A qualitative study of law teachers’ perceptions of the effects of teaching in clinic modules

  • Cantatore, Francina (Project Roles)
  • Field, Rachael (Chief Investigator)
  • Walsh, Tamara (Project Roles)
  • Fischer-Doherty , Kate (Chief Investigator)
  • Marychurch, Judith (Chief Investigator)
  • Weinberg, Jacqueline (Chief Investigator)

Project: Research

Project Details


The main aim is to investigate law teachers’ perceptions of the effects of teaching in clinic modules.
The relationship between staff and students is different to that in the usual law modules and the nature of the conversations, which include gathering instructions from and giving advice to clients, is much wider.
Insights gained about this unique student staff relationship may be useful in understanding motivation of law teachers to teach in both clinic and non-clinic modules. It may also provide insight into managing the relationships in seminars to increase student motivation.

Project Aims

The project examines the relationships (student -staff and student – student) and conversations in law clinic modules in order to compare findings to the more usual black letter (traditional) law subject seminar.
One key justification is that it is in our collective professional interest, as law teachers, to assist our students to learn, and students who have good psychological health have a greater capacity to achieve learning success. As Baik et al (2017) argue, ‘academics have a critical role to play in fostering mental wellbeing. This is because the academic curriculum structures and gives coherence to student life. A focus on improving student wellbeing has the potential to improve the student experience and, as a result, enhance retention and progression rates.
In addition, it has recently been argued that legal academics have an ethical responsibility to ensure that the student experience of law school ‘does no harm’ (Duncan, Strevens & Field, 2020). This is particularly relevant to law schools as there is international evidence that, due to the nature of the discipline, law students are more susceptible to experiencing low wellbeing and higher levels of mental health issues than other student populations (Sheldon & Krieger 2007).
However, in order for legal academics to have the capacity to support the wellbeing of law students, they must be well themselves. Ensuring the wellbeing of law teachers in law schools can be considered a critical starting place for sustaining the wellbeing of law students, many of whom will practice law and so, starting at law school, there is potential to lift the mental health of the profession into the future (Wilson & Strevens, 2018; James, Strevens, Field & Wilson, 2019 & 2020).
There is very limited research on the effect of clinical legal education upon the psychological wellbeing of law students or law teachers. A small-scale study at the University of Newcastle Legal Centre in Australia (UNLC) suggests that students engaging in clinical legal education have higher levels of job satisfaction, wellbeing and are less likely to wish to exit the legal profession than those who have not received clinical legal education (James, 2008).
Our objective is to address a research gap by conducting an Australian study into law teachers’ perceptions of the effect of clinical legal education upon psychological wellbeing. We are particularly interested in the specific relationship between students and staff in clinic who work together to gather instructions from and give advice to clients. Thus, in clinic, there is a shared objective that goes beyond the explaining of legal concepts by staff to students.

Effective start/end date19/04/2330/06/24


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