Geelong lawyer blazes new training trail

Research news
24 November 2014
A PhD student in Education is bringing innovation to practical legal training.

Deakin PhD researcher and Geelong lawyer Kristoffer Greaves has turned to the Internet and social media to help the law profession benefit from modern approaches to teaching and learning.

Having come to law via an unconventional path, he has the advantage of looking at the profession through a different lens. He spent 20 years in the performing arts - including having a role in Mad Max 2 - before returning to study.

His change in direction has been vindicated with a prestigious post-graduate student award (oral presentation) recently presented at the International Society for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning conference in Canada.

The area of law he has set his sights on is the practical legal training requirement that law graduates must complete to qualify. The training is undertaken either over 30 weeks part-time or 15 weeks full-time and is provided by universities and non-profit organisations.

“This training is provided by experienced lawyers, but they have not had ready access to teaching theory and practices, which have made huge progress in recent years and could really lift training outcomes,” Mr Greaves said.

“Better training approaches would help to improve the learning experiences of new lawyers, the administration of justice and, of course, the quality of legal services provided to clients.”

“Despite the fact that practical legal training has been conducted in Australia since the early ‘70s (when it replaced articled clerkships in most jurisdictions), it is still regarded as an emergent area of training by many in the profession,” he added.

“English Common Law is 800 years old. Law is a conservative profession that is traditionally regulated by the judiciary and characterised by the principle ‘stare decisis’ - ‘let the decision stand’, which tends to look to the past and favour precedent over innovation.

"While this cautious approach can be useful in terms of legal decision-making, it means that it takes longer for the profession to benefit from innovation.”

As a person who has always preferred to focus on the future, Mr Greaves made the life-changing decision to leave his acting career and return to study, in pursuit of new horizons and greater security.

“I had a two-year-old son and needed more stability and security, so I began an arts degree, but was quickly drawn to study law, which I still find really fascinating,” he said.

He worked as a general practice lawyer for six years in the Surf Coast region, teaching part-time with the College of Law Australia, before again returning to study, first to complete a Masters of Professional Education and Training and, then, a PhD within Deakin’s School of Education.

This combination of law and education opened his eyes to new educational approaches that could benefit legal training and is providing a promising niche for Greaves.

“Over the past two years I have been looking for a way forward, using social media, LinkedIn discussion groups, Twitter and blogs to raise awareness within the profession - and there has been a very positive change of attitude over this time,” he said.

He was recently invited to become a consultant to the Australasian Professional Legal Education Council (APLEC) to set up a research repository on-line, and looks forward to working with practical legal training providers to introduce new strategies into their training.

“Practical legal training involves teaching quite complex ideas and skills, and responding to learning needs in a short period of time.

"We can improve the performance and status of these teachers - and, most importantly, give new lawyers more confidence and knowledge at the beginning of their careers,” he said.

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PhD researcher Kristoffer Greaves has received a 2014 ISSOTL award. PhD researcher Kristoffer Greaves has received a 2014 ISSOTL award.

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