Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The changing focus among Canadian law schools from theory to clinics and practical skills

This article on the Canadian online legal magazine is by the Council of Canadian Law Deans discussing the history of legal education in Canada and noting the changing focus away from a purely theoretical curriculum towards a pedagogy that emphasizes practical skills training and clinical offerings. Like American law schools, the CCLD notes that Canadian law schools have historically focused on law as an academic pursuit with the pedagogy of choice being Landgell's case method approach. Eventually clinical courses emerged as an important part of the law school curriculum particularly in recent years given the growing desire to make legal education more practice-oriented. The CCLD then discusses several models reflecting different approaches to blending theory with practical skills training and the advantages and disadvantages of each.  No doubt some of our readers will be interested in reading the take of Canadian law deans on clinical education and the challenge to find the right balance between theory and practical skills. Here's an excerpt:

A Pedagogic Paradigm Shift in Clinical Legal Education: Towards Placing Practical and Theoretical Knowledge on an Equal Footing?

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In defining what clinical education should look like there are several current approaches: Intra-Curricular, Extra-Curricular, Specialty Clinics, Experiential Courses, and Poverty Law Clinical Programs. There is also debate regarding the purposes of legal clinical education. Some argue that its utility is a means of teaching hands on practical lawyering skills to prepare for practice after school. Others see it as an opportunity for students to take on professional identities; deal with real law and ethical issues though working on real life cases. Still others see it as a means to politicize students to teach about social justice.


So which model is best and what is the purpose of clinical education for the modern Canadian law school? The answer to this question depends on many factors; financial resources, connections with the local legal community, particular access to justice needs in a particular region or province, and the number of willing practitioners to assist with these needs. These questions aside, one thing is clear, law schools are increasingly adjusting their approach to meet the needs of the profession, which includes increasing clinical opportunities and making them a more central component of the core curriculum, particularly in the upper years.


It should also be emphasized that offering clinical education does not preclude teaching research, theory or doctrine, but rather it strengthens it in a complimentary manner, broadening the elements of a law student’s knowledge and experience, serving to enhance their overall education. As stated in Educating Lawyers,

It would be a mistake, therefore, to take teaching centered on practice as hostile to generalization or theoretical formulation. Rather, careful analysis of intelligent practice reveals a more intricate relationship between theory and practice than in the positivist model – an understanding that is still poorly appreciated in the academy as a whole. (…) Learning situations such as the clinical case conference reveal the features of the environment in simplified forms so they can be understood by novice practitioners, who can begin to develop their own perception and judgment. In these situations, students often depend on conceptual knowledge to clarify conditions of practice while they gradually build up their repertoires of experience. For example novices can too learn rudiments of litigation, or client counseling, or negotiation by attending to the core element of the procedural and conceptual models exemplified in expert practice. The articulation and formulation of such core elements exemplifies the essential contribution of theoretical work to the domain of practice.

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Continue reading here.


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