Making and Managing Change in Legal Education: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Published date01 July 2020
Date01 July 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Making and Managing Change in
Legal Education: Yesterday, Today
and Tomorrow
Richard Grimes1,2
This article looks at how we design and deliver legal education, why we do so in the ways that we do
and whether there may be more effective ways of doing so. So far as the latter is concerned a range
of models are set out that provide a template for more interactive and inclusive ways of learning and
The emphasis throughout this contribution is on the need for a theoretical framework based on
educational ‘best practice’ and the importance of locating what we do and how we do it in the context
of the contemporary law school.
The article argues that careful consideration must be given to not only the need for and significance
of change but also the logistical and other concerns in implementing and delivering this, including the
coverage of the curriculum and the assessment of student work.
The conclusions reached suggest that a reasoned and structured road map addressing, critically but
constructively, the need for further developing our understanding and practice of pedagogy for lawyers
may help to produce a legal education system, nationally and internationally, that is better fit for present
and future times.
This article was inspired and shaped by a close reading of the relevant literature, a constructively critical
eye on how we educate our aspirant lawyers and a wealth of personal experience and evidence, admittedly
some of it anecdotal. For any shortcomings in my subsequent analysis and suggestions for improvement
I apologize but would say in mitigation that the volume and corroborative nature of the sources used does
make for a strong argument in favour of the conclusions I draw.
In countries where legal education is offered at the undergraduate degree level there has long been a
tension between the aims of a programme of study bedded in the ‘liberal’ social sciences or humanities
Asian Journal of Legal Education
7(2) 178–194, 2020
© 2020 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2322005820919258
Corresponding author:
Richard Grimes, Legal Education and Access to Justice Consultant and Visiting Professor at Charles University,
Prague, Czech Republic.
1 Legal Education and Access to Justice Consultant and Visiting Professor at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic.
2 Formerly Director of Clinical Programmes, University of York and Director of Pro Bono Serves and Clinical Legal Education,
The College of Law of England and Wales, 21 Broadbank Louth, Lincolnshire, UK.
Grimes 179
and the needs and demands of the legal profession and other career providers in their various guises.2
Questions such as ‘what is the purpose of a law school?’ and ‘should students be taught skills as well as
theory?’ are still raised today.3 Indeed, the discussions around what a law graduate should know and be
able to do have been the focus of a series of reviews and reports worldwide, with several attempts made
to establish expectations and even minimum standards.4
Yet, regardless of jurisdiction and jurisprudential base, there would seem to be one commonality—
wherever law is studied in universities and colleges, the principal means of instruction has been and
remains the lecture or other large group encounter. The student is more often than not a passive recipient
in a process driven by voluminous and ever-increasing content and reliance on the concept of the top-
down transference of knowledge.5 With limited exception, this appears to be a key feature of law
teaching, be that under the civil or common law, and in places where Shari’a law dominates, including
at first degree and non-research-based postgraduate levels.
This stands in stark contrast to other academic disciplines with a vocational dimension, notably
medicine, the applied sciences, engineering, computing and linguistics. The use of the patient’s bedside,
the fume cupboard in the laboratory or periods spent abroad being immersed in another language and
culture provides the setting for the student to apply theory to practice, often under the supervision of a
suitable qualified overseer or mentor.
In this contribution I want to pose and address three questions: why is this; does it need to be so; and
if not, how can a law school move, in a relatively painless, constructive and sustainable way, to embracing
a more student-centred pedagogy where application and reflection are valued and specific outcomes that
have contemporary relevance are achieved?
The first two questions are, I suggest, fairly straightforward with short answers, albeit some of the
reasoning is complex. The third question—accepting the need for change and making moves in that
direction—requires much more attention.
Before turning to these issues, I wish to make one further point. Does this all matter anyway? Of
course it does. If we are to make education in general and, for the purposes of this article, legal education,
in particular, fit for purpose in the twenty-first century, then we need to be mindful of the theory
surrounding how we (best) learn and the evidence justifying the making of changes to both the design
and delivery of the curriculum. In doing so we must embrace concepts and principles that may lie
somewhat outside of our experience (and perhaps comfort zone) as students and teachers of law. We
must also be mindful of what wider society wants and needs.
Why Do We Teach How We Do?
No doubt we do what we do because that is what we have done, are used to doing and still can. It is of
no surprise that how we were instructed in our previous studies has impacts on our perception of how
others should be educated. ‘What was good enough for me…’ as the expression goes. To think otherwise
2 This tension was apparent as early as the eighteenth century; see: William Blackstone, commentaries on the laWs of england,
30 (Clarendon Press, 1765–1769).
3 Anthony Bradney, Conclusion: What are university law schools for? in key directions in legal education: national and
international perspectives (emma Jones & fiona coWnie eds., 2019).
4 For example, in the UK, the Quality Assurance Agency, Benchmark standard in Law, QAA, 2015.
5 This is not limited to the field of law; how law is taught stands in stark contrast to the learning and teaching in other disciplines
with a (potentially, at least) vocational leaning.

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