How to work effectively with your placement supervisor
These resources will assist you to work effectively with your placement supervisor and focus on:
- preparing for your placement;
- making it as easy as possible for your supervisor to work with you and assist you;
- how to make the most of receiving feedback from your supervisor;
- reflecting on your experiences
In putting these materials together, close attention has been paid to insights from law students and their supervisors about what makes placements work as constructively as possible, for more information see the Survey Results webpage.
Placement Principles for Law Students
Every placement is distinctive and will depend on the location, the supervisor and the student. Even so, there are common threads that run through most placements.
Insights from Supervisors
A key part of this project involved surveys of supervisors and students involved in clinics and external placement programs. Effective preparation for your placement includes trying to understand your supervisor’s approach.
Supervisors see themselves as
Around a half the supervisors who responded to the survey described how they seek to make students a part of the supervision activity. Some talked about being collaborative with others describing their approach in terms of openness, of giving the student greater responsibility and then responding as needed.
Around a third of people referred to giving challenging tasks and support as required while others describe taking a task-based, practical approach.
Supervisors also described how their approach will change depending on the circumstances.
Some of the activities that supervisors find useful in working with students
- Guiding (87%)
- Debriefing (87%)
- Joint problem solving (77%)
- Instructing (75%)
Some of the things they like about supervising
- The development of students in relation to their commitment to social justice, their confidence and client awareness
- Sharing their knowledge, revealing the workings of the law and legal system
- Student enthusiasm & energy. Some say they also learn from their students and find it useful to challenge their own assumptions.
- Giving back to their profession.
- Some described supervision as rewarding and fun while others explained that they value the work output of students.
Some of the things they find challenging about supervising
The key thing that supervisors find most challenging about their work with students is to find time to supervise in a busy schedule. It can be difficult to find ways to provide timely feedback when faced with other responsibilities. It can also disrupt the other work being done by your supervisor.
Some supervisors faced issues in relation to finding tasks for their students that are pitched at the right level. It can be challenging to get the balance right between protecting the interests of clients while also enabling students to develop their understanding and skills.
One quote highlights some common issues identified by supervisors:
Trying to help the students learn and get the job done. Legal cases have deadlines and sometimes I have to do a lot of independent work to finish the work which students have either not had time to do or have not been able to do. I feel the weight of responsibility to make sure that the client gets the best possible advice about diverse legal matters whilst also ensuring that students learn legal skills.
Advice on how to Approach Your Placement
- Don’t expect to be given the answer but do expect to receive clear instructions on the task at hand
- Check your work before consulting your supervisor
- Think about your performance – have you performed well?
- Anticipate and address the issues your supervisor may raise
- Appreciate good supervision is time-consuming
- Mutual respect – most people are sensitive
- Take a problem-solving approach
- Be realistic – don’t act like a rock star
- Always remember the client
- Try to think of it from your supervisor’s perspective
Developing a Placement Plan
It can be very helpful for you to think about what you hope to learn from your placement experience. Some students have clear ideas about particular things they want to gain from their experience. Others are more interested in being part of a workplace and engaging in what is sometimes called ‘ecological learning’.
Students who responded to the Effective Law Student Supervision survey were generally very positive about the development of a placement plan. 75% of those who had developed such a plan said that they had found the process to be useful for structuring their learning activities.
Other terms that might be used
It may help to ask yourself the following preliminary questions:
- What experiences do you want to have?
- What skills do you want to develop and refine?
- What research do you want to conduct?
- What knowledge do you want to use?
- What laws and policies do you want to better understand?
Developing a placement plan can usefully be a 2-step process. It helps for you to think through these preliminary questions about what you’d like to learn from your placement. You might then review these plans with your supervisor a few weeks into your placement once you have a clearer sense of your placement site and your supervisor.
The following guidelines on receiving feedback come from Best Practices in Legal Education: A Vision and a Road Map, published by the Clinical Legal Education Association in the USA in 2007:
- Listen to the critique with care and an open mind
- Listen – be clear about what has been said
- Focus on specifics – learn what you might do to improve your performance
- Keep your perspective – see the critique as offering choices rather than dictating the one way to do it
- Clarify – if you disagree with the critique, respectfully raise the issue and ask for comment
- Ask questions – where time permits
- Pay careful attention to the critiques offered to others
- Look for opportunities to implement what you have learned
Reflecting on your Experiences
One of the great strengths of learning through experience is that you can easily incorporate processes to assist you to reflect on those experiences. Timothy Casey has suggested the following framework for reflecting on your performance:
|Stage of Reflection||Questions to ask Yourself|
|1. Competence||Did you meet the competence expected for the work you were doing?|
|2. Difference and choice||Were there other ways in which you could have approached and performed the task?|
|3. Internal factors||How was your decision-making influenced by your personal experiences, characteristics, preferences and biases?|
|4. External factors||How did your perceptions of others influence your actions and decision-making?|
|5. Societal factors||How did your understanding of societal and institutional structures influence your actions and decision-making?|
|6. Metacognition - Thinking about Thinking||How has your thinking process developed as a result of your past reflection?|
See Timothy Casey, 'Reflective Practice in Legal Education: The Stages of Reflection' (2014) 20 Clinical Law Review 317.
Supported by the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching