that is found to be most beneficial to members of the local community tends to be worked on by only a handful of committed members at a time. A lot of time seems to be wasted by creating work purely to try and occupy all members of the 150 strong group. So reason for ‘strongly against’ is because I’m assuming it will increase membership and discourage the more committed members which the clinic relies on.

Right of reply: Every response is valid and accepted but, to play Devil’s advocate, the amount of students who joined for non-“social justice” reasons does raise the question whether having an academic course in tandem would actually make any difference in terms of some of the reservations raised.

One student thought there was to be an element of forced participation.

I believe it is exceptional in terms of skills and experience which cannot be gained within the academic course, but I think the emphasis should be on students to volunteer. If students are all forced to participate, there is a possibility of loss of standards due to lack of interest and/or commitment. This may lead to shifting the balance of benefits towards the students (gaining skills and experience outwith academia) and away from quality of service to the community.

Right of reply: it was not intended that this be an inference from the question and it does not seem clear how this inference was drawn.

One final comment deserves a specific Right of reply.

I feel that a great benefit of the project is that it is something we do for nothing, and that we get out what we put in in relation to experience and things we can put on application forms. It would not be fair for someone to get the same amount of credit merely for showing up than someone else would for taking part in lots of projects, heading teams and doing office hours. It would not accurately reflect the different amounts of commitment by students. It would also mean that we could no longer expel unproductive members of the clinic without consultation with staff – this is unacceptable.

It is not clear where this student reached the conclusion that staff members would suddenly deal with expulsion of students for the clinic. Two points might be raised. One is that there might be ways to assess a student that was somehow at loggerheads with other volunteers of a law clinic without forcing them to stay in the law clinic (be that a reflective diary of another pro bono publico activity, like assisting at a local Citizens Advice Bureau, or an essay on a subject matter related to access to justice). A second point is there might be a desirability of staff guidance or involvement in administrative (including disciplinary) matters, given staff members are the cutwaters of the academic bridge that remain in place when the churning current of students flows past, but that is a digression from the pedagogical focus of this study.

Do you think a credit-bearing academic course tied to clinical legal activity would have affected your decision to get involved with pro bono publico student legal activities? A five-point Likert scale was adopted here, moving from significantly more likely to get involved to significantly less likely to get involved.

Significantly more likely to get involved

Slightly more likely to get involved

No difference

Slightly less likely to get involved

Significantly less likely to get involved

Average Rating

15% 30% 35% 12.50% 7.50% 2.68

The Likert scale analysis therefore shows the students ever so slightly in the “less likely to get involved” camp.

Now assume that there is a credit-bearing academic course. Would you prefer this to be an elective (optional) or mandatory (compulsory) course for those involved with student pro bono publico legal activities? This was a straight choice, and the result was emphatically in favour of elective. Only two from forty votes were in favour of compulsory academic content.

What academic year would be appropriate for a clinical legal studies course? Students were asked to choose any undergraduate year(s) or the postgraduate vocational training stage of the DPLP. Multiple choices were allowed.

First year 27.50%(11)
Second year 67.50%(27)
Third year 70%(28)
Fourth year 40%(16)
Postgraduate (DPLP). 35%(14)

Third year came out slightly on top. As things stand, that is the most likely academic year slot for the (Law Society of Scotland accredited) Aberdeen curriculum.

Would you feel comfortable being assessed on law clinic work?

This was a cheeky question, perhaps, but deliberately so. Nothing was explained about what “being assessed” might mean, leaving that to each student’s imagination, or to their collective imagination.

Assessment can of course mean many things. Do you assess the outcome of a case (i.e. client wins in court or obtains a satisfactory settlement = good mark)? Or the process (i.e. client keeps a detailed file and responds promptly to communications)?  Or do you assess something different but connected (i.e. a standalone question separate to direct law clinic activities, such as “law clinics are like food banks, they let governments off the hook – discuss”)? As an example from clinical legal education literature, Sparrow (in “Reflective student practitioner an example integrating clinical experience into the curriculum” International Journal for Clinical Legal Education (14). pp. 70-76.) offers the following model:

Assessment in third year is by way of a 3000 word legal essay (based on a legal topic raised in client interviews); a 3000 word reflective analysis of their experience, a journal and three letters that they have drafted in their CAB work.

Readers of this note now have the benefit of that backdrop, but students did not and were given the three options of yes, no strong feelings and no.

Yes 20%(8)
No strong feelings 40%(16)
No 40%(16)

No-one is under any illusions that students may not be great fans of assessment anyway, but here we had 16 people specifically noting they did not want to be assessed on matters to do with the law clinic.

Students were also invited to explain the basis of their position, with some responses as follows.

If you start assessing people on there ability to work cases then it undermines the equality of those involved in [a law clinic], and further there is a moral dimension to being assessed on how well you cope with the real life legal problems of others academically.

It would be a very subjective assessment process.

How would you assess the success of the work? Is it if the case wins? Would you be penalised for having an unhappy client even if you had done everything in your power to assist them/try to resolve the situation? Very subjective to each case or research assignment so I don’t think people would be assessed consistently.

At present, our work is basically assessed – it is just not a formal assessment process. Everything is checked and proofed before it goes out/is seen by the public anyway, so a formal assessment process would not be much different to my mind. However, such a process of checking is usually an ongoing process where the parties work together to produce a result everyone is happy with and which is best for the client. The assessment parameters would need to be very clear, and training would need to be given – for instance, training/styles for how to write a letter containing advice should be available before someone is assessed on writing a letter.

It would be good to get more recognition for the work done. However, this would be difficult to assess and may make change the dynamic of the clinic making it less friendly and more competitive and make it feel less student-led.

The work we are doing is never the same. One day, we will write a report, the next time we will prepare for a project. If we were to be examined on the work, I believe that though the motivation to do the work might rise, it lessen the possibilities of re-evaluating the work in between and will lessen the social bonds we have built.

I feel by examining law clinic work it might put people off as it gives people relevant experience without too much pressure at the moment. If it was examined it might discourage people from opting to gain the experience.

I think it would depend on how it was actually marked. I wouldn’t be overly concerned with how it was assessed although I could see how some students would have an issue. Perhaps some kind of practical assessment would be the most useful.

I do not want to constantly be obsessed over what mark ill [sic] get. I enjoy doing it for my own personal reasons, there is enough courses to be worried about.

[The Aberdeen Law Project] is about applying your knowledge that doesn’t get taught by the university staff – we do our own research and then explain it to others and if that knowledge isn’t sufficient we get a chance to change it. [The Aberdeen Law Project] is also quite informal which means that people feel comfortable putting their own opinions out there knowing that they might not be agreed with but will certainly add to the discussion. If the clinic became assessed it would create formality which [The Aberdeen Law Project] has lots of anyway. I personally feel that [The Aberdeen Law Project] will still thrive if it continued without the credit points behind it. The lack of credit points means we get away from our degree and help people because we want to rather than we have to for extra credits.

if you turn the law clinic into an academic assessment then i believe people will lose their passion for the clinic. one of the most enjoyable aspects of our meetings is that they are not terribly formal, and the students are ‘in control’ so to speak – i feel i have enough course work as it is without having extra to do for [the law clinic].

Right of reply: The comments which are to the effect that there are enough courses to worry about seem not to appreciate that any law clinic course could be taken in substitution for such other course, i.e. allowing a student to worry about less course. Turning to some of the literature, Kerrigan and Murray acknowledge that assessment can engender professionalism and direct student investment of time. They also note that assessment (or indeed an intra-curricular status) is something that students often desire for recognition, but note that recognition may come in a different way by (say) offering first choice when it comes to choosing tutorial times or perhaps even course options.

One comment actually raises some risk management issues, which go beyond the pedagogical scope of this study.

Law clinic work already has pressure of knowing that if you mess up someone in the real world will significantly suffer – the added pressure of being assessed on it would add far too much pressure and make the work of the clinic less flexible. I also do not believe the teaching staff should have that much influence in the way we carry out cases as this is a student run project and we get to decide how we run things – the staff should stay out of it as far as possible.

Right of reply: as noted above, students are more than entitled to celebrate and guard all they have done, but some reputational or case-management issues might be raised here. If assessment happened to have an improved case-management by-product, it does not seem clear exactly what the problem is.

One comment left me a little confused as to what the student actually meant.

Assessed courses have more structured learning and advice on what is expected. The law clinic et al is poorly organised and unstructured. I believe this is because it is student run. This element is, I think, a very important aspect of the clinic. However I would not like to be assessed based on it.

One student seemed to assume peer assessment rather than assessment by Law School staff under the supervision of an external examiner.

…if there is ant [sic] assessment on law clinic work it should be definitely done by the lectures and may be some further changes should be done among the staff organisation.

Right of reply: Peer assessment can have a role (as Kerrigan and Murray note in their text and website) and of course there are supervisory challenges when peer assessment takes place, but it is submitted that these are manageable and, in any event, the survey was not geared towards peer assessment and it is unlikely a course following on from the survey would be either.

Assume that you encounter an issue in a case that where you require supervisory help. In comparison with entirely non-assessed clinical legal work, would knowing there is an assessed element in relation to that particular case affect your willingness to communicate with supervising staff? A five-point Likert scale was adopted here, moving from significantly more likely to seek supervisor assistance to significantly less likely to seek supervisor assistance.

Significantly more likely to seek supervisor help.

Slightly more likely to seek supervisor help

No difference

Slightly less likely to seek supervisor help

Significantly less likely to seek supervisor help

Average Rating

5% 17.50% 52.50% 10% 15% 3.13

The Likert scale analysis therefore shows the students in the “less likely to seek supervision” camp (although it was actually 9 “more likely” plays 10 “less likely”, but the 2 “significantly more likely” compared to the 6 “significantly less likely” skewed results to the less likely camp).

Students were given the option to explain their responses. A selection follows.

I am always totally willing to seek help and supervision should I need to.

PERSONALLY, I would not change my approach – it is better for the client to seek help, so I would do so. If someone has joined the Project purely to seek credit then there is possibly a risk that they would only be interested in being seen to carry out their role. I suppose a good comparator would be the amount of effort people put into summative coursework compared to formative coursework. I would, however, hope that where clients are involved advisers would act in a responsible way. I think, once again, how advisers are trained is very important.

I feel that whilst representing a client I would always seek advice in order to be as much use to them as possible, whether it was assessed or not.

Although it might not be the reality, I would be scared to ask questions, believing that it might affect my grade in a negative way.

Having known that I am being assessed, I would probably never decide to join in the first place and I would be very unlikely to look for supervisory help.

Asking for help is a good way of expanding the ideas we had already thought and giving new ones. I don’t think credits would change this, people still coming to ask for help but the asking part would be less informal. Even without the credits nobody wants to waste the supervisor’s time so I think people will still come with questions and will always be prepared for the meeting.

It’s difficult to know.. It would depend on whether you are being marked on how well you deal with the case yourself without constantly needing help or not. But if students go for more help than they would then it may be a negative outcome because one of the main points of the project is that it is student-run and that students should only go for help on matters that they have no way of finding themselves. I think people would naturally rely way more heavily on members of staff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to ask for help when it’s needed! But if students know it is linked to the degree they will naturally rely more upon the lecturers and this might slightly remove the student-run aspect which makes [the Aberdeen Law Project] so special and unique.

One answer was brilliantly deflective.

It would be just as likely for me to seek assistance on an issue whether I was being assessed or not. However would the assistance I would get differ based on if the case was being assessed or not?

Right of reply: no.

My penultimate question was a deliberately speculative optional question: Do you think clients have anything to worry about if academic credit is attainable for work undertaken in connection with “their” legal problem? Students were given the three options of yes, no strong feelings and no.

Yes 47.22%
No strong feelings 30.56%
No 22.22%

Students were given the chance to clarify their answers, as follows.

If anything, perhaps clients should be reassured as some students make work harder, however again clients may feel feel their advisor is working on their case for the wrong reasons.

They might feel uneasy or uncomfortable knowing their personal problems are contributing to someone’s degree?

I am often asked by clients if I get any sort of credit for the work I am doing – they often assume that someone is forcing me to do pro bono! I take great pride in saying that I am doing the work because I want to.

They might worry that the work is no longer necessarily done in their best interest. While one now decides not to take a case to court, because it would be too expensive, in the future, the students might become too eager to show their skills and e.g. go for a court procedure, no matter what.

I think this would probably create an issue. Initially it would perhaps make [the Aberdeen Law Project] look less appealing to clients. The students may no longer be there purely for the client but for credits. If I were a client this may bother me. It may also influence how the student thinks, this is perhaps the biggest problem with what is otherwise a very good idea.

I think that they will feel more like a “project” than a client if they knew that students were only helping them to get grades and not because they genuinely want to help!

Right of reply: Note that there was no reference to sifting problems to leave only those with an educational benefit, which is something that some law clinics do. Much of the concerns can also be addressed by the type of assessment. Would a client really be concerned with knowing an adviser has to write up the interview and reflect on it, which if anything should make a student focus more on the interview. Clients could also be reassured that it is not their problem contributing to someone’s degree, rather the process for dealing with any problem is what is being assessed. In access to justice terms, society (including clients) would presumably prefer students actually dealing with a case, rather than dealing with a simulation. Also, clients seem to have no problems going to Dental Hospitals where student dentists work, why should this be a problem when law is involved?

I then asked one final (optional) mopping up question, namely: Have you anything you would like to add about the desirability or possible effects of providing credit for law clinic activities?

I think it is desirable – gaining quantifiable recognition for the work I am doing would be fantastic. However, I am working for the Project because I want to, and not because I might have been able to gain credits – so the gaining of credits would have been an added advantage.

I would be disappointed if [the Aberdeen Law Project] was turned into a part of the law degree. I like to think of it as a hobby separate to the university degree and only the people who have been keen to get involved have decided to participate, which is probably way less than a third of the actual degree. We have had to give up a lot of our spare time and effort for [the Aberdeen Law Project] and I worked really hard to gain a place in representation, and I want to help clients because I feel that they deserve legal justice, not because it is going to gain me credit points in my degree. I think that clients will see the whole thing as less professional and will be less comfortable with the whole arrangement.

I think there more practical ways for the law school to support the work of the law clinic rather than award credit for example priority given to members with regards to booking tutorials.

Although, my answers may reflect differently I would like to see a clinical legal education programme. However, I recognise there a number of issues that would have to be ironed out.

The essence of pro bono work is that we do not get paid for it. Providing creadits (sic) for law clinic activities strikes me as contradictory to the very idea of pro bono work.

Extremely undesireable (sic) – please don’t do this as it takes away from the voluntary aspect, it makes the project more appealing to lazy people and it would be very hard to implement fairly – how could you possibly compare different levels of involvement and committment (sic)?!

I think that some sort of introduction to casus in the LLB would be a desirable thing. I think it would be the same with mooting. I do think there are issues that arise, as mentioned it may be undesirable to the client. If the assessment is done well and wouldn’t negatively impact the work of casus this would be a great idea.

I believe it would have a very positive impact on students wishing to study law at Aberdeen University.

Some rather polarised final thoughts seem evident, which perhaps reflects that surveys are often only fully completed by those who have definite views on a point. Of the points raised, it has to be acknowledged that “compulsory voluntary work” is something of a contradiction in terms, so that student’s concerns can be simply met by saying that is not what the course would be about. It would be about actually embedding and blending the learning in to what people are doing. Is learning more effective when it is subliminal, or liminal? That is to say, will you learn more when you know you are learning? Clearly, the student volunteers are not just on some kind of jolly and they are working hard to deal with their cases, but embedding education can make students that final, polished article that they seem to want to be (see the answers to question 1 of the survey). Hopefully that is something they will come to see the benefit of, if a course is introduced.

The future?

Although far from confirmed, here is the rough assessment structure that a third year, fifteen credit course on clinical legal studies might look like.

Students will prepare an evaluation of a case that they have been involved in, of approximately 2,000 words. Part 1 of this evaluation would be a short precis of the legal issues. Part 2 would be a self reflection piece (of no less than 1,000 words) to explain what the student might have done differently, what was a particular success, what experiences can be taken forward etc. This would count for 40% of the final mark.

Students will also prepare an essay with a word limit of 2,500 words. There would be a yearly rotation of essay questions, with a reading list provided for each question, and that would be largely self-study. This would count for 60% of the final mark.

As for entry requirements, no specific qualifications are needed, other than one year’s involvement with the Aberdeen Law Project as a volunteer student adviser for at least one year, which should (to a certain extent) prevent a student parachuting in for the credits alone.

If anyone thinks the assessment ideas are fantastic or ludicrous, please get in touch.

Thank you for reading!

9 Responses to Student Attitudes to Clinical Legal Education

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  6. pmaharg says:

    Malcolm —

    I’ve just seen this. Don’t know if you’re still looking for comments (can’t see a date on the posting), but since legal education is one of my interests I thought I’d contribute. Fascinating survey – thanks for sharing. It deserves to be out there in the formal research literature — why not The Law Teacher, eg? Or the US or AU J. of Legal Education? With a commentary on the issues raised by the students in the survey I think it wd be of interest to the clinical community, and beyond, to those interested in legal education generally.

    Soooo many interesting themes. One of the themes that struck me was the surprising point that if students enjoyed it so much, why didn’t they want to see more of it in the curriculum. It seemed that there was a polarisation between the idea of the curriculum (fixed, knowledge content, academic can’t be altered, gives you the parchment you need) and the experience of the clinic (so helpful, useful and to community as well as student, but a ‘hobby’ [as one student put it], something on the side). Like they’re missing the point of clinic being transformative, because the hegemony of the traditional curriculum marginalises clinic (as it does almost all experiential learning).

    And — in the section on assessment – resistance to the idea that it might be possible to treat clinic seriously by seriously assessing it. As we said in our article on Standardized Clients (2006, Clinical Law Review, 13,1, 1-65), it’s a truism that you value what you measure, and you measure what you value. So if we apply it to legal education what do we get? Back in 2001/2 I put out a survey to all law schools in Scotland and wrote up the results for UKCLE’s Directions magazine – it’s summarised at http://www.ukcle.ac.uk/resources/nations/scotland/the-scottish-legal-education-context/. I didn’t take it further because the results were pretty dismal, showing little innovative thinking or practice. Actually it was one of the spurs to our own practices in the Glasgow Graduate School of Law (and for a contextualisation of that in jurisprudential as well as educational practice, see my article Sea-change, here – http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09695958.2011.619857). It seems to me from the above that on assessment, your students are still thinking inside that iron grid of the curriculum. I guess that having been socialized since kindergarten into the idea that assessment is exams or 2,000 words essays, and highly individuated, alienating and above all viciously competitive experiences, why should they think otherwise? It’s the sort of thing that is held as the model that assures competence, raises status, forms the elite cadre, etc etc. You know the sort of thing.

    Set that against truly democratic thinking in Dewey, Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, and a whole host of counter-cultural educators. The forms of assessment, eg that Dewey and his teachers set in his Laboratory School way back in the 1890s, well analysed by Laurel Tanner, would still be innovative today in most law schools. And set it against the rigour of what those of us on the SRA QLTS Working Party were attempting to do for skills education (value and measuring, again), which I urged Eileen Fry of Kaplan (who was involved in the QLTS assessment) to publish on, and which appeared in The Law Teacher.

    Your ‘right of reply’ paragraph is great. On the assessment itself, great ideas, but cd I suggest even more radical things… First, more in the way of collaborative assessment between students, eg students getting together to produce something or do something. Second, a ‘negotiated assessment’, where students construct their own assessment project instead of the 2.4K word essay, which of course would require your approval before they work on it or present it (hence the idea of negotiation — I’ve got paperwork on this type of thing you can have if you want to take it further that wd help you structure the negotiation bit of the idea). The project could be collaborative in any way, eg they might work with another professional grouping, eg social workers, law centre staff, NHS staff or whoever, and their work could advance or improve the social situations that their clients find themselves in. Eg like a street law information project. Or see my blog posting at http://paulmaharg.com/2014/03/01/research-skills-a-failure-of-imagination/ for some examples of legal visualization projects. Just an idea.

    On an completely different topic, I’m putting together a blog post on indyref academic declarations…

    Paul

    • basedrones says:

      Paul,

      Thanks so much for the detailed comment. The post was from April 2013 (it seems WordPress “pages” don’t get a date-stamp in the same was as “blogs” do). In terms of what else I am doing with the work, I have an article with a reference to my study appearing in the Law Teacher in September. I will hopefully work up a more focussed study soon enough but (as Donald Nicolson noted with me in discussions) any article will be all the better for actually having insight of running CLE classes for a little while. I now have a year under my belt.

      I also presented some of this work at the IJCLE conference in Brisbane last year and hope to put something in that journal. Illness got a bit in the way of that plan, but taking stock and building up the article is probably not a bad thing to do. I have some more references to look at as well, thanks to you!

      Malcolm

  7. pmaharg says:

    Fantastic Malcolm. I look forward to reading more about it. There’s not enough of this research coming out of Scotland so it will be great to see it given a wide readership.

  8. Pingback: Selling intra-curricular clinical legal education in The Law Teacher | basedrones

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