| 3 Web JCLI|
Middlesex University Business School
This special edition celebrates five years of the Society of Legal Scholars (formerly the Society of Public Teachers of Law) Legal Education subject section. In that time it has had two convenors, Professor Ruth Soetendorp, the founding convenor and Dr Maureen Spencer, who took over the convenor role in 2005.
In 2000 the then Society for Public Teachers of Law wanted to establish a legal education subject section. The new millennium had coincided with the arrival of radical approaches to higher education. Ron Barnett (2000 http://www.unesco.org/iau/conferences/durban/rtf/confdurban5.rtf ) described the experience on the ground in law schools in his comment 'There has been a rapid expansion of student numbers - and also in the number and size of universities. The phenomenon has been dubbed "massification", and involves a shift from elite to mass higher education'.
Academics were presented with a range of new issues for consideration, including widening participation and employability; distributed learning and plagiarism, as well as the future of professional legal training. Student entitlement to a positive 'learning experience' was influencing changes in programme design and delivery. Learning theory and educational research had begun their slow crawl to RAE respectability.
Previous SPTL conferences had not provided much evidence that members would be enthusiastic to engage with issues of learning and teaching in higher education. We were surprised when the call for papers for the first appearance of the Legal Education special interest group in 2001 at Leeds University led to a flurry of responses. It was a new addition then, but the Legal Education subject section is now a firmly established, warmly acknowledged and successful addition to SLS Conference programming. There is one small criticism. Because everyone who participates in the Legal Education subject section also has their own legal specialism, it would be good if the conference programme could include a plenary slot for legal education. This request, which was first made in 2001, has been made annually since.
In 2001 the threat of 'subject review' hung over many of us. It was reassuring to be able to include presentations from the Quality Assurance Agency and UKCLE on 'You and the Review' which gave opportunity for anxiety sharing. Other sessions covered an eclectic mix of issues relevant to legal academics. Papers dealt with research, international development, law student career choices, use of on line reports and the lived experience of teaching law. They were well supported, with at least 20 people attending some legal education sessions. In subsequent years, papers have presented research into with sabbaticals, online learning, clinical law teaching, plagiarism, ideology, the Clementi Review, innocence projects, use of ICTs, problem based learning, and more. Contributors have come from the antipodes, Europe and beyond. Several papers in this edition made their first, 'work in progress' appearance at an earlier conference.
The subject section has continued to be vibrant and robust. It has acquired
the reputation of being an academically stimulating, challenging yet supportive
environment in which to share ideas. Attendance has crept beyond 30 at many
sessions, and papers have grown from 7 in 2001 to 12 in 2005. Theory based
papers have appeared alongside those based on action learning and case studies.
Philosophical papers have sat comfortably alongside those full of useful ideas
to take away and apply in the classroom, real or virtual. From the conference
website, one can read that this year's sessions promise a similar richly varied
SLS Legal Education Section has a gained an outstanding reputation for encouraging a scholarly approach to university teaching. It has provided a space to reflect on and debate openly educational philosophy and practical matters of concern to legal academics. A theoretical approach is as important in teaching as in subject inquiry. It is central to the identity of all educators and not exclusive to professional educationalists. As one of the staunchest supporters of the Section, Fiona Cownie, put it,
" as law teachers in a university, members of the academy, we should not only be familiar with the philosophy and theory of education, we should also be able to put them into practice, to integrate them into our teaching methods, to be confident that just as our research is based firmly on theory and takes account of the latest developments in the field, so it is with our pedagogy" ("Searching for Theory in Teaching Law", in Cownie F (ed The Law School: and Global Issues, Local Questions" (1999), Ashgate at p 54).
In the five years of the existence of the Legal Education Section the use of technology in education has mushroomed and student numbers have grown. More than ever we need a serious attention to educational theory to resist both technological determinism and an overly consumerist approach to education.
The Section has also taken seriously its responsibility to work closely with other bodies concerned with academic legal education. It has forged particularly close links with the Law Higher Education Subject Centre (UKCLE) based at Warwick University. Centre staff regularly attend and give papers at the SLS Annual Conferences and SLS members have presented a number of papers at the LILI and other conferences. In March 2005 the Legal Education Section and the UKCLE jointly organized a successful national conference, "Legal Literacy: Improving undergraduate reading and writing in law" at Bournemouth University. Tony Bradney, Editor of the Web Journal of Current Legal Issues, has been a leading member of the Legal Education Section since its inception and the Journal itself has been one of the pioneering exponents of the scholarship of legal education. We are very grateful to the Editorial Board for giving us this opportunity to celebrate our collective the achievements of the past five years.
The fifteen articles in this Special Edition, many of which originated as SLS Conference papers, reflect the current range of scholarship in legal education. They fall into several identifiable areas. Several explore specific schools of the philosophy of education. In a wide-ranging article based both on an empirical and theoretical investigation Paul Maharg demonstrates how information and computer technology (ICT) can enhance a transformative approach in professional law teaching. Developing a meta-theory by drawing on the work of American pragmatists and realists he recommends an appreciation of the philosophy of John Dewey who highlighted the place of possibility and liberty in education. Donald Nicolson analyses the teaching of ethics and principles of social justice through the medium of student law clinics. He draws a distinction between curricular clinics' educational values and extra curricular social justice aims and suggests that the two can be pursued simultaneously leading to an enhancement of both community service and student learning. The emancipatory possibilities of legal education should acknowledge also the importance of enabling students to achieve linguistic clarity and understanding. Therefore more emphasis should be placed in law teaching on the analysis of law texts, say Francis Bennion and Kay Goodall. Law management, they argue, is the core of a discipline in which students should be immersed over several years. It includes the ability to identify legal issues and construct a valid and cogent argument on a question of law, an ability to understand the underlying policy of, and social context of, any law, an ability to analyse and elucidate an abstract concept and an efficient grasp of techniques of applying the law. In essence it entails working out the substantial intellectual content of legal materials and is the top branch of the legal "knowledge tree" in any particular area of law. The authors propose a number of ways in which law-text analysis can be more effectively taught within the law school curriculum.
The theme of legal education and the community which is at the centre of Donald Nicolson's article is further developed in two articles on Innocence Projects. Carole McCartney traces their recent rise in both the United States and the United Kingdom and argues for their further extension. She makes a powerful case for their value in legal education providing as they do the possibility of novel assessment methods, training in enterprise skills and the possibility of deep learning and reflective practice. Michael Naughton also presents a case for the widespread establishment of Innocence Projects in UK law schools. The University of Bristol Innocence Project provides an example of the possibility provided by such initiatives to give help and hope to innocent victims of wrongful convictions as well as educational benefits to the students involved. Finally in this section on the links between university law schools and the world outside, Chris Ashford reports on the changing requirements of the legal professions. Legal education and commoditisation is the theme of his study of the future of professional legal education. He gives a detailed account of the proposals in two recently published reviews which will have a far reaching effects on higher education provision. He suggests that they both herald a period when market considerations will assume even greater importance and that law schools will need to adapt in order to survive and flourish in the face of competition from other providers of legal education.
An outstanding feature of the papers given at the SLS Legal Education Section over the past five years has been their international dimension and this is reflected in four of the papers in this edition. Jacquelin Mackinnon of the University of Waikato explores the adoption of problem based learning in law and its relationship with institutional approaches to legal education in New Zealand. She draws on her work with Maori law students to demonstrate the advantages of this constructivist pedagogy. Law teaching in post-Soviet Georgia is changing to fit the needs of democratic government. Elizabeth Mytton and Giorgi Meladze discuss reform of the selection and teaching of Georgian law students and consider whether the English model of legal training can be adapted to serve Georgia's requirements. In a meticulously researched study Patricia Herron explores the development of legal training in Ireland over the past two thousand years. She discusses the current flaws in legal education that must be addressed if Ireland is to fulfill its European Union obligations. Uche Jack-Osimiri, Nieum S Okogbule and Jan Law Nyeruka examine the way in which clinical training programmes in Nigeria are facilitating links between students, practitioners and government agencies.
Three papers more specifically address some curriculum practices which law lecturers could adopt to enhance student learning. Alison Bone examines the use in UK law schools of formative assessment. She draws on research she conducted with contract law academics and to review types of formative assessment, its nature and perceived value in helping students learn. Susan Bailey also considers the development of a problem based learning (pbl) approach to the study of company law on an undergraduate programme. She discovers that pbl provides a good student experience and enhances student motivation and results. In an article replete with literary allusions Gary Watt explores the place of imagination in the law and urges law teachers to pass on an appreciation of the beauty and complexity which is the "soul of law". He discusses how to encourage exploration of the intersection of law and the humanities and takes issue with Oliver Wendell Holmes' assertion that "the law is not the place for the artist or the poet". He argues that the arts of the poet and the lawyer are alike in that they seek to express transcendent values in particular words and by using literary devices.
Along with Paul Maharg's article on professional
legal education theory two further papers examine the impact of ICT on law
teaching. His colleagues at Strathclyde University, Karen
Barton and Fiona Westwood, investigate the learning experience offered
by working as a team using a virtual environment. They analyse the self-reflective
reports of legal practice students and the development of a learning/trust
matrix. Rebecca Eynon reports on a research study
conducted by Oxford University which investigated the many and diverse ways
law lecturers have used ICT. She draws out both the similarities and differences
in expectations and results.