One of my favourite aspects of clinical legal education is that every day is different. Live practice means that throughout the day I often have a steady stream of students popping in to discuss a legal point, strategies & tactics, and sometimes just to check they’re on the right path. This is supplemented by an equally steady stream of emails with casework to provide feedback on – letters, research reports, memos and the like.
Outside of this, in the clinic I work in, formal teaching sessions take the form of weekly “firm meetings”. Firm meetings also reflect the reality of day to day practice. There are no set materials. Each clinician has the luxury of being able to make decisions about the content of each meeting in accordance with need (clients or students). For example, if students mention that they are struggling with their letter writing, I might choose to focus on tone, style and structure in the following week’s meeting. Similarly, if a particular case is proving to be troublesome we might work through all the elements of the case in our firm meeting and support the students who are working on it, as a group. I also ask my students to lead their own firm meetings – but that’s for another blog post!
As we approach the end of the academic year, I tend to theme firm meetings around reflection. Reflection is a key part of our students’ clinical experience. This is what makes clinic more than just a service and propels it into a (life long) learning experience for our students. We encourage our students to reflect on skills development, how clinic has affected their career choice, the different models of clinical legal education and how it fits within the curriculum, the role of justice, ethical issues, differences between legal theory and the law in action (amongst a long list of other issues!). We also ask our students to write two pieces of reflection which they hand in at the end of the year and this forms 30% of their mark for clinic.
I have found that an open discussion works well. But we often stick to what we know. So we focus on the differences between legal clinics or pro bono and private practice. We might venture into a comparison with the medical profession (one of my students recently drew on her experience of dentistry) but we often do not have the tangible experience to be able to look at those differences in greater depth.
I wanted my students to be able to see and hear a different type of clinical experience. So one night whilst watching the telly I had a bit of a brain wave. The show was called Young Vets – a documentary series on the BBC which followed a group of vet students during their final year where they went on a series of clinical placements.
The first episode contained a three minute clip of a Young Vet called Ellie, who was starting her first rotation in the dreaded anesthesia. Ellie was given Maurice, a beautiful Prussian Blue kitten. She was asked to prepare a strategy for Maurice, who was due to go under the knife. During the clip Ellie provided excellent examples of research under pressure (“I’m going to Google ‘kitten’ and ‘anesthetic'”), obtaining peer support (she retreats to the canteen to share her concerns with her colleagues), and presenting findings to a supervising clinician (“I’m not making excuses, but I’m not very good”). We then see Ellie return home to her partner dejected, but ready to face another day.
I showed this clip to my students at the start of their time in the clinic and asked them to reflect on whether Ellie’s experience matched with how they were feeling, as very new students in the clinic. We discussed the similarities e.g being given a “case”, searching for an answer, and presenting a strategy to a supervisor. And the differences e.g. the client might lose their life if the wrong medication is prescribed and there was likely to be a clear “answer” whereas with law that often isn’t the case.
Having something on which to base our reflections drew out a number of issues early on and I was then able to refer to Ellie and the kitten in later meetings. Yesterday, almost 4 months on, I showed the same group of students the clip again. I asked them to consider how they now felt about Ellie’s experience, especially as they are approaching the end of their time in clinic. Some students said that they couldn’t remember being that nervous and that they sort of felt like she was overreacting. Others mentioned that they felt that they wouldn’t be so worried about presenting to a supervisor, because they now knew that I “wasn’t scary” and was there to support them through their time in the clinic.
This time round, I also showed a longer clip from the final episode where the Young Vets were sitting their final exams and eventually graduated. Not only did this lead to a useful discussion about how slowly you walk across the stage at graduation, it also gave my students cause to consider the entire journey that they had had at law school. They are now coming to the end of their final year – four years of hard work. It was an opportunity to think about what had passed and the exciting times that lie ahead.
Putting a video on
When I first considered using clips from a TV show, my mind automatically went back to those times at school when teachers clearly wanted a break and they stuck on a video… In her book Classroom Combat: Teaching and Television Maurine Doerkin says
“To use tv programmes, films or discussions merely as time-fillers in our teaching day is as bad as abandoning children to the television in their own homes”
Whilst Doerkin’s work focussed on school teaching, the sentiment remains true for HE. There must be a purpose and the TV show must facilitate, develop and deepen discussions. For me, in my clinical setting, Young Vets did just that. And it was going back to the programme at a later date which really gave it meaning. Students were able to reflect on how their own journey, and view a new student’s initial nervousness and panic in a different light.
Have you used TV in your teaching? Do you have any other great tips for encouraging or deepening reflection?