What is 'reciprocal' professional development?
Changes in the dynamics of legal education and legal practice mean that student supervision arrangements are under pressure. Legal educators cannot afford to assume that the practising profession will continue to have both the capacity and the inclination to assume responsibility for the development of junior lawyers and the supervision of law students in experiential programs. We need to look for new ways of approaching challenges related to preparing future lawyers in order to foster both effective client service and legal professional resilience.
The Effective Law Student Supervision Project has developed the concept of Reciprocal Professional Development to describe activities that enable both students and their practice supervisors to benefit from the collaborative nature of practice-based learning. Legal communities, both educators and practitioners, need to work collaboratively to identify ways to promote participation in experiential learning programs. Part of this process involves identifying and articulating ways in which lawyers can benefit from taking on student supervision roles.
Law schools should do what they can to make it easy for members of the profession to participate in the life of the law school through the supervision of placement students. Law schools need to develop and cultivate relationships with supervisors and may find it useful to seek to develop strong links with their alumni.
What is the future for legal professional supervision?
Recent developments in Australian legal education have the potential to generate a crisis of legal professional supervision for students and new practitioners. Placement opportunities are being sought by increasing numbers of students interested in broadening their legal education and enhancing their job prospects. Recent graduates also need to secure placements in order to meet requirements for admission to the legal profession. Once admitted, novice practitioners must complete a period of supervised legal practice. At the same time, practitioners face serious time pressures in terms of supervising students and trainee lawyers.
It will be important for the practising legal profession to extend its commitment to the professional development of future and fledgling lawyers. One way of encouraging practising lawyers to find ways in which being involved in student supervision can also extend the professional development of the supervisors. Some of the supervisor benefits that could usefully be developed include:
- satisfaction from contributing to developing future professionals and public recognition of such efforts;
- supervisor access to university resources;
- university recognition of the contributions of the supervisor;
- greater awareness of socio-legal research, case law and legislative developments; and
- building leadership capacities related to the supervision of other work colleagues. This is a professional development dimension that has been addressed in some large accounting practices.
What supervisors have to say about the range of potential professional benefits they receive
The survey conducted for the Effective Law Student Supervision Project asked supervisors about a range of potential professional benefits they could derive through supervising placement students.
The vast majority (92.6%) of supervisors indicated that they valued making a contribution to the development of future professionals.
A majority of supervisors identified benefits for their own professional development. This was most prominent (77.3%) for those working in community legal centres. Professional development benefits were more commonly recognised by supervisors aged up to 40 and also for those with fewer years involvement in the placement program.
A majority (59.1%) of supervisors based in community legal centres responded that their supervision of placement students was useful for their supervision of others. The benefits for the supervision of others were more readily recognised by female supervisors than by their male counterparts.
Supervisors also recognised the benefits of working with students for greater awareness of case law and legislative change. More supervisors (43.2%) working in community legal centres recognised this benefit than their counterparts in private practice and the public sector (29.7%). This awareness was also more popular for male supervisors than their female counterparts.
Student supervisors also recognised that working with students also increased their awareness of socio-legal research. Once again, this was most prominent for supervisors working in community legal centres (38.6% for CLCs compared to 16.2% for other supervisors.)
This awareness was also more popular for supervisors with more than 2 years involvement in their placement program.
Continuing Professional Development as Reciprocal Professional Development
Providing Continuing Professional Development opportunities may be a valuable way in which law schools can support placement supervisors. Regulators recognise the importance of professional development in the ethics and professional responsibility area and this is one area where law schools are very well placed to provide CPD opportunities.
Academic and Professional Recognition
Adjunct appointments are recognised as a way in which supervisors can be recognised for their contributions to student learning. Health disciplines provide examples of the use of adjunct and clinical appointments to foster the bonds between practising professions and the academy.
In disciplines where the academy’s links to the practising profession are strong, there are likely to be other ways in which supervision can be fostered as an important contribution to the ongoing vitality of the profession. Holding events for the profession that see supervisors recognised for their contributions is an important way of encouraging professional involvement in the development of future practitioners.
Blanco and Buhai1 identify significant supervision challenges for external placement programs:
- supervisors may well be concerned mainly with outcomes for their firm, and only secondly with the education of students;
- supervisors may not be trained in supervision. Supervisors must realise that the educational purpose of the relationship is at least equal to their own needs.
Learning to Collaborate
Working with students can assist supervisors to develop their ability to collaborate effectively. Lawyers will not value collaboration if they do not know how to collaborate effectively. ‘The more one values and practices collaboration, the better one will collaborate. The better one collaborates, the more one will value and practice collaboration’.2 Huxham and Vangen have identified that, while collaboration is prominent in the strategies of many organisations and in the literature related to a wide range of disciplines, there is surprisingly little research that explicitly addresses the practice of collaborating.3
Promoting connections - relatedness
Larry Krieger is amongst the US clinicians who are prominent in the therapeutic jurisprudence literature. Krieger’s research, in collaboration with Kennon Sheldon, has emphasised the importance of promoting supported autonomy as part of efforts to overcome the ‘corrosive effect’ of US legal education on the ‘well-being, motivation and values’ of law students.4 Krieger and Sheldon draw on Self-Determination Theory as articulated by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci.5 that explains the need people have for ‘regular experiences of autonomy, competence, and relatedness to thrive and maximize their positive motivation’.
Reciprocity Among Students
A further dimension of reciprocal professional development relates to the collaborative learning that can be generated when law students share their respective experiences through the classroom component of their clinical studies. As with other forms of experiential education, clinical legal educators take a purposeful approach to enabling students to learn how to learn from their experiences. Ryan Cole and Wortham have helpfully provided guidance to law students on how they can learn from supervision.6
The value of students appreciating the lessons that can be drawn from their collective experiences is reinforced by the diversity of the legal work done in a wide range of placement sites. Seminars, workshops and ‘case rounds’7 all provide valuable opportunities for students to learn from their peers as well as from their supervisors. Clinic students need to develop their ability to ‘be a good supervisee’: anticipating supervisor questions, understanding when to seek clarification and recognising when to exercise greater autonomy.
Valuing Supervisors in Other Disciplines
The National Clinical Supervision Support Framework developed by Health Workforce Australia in 2011 identified the importance of fostering Culture through its aim to ‘recognise and reinforce the value and contribution of clinical supervisors and to enable collaboration within and across professions’. The HWA Framework refers to the following in relation to Culture:
- Learning environment
1 Barbara A. Blanco & Sande L. Buhai, ‘Externship Field Supervision: Effective Techniques for Training Supervisors and Students’ (2004) 10 Clinical Law Review 611.
2 David Chavkin, ‘Spinning Straw Into Gold: Exploring the Legacy of Bellow and Moulton’ (2003) 10 Clinical Law Review 245, 254-255.
3 Chris Huxham & Siv Vangen, Managing to Collaborate: The Theory and Practice of Collaborative Advantage (2005). While law is notable by its absence, they list sociology, business policy, economics, economic geography, public policy, politics and management. See page 10.
4 Kennon Sheldon & Lawrence Krieger, ‘Understanding the Negative Effects of Legal Education on Law Students: A Longitudinal Test of Self-Determination Theory’ (2007) 33(6) Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 883.
5 Richard Ryan & Edward Deci, ‘Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being’ (2000) 55(1) American Psychologist 68.
6 Liz Ryan Cole & Leah Wortham, ‘Learning From Practice’ in J. P. Ogilvy, Leah Wortham & Lisa Lerman, Learning From Practice (2nd ed.), Chapter 3.
7 Susan Bryant & Elliot Milstein, ‘Rounds: A “Signature Pedagogy” For Clinical Education?’ (2007) 14 Clinical Law Review 195.
8 Health Workforce Australia, National Clinical Supervision Support Framework, July 2011, 3.
Supported by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching