Towards designing a validated framework for improved clinical legal education : empirical research on student and alumni feedback

Van der Merwe, Stephan (2020-12-08)

CITATION: Van der Merwe, S. 2020. Towards designing a validated framework for improved clinical legal education : empirical research on student and alumni feedback. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 23:1-31, doi:10.17159/1727-3781/2020/v23i0a8144.

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The pedagogical advantages of employing a Clinical Legal Education (“CLE”) teaching and learning strategy have been acclaimed in literature for almost a century and it continues to be ideally suited to cater to modern education expectations. As an agent for social change, CLE offers law students an effective gateway to participate in, and be influenced by, fundamental social justice problems while it also improves access to justice for the indigent. Though the clinical literature is replete on expected benefits for clinical law students, very little (if any) verifiable empirical research, independently sourced and evaluated, has been published to assess the veracity of these claims in support of CLE. After receiving a funding grant from the University of Stellenbosch Fund for Innovation and Research into Learning and Teaching, the University of Stellenbosch Law Clinic appointed an independent, external agency to conduct empirical research through an extensive measure and evaluation exercise. The aim of the project was to source, document and analyse robust empirical research data about the Faculty of Law’s CLE module, Practical Legal Training 471. The project involved the sourcing and collation of formal student evaluation feedback reports spanning a period of nine years. Additional alumni and current student data were gathered either by online questionnaire or by telephonic interview. The research was aimed at eliciting quantitative as well as qualitative responses. The purpose of this article is to describe the applicable methodology and aims of the research project, to unpack and discuss the resulting empirical data, and to draw certain conclusions based on the findings of this research about CLE’s impact on law students’ experience specifically relating to their practice-readiness and social justice sensitivities. It is suggested that this research will prove both interesting and useful to law teachers involved in relevant programmes at other higher education institutions. The data and evidence detailed herein will assist them to conduct their research and to make substantiated recommendations for the development of CLE programs on a broader national and international level. This research will also add to the body of knowledge on students and student learning and allow for recommendations regarding the creation of a broader implementation framework for improved CLE.

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