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


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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.

The Smart Casual modules: Where to begin?

The Smart Casual professional development modules address a broad range of topics in legal education. If you’re wondering where to start, here are some suggestions, along with a quick summary of what’s covered in each module.



Where to start

The Smart Casual suite comprises nine stand-alone modules. They can be used in any order, so you can go straight to the content you need when you need it. For those wishing to work through the entire program, we suggest that the following order provides a logical progression:

1. Indigenous Peoples and the Law
2. Engagement
3. Feedback
4. Problem Solving
5. Communication and Collaboration
6. Reading Law
7. Critical Legal Thinking
8. Wellbeing
9. Ethics and Professionalism.

Indigenous Peoples and the Law was developed to provide support to law teachers to better engage with Indigenous students and with legal issues that relate to Indigenous peoples. It introduces concepts that are taken up across the other modules. It is relevant to teaching staff of all levels of experience, and of particular importance to those who are new to Australia.

The following three modules, Engagement, Feedback and Problem Solving address difficulties that we found sessional staff most wanted help with. They are pitched at an introductory level.

Communication and Collaboration builds on Engagement and Feedback with further examination of interactions in the classroom and beyond.

Reading Law and Critical Legal Thinking provide more detailed examination of how students develop their analytical skills and so follow on from the ideas explored in Problem Solving. They are intended to provide guidance for teaching staff of all levels of experience.

Wellbeing and Ethics and Professionalism discuss critically important issues in legal education that may not have been part of traditional law school curricula. These modules relate to and develop content presented in the other modules. They are likely to be relevant for teaching staff of all levels of experience.

What’s covered in the modules

Indigenous Peoples and the Law
All students need to develop their knowledge in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise the many points of interaction between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Anglo-Australian legal system. This module provides background information on these issues and some suggestions for creating a supportive teaching environment. This module covers: the identity and culture of Indigenous peoples in Australia, Indigenous/non-Indigenous legal interactions, and Indigenous peoples and teaching.

Students learn most effectively when they engage as active players in the learning process. This module examines ways to increase your students’ engagement in learning. The module covers: ways to encourage ‘deep learning’, supporting positive emotions, capturing and developing students’ interest, making classes relevant, cultivating mutual respect, and fostering positive peer interaction.

Providing effective feedback on students’ work is essential to student learning both within and outside assessment processes. This module covers: providing legitimate, timely and appropriate feedback on a range of assessments; ensuring that feedback aligns with the assessment task and associated learning outcomes; providing feedback that is coordinated, equitable, transparent, and supports improved student learning.

Problem Solving
Teaching and assessment in substantive law subjects often involves hypothetical problem solving, which encourages students to develop skills needed upon graduation. This module examines how to use structured approaches to problem solving to assist students to develop their skills. The module covers: teaching structured approaches; teaching MIRAT (and other structures), legally material facts, and argument and application.

Communication and Collaboration
Law students need to develop their ability to communicate effectively, appropriately and persuasively, selecting from different genres, modes and voices; engage with different legal and non-legal audiences; and collaborate skilfully. This module is about developing students’ skills in communication and collaboration and covers the following topics: clarifying expectations, persuading, active listening, explaining and advising, negotiating, working with diversity, digital technologies, using language specialists, written communication, interviewing clients, and collaboration and teamwork.

Reading Law
This module explores how to help students build legal reading skills – skills fundamental to legal practice and important in law-related careers. It explores what critically reading law means, how it differs between types of legal documents, and how to help develop students’ close reading skills. This module covers: decoding, comprehension, metacognition, and critical reading strategies for a range of documents – case law, statutes, transactional documents, legal scholarship, policy and government reports.

Critical Legal Thinking
This is module addresses a discipline-specific form of critical thinking. Law students need to develop the ability to engage in critical analysis in a range of different contexts, make a reasoned choice among alternatives and understand law in its broader context. This module examines how critical legal thinking links to other legal skills and how students can be helped to develop it. This module covers: modelling dispositions, teaching thinking skills, preparing a supportive environment, social and theoretical contexts, and using structured discussion and Socratic dialogue.

This module is about the role law schools and law teachers can play in promoting the wellbeing of law students. This is supported by teachers cultivating our own wellbeing. We understand wellbeing as feeling healthy, safe and supported with the capacity to manage one’s personal, academic and professional challenges. This module covers: supporting student wellbeing, managing expectations, fostering respect, providing support, being sensitive, engaging students, creating inclusivity, encouraging collaborative learning, demonstrating delight, and looking after yourself.

Ethics and Professionalism
This module concerns ethics and professional responsibility as necessary parts of teaching law across all subjects. It offers insights into the ways in which we, as law teachers, might present learning law as an ethical and professional endeavour in itself, and how we might harness the context of substantive law throughout the curriculum to illustrate how ethics and professional responsibility work in practice. The module covers: discussing and modelling ethics and professionalism, learning from cases, using role-play, and responding to unprofessional behaviour.

Smart Casual in a nutshell

What is Smart Casual all about?

For a short and sweet introduction, check out this overview of the Smart Casual project. It covers the needs that we set out to address, our approach to working with the diversity of Australian law schools, and the suite of Smart Casual professional development modules – all on a single page! You can download the Smart Casual overview here (2MB PDF).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?




The Global Lawyer

This was originally posted on Kate Galloway’s blog.

The legal profession has been concerned for some time with the capability of law graduates for transnational practice. While much of the discussion in the context of the Australian legal profession has centered on knowledge, for example of private international law, there is inevitably an array of skills and attitudes that must accompany such knowledge to develop what might be called the global lawyer. This post teases out what those skills and attitudes might look like.

Contemporary (and future) Australian law graduates have opportunities in global lawyering in a few different ways. As lawyers in domestic Australian jurisdictions, their clients will increasingly face an international law landscape. This occurs through the imposition of international standards in domestic contexts, or through increasingly globalised trade relations which themselves attract international and transnational jurisdiction. Of note also is the likelihood of an international client-base, requiring lawyers adept in providing effective professional services to an increasingly diverse clientele.

The growth in law firms that are themselves international with an Australian presence, likewise afford graduates the opportunity for international transfers to practice in other jurisdictions, and also to collaborate internationally within the firm. Similarly there are a number of Australian agencies and NGOs that operate globally, and which call for qualified Australian lawyers who can practise in diverse contexts.

A third option is for Australian lawyers to take themselves overseas and qualify in offshore jurisdictions.

The concerns of the profession probably focus on the first two of these examples but it is now widely accepted that law schools must prepare our graduates for all three – in addition of course to ensuring the community is served by good quality lawyers who are skilled in Australian law and legal practice.

The Bentley and Squelch Report identifies four methods of curriculum design to ‘internationalise’ the law curriculum: aggregation, integration, segregation, and immersion. I am interested here in a slightly different way of conceptualising the internationalised law curriculum: designing a capstone to facilitate our students’ transition into the global lawyer graduate, and I have been thinking about this in collaboration with Professor Paula Gerber and Melissa Castan, both of Monash University.

Borderless practice

The premise for a discrete subject focussing on the global lawyer is to engage students in thinking about ‘borderless practice’. The components of transnational practice include an understanding of comparative legal practice, comparative legal processes, cross-cultural competencies, and digitally-mediated global information flows.

While comparative law is its own recognised field, the focus on setting a foundation for a global lawyer is to appreciate diverse legal process and the cultural context within which that process occurs. The Australian justice system is a departure point for an overview of diverse comparative litigation practice, overlaid with international arbitration and public law process.

Without interrogating the rules of civil procedure globally, the goal is to raise awareness in students of diverse justice systems and to inculcate open-mindedness to variations in procedure and the implications for practice. The process of questioning and investigating other jurisdictions models an approach to thinking about legal process as a precursor to learning the rules themselves. It also is the opening for investigating culture: not in a vacuum, but as it relates to the lawyer’s practice, their relationship with colleagues, with clients, and with the community they serve – wherever that might be.

Cultural competency can be dealt with on two levels. The first is raising student consciousness of cultural differences and how this affects both communication and the role of the lawyer. The second relates to the interaction between identity – often the subject of human rights – and culture. This itself has two dimensions: how the lawyer can protect human rights in culturally diverse contexts, and how the lawyer’s own identity is perceived within diverse cultural and legal contexts. The global lawyer requires insight into their own impact as a lawyer and a person.

An emerging cultural context is the use and application of digital technologies. They demand their own competencies in facilitating communication, and in making choices about their use. The global lawyer is adept at managing their digital footprint. They have a mind to the effective management of information in accordance with professional and ethical norms regardless of jurisdiction. They have skills in manipulating information using diverse digital tools as a means of communication and an expression of the client’s needs and of the law itself.

In one sense, in an increasingly globalised world every lawyer is ‘global’. Increasingly open access to the law itself, mass communication and global connectivity potentially projects each of us into a global community. Building on the significant work already done in Australian legal education on an internationalised curriculum, legal educators need now to consider how they design curriculum that keeps pace with, or indeed leads, in the question of broad – global – graduate competencies.