The Employability Imperative in Legal Education

Alexander, Jill (2016) The Employability Imperative in Legal Education. In: 4th European Network for Clinical Legal Education Conference, 27-28 Oct 2016, Valencia.

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The employability imperative in legal education is part of the more general landscape where Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are placing increasing emphasis on the employability agenda and the “skills” that can be transferred from degree-level study into the workplace. Certainly, current political and business discourse has very firmly positioned the responsibility for employability with HEIs. They place great emphasis on “employability” though make no attempt to describe what that might be or how it can be achieved.

At Northumbria University, clinical legal education in the form of the award winning Student Law Office has been the capstone of the 4 years integrated qualifying law degree. With an average of around 180 students each year taking part in clinic, supervised by a team of academic staff with current practising certificates, the Student Law Office provides pro bono advice in a range of legal areas. Without doubt, teaching through a live client clinic is a highly engaging form of pedagogy, and student feedback both at module and student satisfaction survey level confirms student enthusiasm for this form of experiential learning. However, according to Susskind, we can anticipate “greater changes in law over the next two decades than we have seen in the last two centuries” (Susskind, 2013). As the legal environment changes, how far is the law clinic providing what employers are looking for?

There is a large body of literature around the definition of “employability” and the role of skills but very little that interrogates the impact of clinical legal education on graduate employability. Research in America (Yackee 2015, Kuehn 2015, Findley 2015, Condlin 2015) on the issue of whether experiential learning improves employment outcomes has sparked much academic debate and highlighted the need to conduct more research in this area before strong conclusions can be drawn.

The purpose of this research is to get a fuller insight into perceptions of clinical legal education to interrogate participants’ experiences as employers, alumni, students and clinical teaching staff to gain a better understanding of what employability skills can and perhaps cannot be gained from clinic in its current form. This study follows a subjectivist approach to studying social phenomena and used qualitative analysis from focus groups and semi-structured interviews. The research was inductive and interpretive and drew out themes from the data collected (Dewey 1933).

This paper outlines findings from a qualitative study into perceptions of the role clinical education plays in influencing employability. The context of this research is focused on law students operating within a Law Clinic where we consider how clinic is perceived by employers, alumni, staff and students and whether students are clearly articulating the opportunities and perhaps limitations of clinic when applying for graduate employment.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects: M200 Law by Topic
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Northumbria Law School
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Jill Alexander
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2017 10:08
Last Modified: 12 Oct 2019 12:14

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