Working the nexus and drawing pictures

Two new articles from the Legal Education Review may be of interest.

Working the Nexus: Teaching Students to Think, Read and Problem-solve Like a Lawyer
(by Kate Galloway, Mary Heath, Alex Steel, Anne Hewitt and Natalie Skead) draws on our Smart Casual experiences and considers the way in which students need to learn to read, think and write simultaneously.  The paper explores how each is a both a separate and linked skill and the way teachers move between explicit and implicit reference to these skills in teaching. It argues that no one skill alone amounts to “thinking like a lawyer”, and that although the skills are often presented as lineal processes, for the student it is deeply iterative.

Where are the Graphics? Communicating Legal Ideas Effectively Using Images and Symbols (by Tania Leiman) looks at the history and current use of visual images to describe the law.  Tania provides an rich and fascinating set of examples of how lawyers use visual aids and visual thinking internationally and in Australia.  She finishes with a set of issues for legal education to ponder.  In a similar vein to the increasing concerns about coding and law school, Tania suggests we can’t teach students to be designers, but we can teach them to think in ways that enable them to both create and critique visual summaries of the law.  As she points out, her article contains no graphics, underlining the difficulty of converting complex arguments to accurate visual guides.

Legal Writing Resources

Chantal Morton from the University of Melbourne has put together this very helpful list of resources for legal writing.  Many thanks Chantal!

  1. Professor Ellen Zweibel and Virginia McRae at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law (Canada) have led the design of a great website with modules on how to write legal memos and edit your own work: http://pointfirstwriting.com/.  They are in the process of designing two more modules.  The resources are fantastic – and why reinvent the wheel?  I have been pointing my students to the resource ever since I heard about it at the Legal Writing Institute conference in Portland.
  2. I am in the midst of turning the 2015 Legal Writing symposium website into a blog with broader reach with respect to skills for law (https://skillsforlaw.wordpress.com/ ).  If you have any resources, articles, or websites you would like to see featured, please send me an email.  At the moment, we are storing some teaching modules from Charles Calleros.  I love using his exercise Rules for Lina (slightly modified for an Australian audience – feel free to contact me if you’d like the modified script and tips for having students role play Lina and her parent).  The videos will be posted in the new year.
  3. I just received my ‘holiday reading’ and thought I’d mention two Australian resources: a second edition of Nichola Corbett-Jarvis and Brendan Grigg, Effective Legal Writing: A Practical Guide (LexisNexis, 2nd ed, 2017) and the new book by Kenneth Yin and Anibeth Desierto, Legal Problem Solving and Syllogistic Analysis (LexisNexis, 2016).
  4. I am just back from a two-week stint at Stetson University College of Law (Florida).  Professor Kirsten Davis has put together a new project called Teaching Legal Writing: Out of the Box Ideas (http://www.stetson.edu/law/academics/lrw/teaching-legal-writing.php?ad=20160702).  You can email her directly for your free ‘box’ (kkdavis@law.stetson.edu) – I have already developed one of the activities for a workshop I am running for my JD and masters students in 2017.
  5. The Legal Writing Institute is primarily USA-based but the (free!) membership includes legal research and writing faculty from Australia, Canada and the UK (etc).  They publish some really interesting (and helpful) articles through the Legal Writing Journal and The Second Draft (I just happen to be one of the editors of the latter).  They also have something called The Idea Bank where legal research and writing teachers will post modules for others to adapt and use.  You can get access to it for free – just post one of your own modules (although if you are not ready to share, they’ll let you poke around without a contribution): http://www.lwionline.org/
  6. The LWI conference takes place every other year – so the next big one is in 2018.  In 2017, there are two related conferences you might want to consider: a) the Association of Legal Writing Directors has a few opportunities for professional development listed here http://www.alwd.org/events/ and b) the next Global Legal Skills Conference (easily the best conferences I have ever been to) takes place in March, 2017, in Mexico.  Details here: http://glsc.jmls.edu/2017/ (although keep in mind I am hoping to get them to come to Australia in 2018 so if you can’t make the trip to Mexico, keep a watch on the announcements for 2018!)

New manual on ethics issues for learning and teaching research

A comprehensive manual on how to navigate ethical issues in learning and teaching research has just been released.  It provides very helpful guidance on how to develop ethics applications and how to avoid some of the ethics traps of action research in learning and teaching.   Innovations in teaching are often seen by teachers as just internal tinkering or improvements, but if the teacher is interested in an objective way to measure their success, the innovation is probably best seen as form of research into teaching practice.  Having ethics clearance from the start means successes can be publicised and justified to others.

Following is an overview by Mark Israel, one of the authors.

In 2014 the Australian Government Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) commissioned AHRECS to undertake work to help OLT grant-holders and fellows avoid unnecessary difficulties and delays during research ethics review.

AHRECS identified several factors contributed to these problems, including:

  1. the inexperience of some Scholarship of Teaching and Learning researchers in approaching human research and human research ethics review;
  2. the unfamiliarity of some research ethics reviewers with standard practices in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning; and
  3. the absence of resources relating to the ethical design and review of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning research.

AHRECS produced a resource manual to support the ethical decision making of SoTL researchers and reviewers. The AHRECS SoTL Manual consists of six booklets that include academic references, recommended reading and prompts for ethical reflections. The booklets are practically focused and include example problems/suggested strategies.

The Manual is available from the OLT web site, and a copy is hosted on the AHRECS site:

Booklet 01 SoTL Manual: Research ethics and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Booklet 02 SoTL Manual: Ethics review and grant or fellowship funded research

Booklet 03 SoTL Manual: Risks and benefits in SoTL research

Booklet 04 SoTL Manual: Recruitment and consent in SoTL research

Booklet 05 SoTL Manual: Privacy and confidentiality in SoTL funded research

Booklet 06 SoTL Manual: Ethical challenges and practical strategies

Allen, G, Israel, M and Thomson, C (2016) Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Human Research Ethics Resource Manual. Sydney: Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching.
http://www.ahrecs.com/?post_type=resource&p=1696

Please direct any questions about the SoTL Manual to Dr Gary Allen (gary.allen@ahrecs.com) or Prof. Mark Israel (mark.israel@ahrecs.com). You can find out more about the work of AHRECS at www.ahrecs.com.

Smart Casual teaching development modules now available

An innovative resource for specifically developed for sessional law teachers (but able to support permanent staff as well!) is now online.

The Modules

The first five modules of the Smart Casual suite of online modules to support sessional colleagues with law specific teaching strategies are now available at https://smartlawteacher.org/modules.  They are:

  • Reading Law
  • Critical Thinking
  • Legal Problem Solving
  • Student Engagement
  • Feedback

They are supported by an introductory module that highlights four themes that run through the modules and are key to legal education: diversity, internationalisation, digital literacy and gender.

A further four modules will be available in the coming months:

  • Wellness
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility
  • Indigenous Peoples and the Law

Format

The modules are written in Articulate Storyline with links to video clips and are designed to allow viewers to either work through the slides sequentially or skip to areas of interest.    Modules take around an hour to work through, but can be skimmed for relevant content much more quickly.

The modules are designed to have a peer-to-peer approach, recognising the experience that sessional colleagues bring to their teaching.  They feature a range of short videos from sessional staff themselves discussing the issues in the modules.  The use of reflective questions throughout the modules means the modules can also be used a conversation starters for peer discussions.

Background

Smart Casual involves a collaboration of academics from five Australian law schools producing a suite of professional development modules for sessional teachers of law. Half of all teaching in Australian higher education is provided by sessional staff (and possibly more in law schools), so the quality of sessional teaching is critical to student learning, retention and progress. However, national research suggests that support and training for sessional teachers remains inadequate.

In law, this problem is compounded by the need for staff to teach discipline-specific skills and content to students destined for a socially-bounded profession. Yet sessional law teachers are often time-poor full-time practitioners weakly connected to the tertiary sector. The distinct nature of these sessional staff and the discipline-specific learning outcomes required in law demand discipline-specific sessional staff training.

The project was funded by grants from the Australian Government’s Office of Learning and Teaching.  The  project team is:

  • Mary Heath, Associate Professor, Flinders University (Project Leader);
  • Kate Galloway, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Bond University.
  • Anne Hewitt, Associate Professor, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide;
  • Mark Israel, Adjunct Professor of Law and Criminology, Flinders University; Visiting Academic, School of Social Sciences, University of Western Australia;
  • Natalie Skead, Associate Professor, University of Western Australia;
  • Alex Steel, Professor, University of New South Wales

 

Interaction and diversity in the Australian law classroom

Image result for classroom university

Below is a link to a new paper by my Smart Casual colleagues:

Interaction and diversity in the Australian law classroom – part of the published proceedings of this years HERDSA conference.

The abstract states:

Recognition of increased diversity within Australian legal education means law teachers have to respond to a broader variety of student needs, both at a macro level in admissions and curriculum planning and at a micro level through learning and teaching. Australian law schools have spent the last decade addressing the macro level rather than exploring the needs of the micro. This paper draws on Goffman’s ideas of how people engage in a ‘quiet sorting’ of others according to various attributes to outline strategies for creating and maintaining learning spaces that welcome and engage with diversity.

It has a great collection of elements that help to build inclusive classes.

 

What lawyers actually do in practice (at least in the US)

SSRN has recently posted a great ethnographic study of young US lawyers in terms of what they actually do in the office.

Sinsheimer, Ann and Herring, David J., Lawyers at Work: A Study of the Reading, Writing, and Communication Practices of Legal Professionals (March 14, 2016). Legal Writing Journal, Vol. 21, Forthcoming; U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-11.

It includes great evidence of lawyers dealing with the following (SSRN pinpoints):

  • Using close reading and skimming strategies (pp13ff)
  • Strategic reading (p23, 30ff)
  • Reading from computer screens (p26) but using printed materials by preference (p24)
  • Huge use of email for written communication (p45ff)
  • Use of precedents (p48)
  • Reviewing and revising constantly (p49ff), being meticulous (p50)
  • Research/writing nexus (p51ff)
  • Interpersonal skills and stress in the office (p58ff)
  • Time-management (p60ff)
  • Cross cultural communication (p64)
  • Developing professional identities (p66ff)
  • Suggestions for curriculum change (p24, 71)

It’s a wonderful collection of vignettes and data that help to flesh out what we are often  trying to impress on students are the real skills they need in preparing for legal practice environments.

 

 

Video on teaching approaches at UNSW

Back in 2009, Jill Cowley produced a video Engaging Law Students: Teaching Law at UNSW. It was primarily intended as an introduction to teaching for new UNSW sessional staff, but might be of interest more generally.
The video is now publicly accessible here.

The video is a conversation between Cathy Sherry, Alex Steel and Prue Vines moderated by Brendan Edgeworth. Cut through the discussion are videos of each person teaching.

The topic areas (and the time points in the video) are:

  • How do your describe your philosophy of and best practice in the teaching of law? (3:00)
  • What strategies do you adopt to encourage class participation? (8:45)
  • How does technology assist your teaching?(20:00)
  • How do you shift student expectations? (29:25)
  • Describe your personal style (37:45)

Much of what we said in 2009 remains true for us in 2016.

Student Politics and criminal law

Just getting ready to teach criminal law this semester and for the first time looked at the full facts behind the chestnut case MacPherson v Brown (1975) 12 SASR 184 – which we use as authority for the mens rea of assault.  The facts in the textbook state:

A student was convicted of having assaulted a lecturer at Flinders University. A number of students, including the defendant, had taken over the administration building in protest over the alleged CIA links of a recently appointed senior administrator. The lecturer in question, who was involved in the re-occupation of the building by university officials, was surrounded by a number of students who for a time prevented him from passing through the group and caused him to fear for his personal safety. No actual physical contact was made and he was allowed to pass after about 10-15 minutes.

The full story is even more interesting.  One key complaint was that History was insisting on a 3 hour exam, and the students felt they should have a right to be part of the decision making process.  There were a range of Maoist ambitions of the student body, highly biased biased reporting, and some very violent reactions against the students in the retaking of the Chancellery.  Below are a few links I’ve found:

Highly unlikely we’d see this interest in educational/political  issues from students these days …

Dennis Denuto…

As this blog’s name references the wonderful Australian film The Castle, I thought it was important to let everyone know that its well meaning but bumbling solicitor, Dennis Denuto, has now been immortalised in the Queensland District Court.

In Smith v Lucht [2015] QDC 289 (20 November 2015) a messy family law matter was the basis for a defamation action by a solicitor against his daughter-in-law’s ex husband for calling him “Dennis Denuto”.  There is now grave judicial pronouncement that:

There is little in the film to indicate how the character Dennis Denuto conducted other cases, his general experience and skills (other than his claim he did “small stuff”), or his client base. He was not characterised as unethical; however he was portrayed as incompetent and unprofessional in the scene set in the Federal Court. The reasonable reader or listener would understand the ordinary and natural meaning of the words ‘Dennis Denuto’ to include by implication or inference the defamatory imputation that the plaintiff is incompetent and unprofessional

However:

the circumstances of publication were such that the plaintiff was unlikely to sustain any harm to his reputation as the statements were confined to two members of his family with whom the defendant was in dispute, and they were able to make their own assessment of the imputation.

In so holding Moynihan QC DCJ did not take into account the widespread press coverage of the legal action (which if his Honour had would have resulted in an award of $10,000 damages).

Alex Steel

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