Essential Legal Skills for now & the future – embedding experiential learning across the curriculum

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


Flinders University has long had an integrated undergraduate degree – including both the academic and practical requirements for admission to legal practice in Australia. In 2020, we launched an innovative new undergraduate law curriculum, in which students undertake four clinical placements across the degree. In this presentation we will discuss the opportunities and challenges of embedding critical legal skills across the undergraduate law curriculum, starting during orientation, and culminating in practical legal training placements. We will evaluate the impacts of Covid on skills teaching and highlight what we have learned about teaching skills students need to survive and thrive in increasingly hybrid workplaces and courts.

Since 2007, Flinders Law has offered a highly successful orientation and transition program, New in Law, to all commencing students, based on transition pedagogy (Kift, 2009). Originally designed to prepare students to start the semester successfully and introduce them to the university environment and key contacts, the program has grown considerably, shaped by staff and student feedback and through consultation about the changing nature of legal practice (Law Society of New South Wales Future of Law and Innovation in the Legal Profession Report, 2017). Over recent years we have observed greater levels of student anxiety about undertaking in-class exercises and extra-curricular competitions, including interviews, negotiations, and advocacy. We have resultantly embedded and scaffolded legal skill development and clinical legal placement opportunities throughout our program. Students who engage with real life legal skills are better equipped to see correlations between their study and future professional life (Carruthers, Skead and Galloway, 2012; Johnson and Cantatore, 2013).
Our students are introduced to legal skills during orientation where they participate in client interview, negotiation, and advocacy exercises couched in a fun and non-threatening environment, enabling students to ‘think like a lawyer’ from the very start of their law studies. They then again participate in these skills during their foundational first year topic LLAW1312 Essential Legal Skills, where students also spend a day working with senior student interns and supervising solicitors at Flinders Legal Centre.
In second year, students have two core placement opportunities: working in teams on legal technology projects with not-for-profit clients in LLAW3301 Law in a Digital Age; and undertaking 12 days placement across the semester at either Flinders Legal Centre, external community legal centre or part of legal operations internships for credit in LLAW3302 Law in Action. During final year, in LLAW7001 Practical Legal Training: Legal Practice Management, students undertake 225 hours placement in a legal workplace. Feedback from industry regularly reflects that our students demonstrate greater practical skills and competencies when compared with those from other institutions in our jurisdiction. In such a skills-focussed curriculum, Covid restrictions have posed significant challenges, but have also presented the opportunity to develop a new skillset – graduates must now be able to effectively engage in hybrid and/or fully online contexts. This has been an urgent and exciting challenge – and has required staff to learn new skills along with our students – enabling us to embed even further experiential opportunities across our curriculum.
Period12 Dec 202214 Dec 2022
Event titleGlobal Alliance for Justice Education (11th GAJE WWC)
International Journal of Clinical Legal Education (20th Annual Conference)
South African University Law Clinics Association
Building Resilience and Strong Connections in Times of Global Challenges: Building Resilience and Strong Connections in Times of Global Challenges
Event typeConference
Conference number20
LocationSouth AfricaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational