Keeping up with change: No Alternative to teaching ADR in clinic. An Australian perspective

This post was written by Jacqueline Weinberg from Monash University and is part of our series of summaries of works in progress presented at the 6th ADRRN Roundtable held in Dunedin in December 2017

Jackie Weinberg

Over the last 30 years alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has become more prominent in Australian legal practice due to the need to reduce the cost of access to justice and to provide more expedient and informal alternatives to litigation. There is a shift away from adjudicative or determinative processes and towards more cooperative processes for dispute resolution.[1] The rigidity, complexity and cost of formal structures has meant that courts, tribunals and other rights-based structures are often inaccessible to all but a few in society.[2] The incapacity of these structures to resolve conflict, although they may determine rights, has been a relevant factor in the development of alternative options for dispute resolution.[3] Clearly, Australian legal practice is undergoing change. As legal educators, we need to ask: how should we be preparing law students entering practice for these changes? How can we ensure that once they become lawyers, our students will not rely entirely on litigious methods to assist their clients but instead look at alternatives for dispute resolution?

Richard Susskind in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers [4] states that law schools cannot ignore future practice and law students should be provided with options, to study current and future trends in legal services and to learn some key 21st century legal skills that will support future law jobs.[5] ADR is a growing area of legal practice resulting in changes in models of client service and advocacy.[6] The issue then is how best to prepare the young lawyers for these changes. According to Sourdin, legal academics (and law schools) play an essential role in the training and education of lawyers and in interpreting these changes.[7] Sourdin sees legal education and training as ‘a continuum along which the skills and values of the competent lawyer are developed.’[8] There is a need to explore whether clinical legal education is taking these changes on board and moving away from teaching traditional adversarial models towards teaching a more ADR skills based curriculum. There is a need to look more closely at whether the ‘interconnect’ between the teaching and practice of ADR is in fact happening in clinics; if so, how this teaching is happening; including an examination of clinical curricula. If it is established that this teaching is taking place, then research needs to be done to determine in what ways this teaching can be enhanced in the clinical context and whether it is contributing to students’ knowledge of non-adversarial approaches towards conflict resolution.

According to Sourdin, ‘changes to the law school education environment supporting ADR in a realistic, rather than marginal way should mean that there is a greater chance that law school education in Australia into the future will be both relevant and supportive of respectful dispute resolution in its traditional and alternative forms.’[9] Clinical scholars view clinical legal education as a method of learning and teaching law.[10] It includes teaching about skills as well as the broader legal system.[11] ADR has become a part of the legal system both in Australia and internationally. If clinical legal education is to teach students about the skills needed for practice then it follows that a focus on the teaching and learning of ADR skills is needed. Extensive research has shown that ADR has an important role in legal education. It places emphasis on a non-adversarial process of resolving conflict and provides lawyers with the knowledge and skills to engage with legal problems in a holistic manner. Law students engaged in clinical practice who understand and adopt these processes will become lawyers who focus first on client’s needs and interests when problem solving and resort to adversarial practice only when necessary. In this way, clinical legal education can ensure that law students are well prepared for their roles as ‘new lawyers’ in 21st century legal practice.

My PhD research is focusing on whether ADR is being sufficiently taught to students in existing clinical legal education courses in Australia. My research explores whether and to what extent ADR is integrated into clinical legal education across Australia and how the teaching of ADR within clinics might be strengthened. Although this research is primarily undertaken at Australian clinics, it will assist with learning and teaching strategies in relation to clinical legal education as a whole and has relevance for all clinical legal education contexts. This research will assist with curriculum review in relation to clinical legal education in law schools.

 

[1] Tania Sourdin, Alternative Dispute Resolution  (LBC Thomsons, 5th ed, 2015) 13

[2] Ibid 12

[3] Ibid.

[4] Susskind R, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, 2013, Oxford University Press 135

[5] Ibid.

[6] Macfarlane, J The New Lawyer: How Settlement is Transforming the Practice of Law

(UBC Vancouver 2008 Macfarlane, 243

[7] Sourdin, above 1 5

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Evans, A, Cody, A, Copeland A, Giddings, J, Noone M.A & Rice S, Best Practices

Australian Clinical Legal Education Office of Teaching and Learning 2013 40

[11] Ibid 41

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About Dr Olivia Rundle

Dr Rundle is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania. She has worked as a nationally accredited mediator and a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. Dr Rundle is especially interested in the role of lawyers in dispute resolution processes and the policy environment that positively encourages lawyers to engage with dispute resolution. She teaches and researches in broad areas of Dispute Resolution, Civil Procedure and Family Law.

One thought on “Keeping up with change: No Alternative to teaching ADR in clinic. An Australian perspective

  1. This is a fascinating subject which is related to my own PhD research into lawyers’ engagement with mediation. Hopefully our work will make some contribution to the broader conversation about how we might encourage cultural change within the legal profession so that ADR is a first port of call and not simply another procedural step on the road to litigation.

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