Using Simulated Practice to Teach Legal Theory - How and Why Skills and Group Work Can Be Incorporated in an Academic Law Curriculum
The University of Tasmania Law Review, Vol. 26, No. 2, p. 121, 2007
57 Pages Posted: 16 May 2012
Date Written: 2009
There has been intense and innovative development in the teaching of legal skills over the last two decades with the majority of law schools in Australia now teaching legal skills in one form or another. There is significant variation in methodology and educational philosophy in this teaching. Various studies have sought and examined empirical and anecdotal data from students, lecturers, and the profession, regarding both the value of skills teaching, and the implications of various innovative teaching methods. However, in most jurisdictions in Australia there continues to be a clear and deliberate divide between the doctrinal and theoretical focus of the law school, and the practical application of legal principles, which is covered in pre-admission training or clerkship programs.
This division leads to significant tension within law schools, which tend towards an intellectual academic focus, and have not in recent years been perceived to play a role in skills tuition. This means that determining whether the place of legal skills have a place in the academic law curriculum, and whether how they could can add to that curriculum is both a topical and relevant inquiry. The first questions concerning the incorporation of legal skills in a predominantly theoretical law degree must be:
1. What do we hope to achieve by including legal skills in an undergraduate law curriculum (with a predominantly theoretical focus)?; and 2.What legal skills have a place in an undergraduate law curriculum? Following this initial inquiry, a further question, that goes both to the quality of learning and the practical implications of including skills, is: 3. What difficulties are associated with skills teaching, and how can they be managed or overcome to ensure the teaching is as affordable and efficient as possible? How can we (efficiently and affordably) incorporate legal skills teaching?
This paper considers these fundamental questions with reference to reported experience and literature, and with reference to empirical evidence arising from a survey of Adelaide law students who have participated in our legal skills program.
Keywords: legal education, skills teaching, skills assessment, group work
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