Essential Legal Skills: Striking the Balance Between Skills and Knowledge in First Year Law

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


In tertiary legal education there are constant tensions between substantive knowledge and practical skills. A legal practitioner, of course, needs both, (NSW Law Commission, 2017; Kift and Israel, 2010; ALRC, 2000; LACC, 2016, 2015) but a heavily mandated and crowded curriculum does not easily allow for this (Wolski, 2002). From week one, first year students are faced with a plethora of new terminology mixed with a range of legally challenging and complex topics (Webster et al, 2018). Suddenly, students need to grapple with the competing knowledge-vs-skills tension, and simultaneously amass an understanding of everything, or risk being left behind (Webster et al, 2018). While not all legal skills need to be acquired immediately, early exposure to skills education increases development and better readies students for legal practice (Carruthers, Skead and Galloway, 2012).
This presentation argues that, at first year level, there are three competing interests inherent in the knowledge-vs-skills tension. First, the academic skills, that will enhance and progress students’ academic knowledge – for example case reading, statutory interpretation, and legal research (Steel et al, 2013). Second, the academic knowledge itself. Finally, the more practical skills – legal problem solving and analysis, thinking like a lawyer, legal writing and referencing, and client-centred skills.
This presentation draws on the example of a first year, first semester topic called Essential Legal Skills to showcase the way that judicious scaffolding can straddle the knowledge-vs-skills tension to carefully prepare law students for their remaining studies. This involves not only addressing academic skills and an introduction to legal knowledge, but the incorporation of practice-based client-centred skills such as client interview and negotiation as a means of further enhancing legal problem solving (James, 2012) the foundation of legal practice.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventAustralasian Law Academics Association Conference - Online
Duration: 5 Jul 20216 Jul 2021


ConferenceAustralasian Law Academics Association Conference


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