Learning to feel like a lawyer: law teachers, sessional teaching and emotional labour in legal education

This week, a new publication from members of the Smart Casual team has been published in the Griffith Law Review.  A limited number of free downloads of the paper are available here. 

Capture GLR

Contemporary higher education, including legal education, incorporates complexities that were not identified even a decade ago. Law programs first moved from traditional content-focussed programs toward incorporating critique and legal skills. Many are now working toward recognising inclusion and student wellbeing as integral to law graduates’ professional identities and skillsets. Yet the professional dispositions law teachers require to teach in these environments are ostensibly at odds with traditional lawyering identities founded upon an ideal of rationality that actively disengaged from affect.

This article draws on our teaching experience and data drawn from the Smart Casual project, which designed self-directed professional development modules for sessional law teachers, to identify the limits of a traditional teaching skillset in the contemporary Australian tertiary law teaching context. We argue that contemporary legal education demands considerable emotional labour and we present sample contexts which highlight the challenges law teachers face in doing what is expected of them. The article makes explicit the emotional labour that has often been implicit or unrecognised in the role of legal academics in general, and in particular, in the role of sessional legal academics.

 

 

Steel on Adjunct Law Profs Training

Alex Steel (from the Smart Casual team) on the New Legal Realism blog.

New Legal Realism Conversations

Legal education is a topic of much concern for NLR scholars, as can be seen in the first book of the recent NLR volume set published by Cambridge University Press.  During the academic year 2017-2018, we plan to feature blog posts on legal education research.  We begin with a guest blog from Professor Alex Steel, who educates those of us outside of Australia on the cutting-edge efforts there, based in part on survey research.  As he points out, Australia has been a leader in legal educational reform based on empirical efforts — and as such has much to teach those of us engaged in the legal academy in the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.  We hope in the months ahead to share research on legal education from many disciplinary and global perspectives, following the NLR tradition.   

Smart Casual: online professional development for adjunct colleagues

In…

View original post 2,436 more words

Smart Casual shortlisted for the 2017 Legal Innovation Index

We are delighted to announce that Smart Casual has been listed among the finalists for the 2017 Legal Innovation Index.  17AUCRS34 2017 Legal Innovation Index Badge

LexisNexis announces finalists of the 2017 Legal Innovation Index

Innovative legal professionals recognised in fifth year of Index

Sydney, 10 August 2017: The finalists of the 2017 Legal Innovation Index have been announced today by LexisNexis® Pacific and Janders Dean.

The Index seeks to recognise the most innovative firms and legal professionals in Australia and New Zealand that have delivered unique solutions and added value for their clients, setting their organisation apart from the competition.

“The Legal Innovation Index provides a gauge from which we can encourage legal professionals to differentiate themselves within the industry and strive to improve established ways of working to shape the future of the legal sector,” said Simon Wilkins, General Manager for LexisNexis Australia.

“Since its inaugural year in 2013, the awards have celebrated some outstanding innovations across Australia and New Zealand which have provided legal practitioners with new avenues through which to improve the service and value that they deliver to their clients,” said Mr Wilkins.

The individual category finalists come from diverse areas of the law, including education, family law, community legal centres, and automation. They include: Andrea Perry-Petersen, LawRight; Graeme Grovum, Corrs Chambers Westgarth; Clarissa Rayward, Happy Lawyer Happy Life; Claudia King, Automio; Matthew Robinson, FCB Group; and a joint entry from University Academics, Smart Casual.

The organisation category finalists include: Australian Migration Agent and Immigration Lawyer Association, Lexvoco, Hive Legal, You Legal, Pace Legal, Helix Legal, Minter Ellison, Gilbert + Tobin, Pinsent Masons, Westpac Legal Team, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allens, and Corrs Chambers Westgarth.

“The Legal Innovation Index continues to bring together individuals and organisations whose efforts have created real steps forward in how we practice law and educate. This year once again sees a diverse range of organisations being recognised, from top tier law firms to startups, who all recognise that the legal landscape is changing and innovation is required to succeed,” said Justin North, Founder of Janders Dean.

The winners of the 2017 Legal Innovation Index will be announced at a private event in Sydney on 30 August 2017 and will be published online.

LEAD: Legal Education Associate Deans Network meeting report

On 26 September, Nat Skead and Mary Heath went to the LEAD meeting hosted by Flinders University in Adelaide. It is a pleasure to share the Smart Casual resources with people in roles with responsibility for sessional teachers and professional development in law. They are designed to address an unmet need for discipline specific professional development on teaching legal skills. The Associate Deans were welcoming and enthusiastic.

Some schools are already using the modules with sessional and permanent staff, or have plans to use them in the near future.  At one school, for example, staff will undertake the modules over 12 months like a book club, getting together regularly to discuss and reflect.

2016-09-26-10-32-33

There were questions about where to find support for managing sessional staff and ensuring best practice from the school and university. One good place to go is the BLASST project, which has established benchmarking standards and best practice guides for employing and supporting sessional staff.

There were also queries about whether the modules would be of use to permanent law staff, staff teaching law to business students, or teachers in other disciplines. We already have reports of the modules being appreciated by staff outside of law (despite the law examples), as well as by staff in law, no matter their employment status. Many of the modules (for example, Feedback, Communication and collaboration, Wellbeing, Engagement, and Problem solving) will be immediately relevant to staff teaching law to non-law students.

We were also asked about strategies to overcome staff resistance to professional development on the part of people who clearly are experts in their fields of research or practice. We have no magic wand embedded in the modules. Sorry! However, it is important for all content experts to remember that teaching requires a set of skills that is only partly about content knowledge; and that the skills most experts have internalised and now take for grated must be broken down into logically organised component parts in order for them to be communicated to novices. The modules are designed to assist in this process.

One suggestion for the time-pressed teacher offered by the LEADrs themselves was to use a single module as a  ‘gateway’; letting sessional staff know that they don’t need to do an entire module all at once but can dip in and out. The online navigational aids embedded in the modules make viewing a module bit by bit very simple. Time-pressed permanent staff have certainly been known to do exactly this. There are entire books devoted to tips for higher education teachers, and having one sitting on the desk so that you can read a page or two and try out new ideas or be reminded of good intentions that have not been carried out lately can be of value to everyone.

2016-09-26-10-32-33

Higher Education Research Group of Adelaide Conference 2016

We took the Smart Casual modules for a viewing by other disciplines at the HERGA conference: From Research and Policy into Practice on 23 September 2016. Our hope was to share the model we have developed in Smart Casual with people from other disciplines who also want to be able to provide discipline specific professional development for sessional staff.

2016-09-22-09-05-50

The HERGA conference arises from collaboartion between all three South Australian public universities and TAFE SA as well as several other education providers from around the state. It is a great opportunity to meet passionate teachers and scholars of learning and teaching. This year the keynote speaker was Simon Barrie from UWS, whose focus on how we should respond to disruption was timely, bracing and extremely interesting.

2016-09-22-10-30-31

The Smart Casual session was well attended by people from a large number of disciplines. This is the panel chair introducing the presentation.  It was clear from the audience reaction that many disciplines recognise the steep rise in casualisation as well as the precarity of sessional teachers’ employment and the need to ensure sessional staff get access to resources, support and professional development.  Questions afterward canvassed access to the resources we have created, the level of web development that has been involved in them, opportunities for people using the modules to be involved in interactive environments, and so much more. Some people present at the session have already been in touch seeking further information and wishing to stay in touch.

Fostering ‘Quiet Inclusion’

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 at which so much teaching takes place.
In creating professional development resources for sessional law staff in Australia, we have found a wide variety of approaches to proactively creating inclusive and welcoming law classes. Many have been contributed by sessional teachers who have agreed to be video recorded speaking about their high quality teaching for the Smart Casual modules.
From this work has emerged a paper which draws on Goffman’s ideas about 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.

Having been presented earlier in the year, this paper is now available in Research and Development in Higher Education: The Shape of Higher Education Vol. 39  as Mark Israel, Natalie Skead, Anne Hewitt, Mary Heath, Kate Galloway, Alex Steel, Fostering ‘Quiet Inclusion’: Interaction and Diversity in the Australian Law Classroom. Presentation to Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Conference, Fremantle, Australia, 5 July 2016.  It can also be found here.

inclusion

Creating a lesson plan

One of the requests we have had from a lot of sessional law teachers is for advice about creating lesson plans.  I am sure there are a lot of different ways to approach planning out a class. Here are some thoughts about how I approach it, focusing on classes in which a problem question or hypothetical is the focus of the time spent in the class, and on a face to face context for teaching.

I have several goals in planning out a class.  Some are entirely prosaic.  First, I want to make sure that I don’t forget to tell students about a crucial date or an upcoming event, or I want to make sure I have established groups for a task that will take place in the following week.  If a written document is expected in the following class, I make sure I will remind students about it.

Depending on the class, I might also have a list of needed equipment. Water for a two hour lecture? Whiteboard markers? Recording device? Handouts? USB drive?

Having a written plan allows me to think in advance about what sequence of activities and information will make best sense from the point of view of the class and to ensure I will be reminded to adopt that sequence and not the one that seems natural to me.  If I hope that students will connect what we did last week with what we are doing this week, I need to make that explicit, and setting that up as an early element of the class in my lesson plan is part of that process. If am aware of links between content in my subject and the topic being taught in another subject to the same cohort, I will create triggers for making that connection overt in my class plan. For me, one example would be reminding students in my first year criminal law class that they have been learning structured problem solving in their legal skills topic and that this is a great place to apply them. If I want to include a summary of this week’s key points, I need to schedule that in my plan.

I also like to have a map of key content and skills to be covered in the class, set out in a logical and structured form.  Sometimes I create this by creating a table with the elements of the main offence being addressed on the left, the key precedents we will apply in the centre, and some prompts about the scenario on the right. Sometimes it might look more like a checklist. Provided it keeps me on track, ensuring that I don’t miss some elements out or–when I am teaching many repeats, forget which class I taught this point to already–it is doing its job.

Time management can be crucial.  It took me a lot of years of teaching to be confident about managing the content of a class within the allotted time, given how diverse and unpredictable the interactions in my classes can be, even when they apparently cover the same material. If time management is a big concern for me I will have decided in advance which elements of my plan are crucial and need to be covered, which are optional and can be dropped if time does not allow, and what options I might have for delivering content more time efficiently if the class turns out to need more time spent on something I did not predict would be time consuming.

For me, though, the most important aspect of pre-planning a class is thinking about engaging learning activities and planning time in such a way as to make sure that they are not routinely dropped in favour of passive (for students) content delivery (by me) that is unlikely to provide an optimal learning environment for students.  I will figure out in advance whether ice breakers are needed; whether question time might be useful; whether I need to take paper for students to write down their ‘muddiest point‘ or ‘most urgent question’ or to undertake an informal, anonymous survey of how students are experiencing the class.  I will decide whether I should break the class up into prosecution and defence to prepare arguments, and if so, for the entirety of the problem or for smaller chunks of content.

I would encourage discussion among teachers who are teaching the same subject about how to approach running the class itself and what kind of lesson plan the person who is leading the teaching team would expect to follow or for the team to be following. Different institutions and different staff experience differing expectations, levels of support and levels of autonomy.

How do you plan your classes?  How do you plan for online teaching interactions?

maps-imagef-00028

 

 

Seeking sessional legal academics to participate in a research project

Alysia Blackham from Melbourne University is currently mid-way through a project funded by the UK Legal Education Research Network looking at casualised law teaching. As part of the project,  she has developed a survey for law school staff (both sessional and permanent) and administrators to look at conditions of employment, and how they might be linked to teaching and learning outcomes. She is extremely keen to find more participants who are themselves sessional/casual academics. Should you wish to participate in the research study, you can find details listed below.

Dear colleagues

A survey is being conducted of law academics in Australia and the UK, to consider individual experiences of working in legal academia, and the institutional impact of how academic work is structured. This survey is part of a collaborative international study, which will survey both legal academics (including permanent, sessional and contract staff) and law faculty administrators (such as heads of school or executive administrative officers). It is being conducted as part of a project funded by the UK Legal Education Research Network, and led by Dr Alysia Blackham of Melbourne Law School and the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge, and Dr Shelda Debowski, a Senior Consultant in Higher Education Development. This survey will offer important insights into how legal academics are operating in a contemporary higher education environment, and how they can best be supported in their role.

We have been asked to invite you to participate in the survey, which should take no more than 20 minutes to complete. The survey can be accessed online:

If you have any questions or comments about this survey, please contact Alysia Blackham at alysia.blackham@unimelb.edu.au or Shelda Debowski at shelda@debowski.com.au. This research project has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of The University of Melbourne (ID number 1646355.1). If you have any concerns or complaints about the conduct of this research project, which you do not wish to discuss with the research team, you should contact the Manager, Human Research Ethics, Office for Research Ethics and Integrity, University of Melbourne, VIC 3010. Tel: +61 3 8344 2073 or Fax: +61 3 9347 6739 or Email: HumanEthics-complaints@unimelb.edu.au. All complaints will be treated confidentially. In any correspondence please provide the name of the research team or the name or ethics ID number of the research project.

 

 

 

Resources on casualisation

Higher education is one of the most casualised sectors of the Australian economy.  For those seeking concrete information about the experiences and perspectives of sessional staff or guidance in best practice responses, here are some key Australian links.

BLASST: the Benchmarking Leadership and Advancement of Standards for Sessional Teaching project   provides best practice guidelines, benchmarking standards and a whole host of resources. BLASST is ‘a project funded by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching to support and enhance quality teaching by sessional staff in higher education’. It has created ‘a national Sessional Staff Standards Framework to evaluate and support the learning and teaching, management and administrative policy, procedure, and practices affecting sessional and casual teachers in higher education.’

CASA: A home online for casual, adjunct, sessional staff and their allies in Australian higher education    This blog provides insightful commentary by sessional staff about casualisation, including a semi-regular roundup of news about casualisation here and in other countries.

The National tertiary Education Union’s ‘I Stand with Casuals’ campaign offers information about the industrial rights of sessional staff in Australia (including ten tips for surviving casual employment), presents the voices of casual staff speaking about their experiences and resources for supporting sessional staff for everyone (sessional or not).

2016-01-07 16.20.59

 

 

 

 

Second semester is coming…

For those institutions still working on a two semester timetable, second semester is upon us.  For sessional staff new to teaching law, and those who would like to develop their skills, the existing three Smart Casual modules are available free for your use here.  They address the teaching skills involved in Engagement, Problem Solving and Feedback.  The next five modules are nearing completion and will be available free online in September here.

If you are a sessional law teacher, feel free to share these links with your colleagues as well as using them yourself.  If you are responsible for supervision and/or employment of sessional law teachers, please share these resources with your sessional colleagues.

Access to professional development is an important aspect of employment in higher education that many tenured staff take for granted.  We can all help to support our sessionally employed colleagues, and ensure that they are included in the ordinary expectation of workplace life by helping to and make sure that sessional teachers can access resources and opportunities available to other staff.

IStandWithCasuals+3+research