Association of Law Teachers (ALT) conference: Diversity & Innovation

26 – 27 March 2018 Keele University

On an unseasonably sunny Sunday afternoon in late March, I travelled to my first ALT conference at Keele University with my colleague Dr Michael Doherty with a feeling of both excitement and trepidation. I had of course been to and spoken at many conferences over the years in my previous role as a solicitor, but speaking at the ALT conference was somehow different. More on why later.

The conference themes of diversity & innovation appealed to my own career narrative, firstly, as a first generation law student all those years ago and now as an academic as I hear student stories and reflect on how little has changed for some students in overcoming the barriers they face to enter a profession that is not representative of the society it serves. The innovation theme of the conference resonated with my experience in practice in working to create and introduce better solutions for clients through new ideas and innovation.

Shared purpose and sense of community

My trepidation came from not knowing what to expect from the conference, but as with many things in life what we think is not often the reality and that was proven as soon as Michael and I and met up with our colleagues’ Dr Kartina Choong and Linda Chadderton for dinner.

At dinner, it was good to meet other academics from the UK and beyond and hear of their commitment to supporting and developing the next generation of professionals and I felt at ease and part of a strong community of fellow academics connected by a shared purpose and went to bed looking forward to day 1.

Day 1

ALT Conference 1

After a welcome, introduction and keynote I sat in the audience to hear the first talk of the conference from Michael Doherty on “Communicating Legal Rights and Responsibilities through Visual Learning” explaining how he had worked with a UCLan graphic design student to create a visual document for students on their rights & responsibilities as tenants. The talk was well received and his visual document won the Stan Marsh prize for the best poster of the conference.

The lunchtime keynote saw Richard Susskind deliver his vision of the future of lawyers, leaving the audience with plenty to discuss for the rest of the first day and as I reflected on my first day at an ALT conference the feelings I felt most were hope & opportunity for the next generation. There is no doubt that technology is already transforming the practice of law, yet as a profession, law is still struggling with fundamental issues around equality and access and the hope & opportunity I felt was that law students can help shape both innovation and equality now and in the future.

Day 2

After a hearty breakfast, my colleague Kartina and I presented “Do it but don’t get caught? Exploring social media and Professionalism of Law Students” to an audience from the UK and abroad as we examined the parallels and differences to regulating social media for law and medical students. It was fantastic to present with such a well-respected academic as Kartina and we received some interesting questions from the audience and discussions continued throughout the day.

ALT Conference 2

My 2nd ALT presentation was a solo effort this time and was entitled “Building a bridge. Exploring career mentoring and social capital in career transition” and looked at the potential role a career mentoring programme could have in helping law students transition into professional practice. It was great to engage with the audience, as their experiences and questions opened up avenues for further work in this area and collaboration after the conference, something I am keen to explore.

The conference provided a wide range of presentations over the two days and in particular, I enjoyed a paper by Gareth Bramley from Sheffield University on using technology to enhance student and staff experience of feedback and it certainly gave me food for thought on how I give feedback. Another talk I enjoyed was focused on mindfulness in legal education. As someone who has practised mindfulness for a number of years, both in legal practice and as an academic, it was good to hear insights from Professor Katerina Lewinbuk from South Texas University and Anthony Cullen and Lughaidh Kerin from Middlesex University on how they had approached incorporating mindfulness into the curriculum.

I started the conference with feelings of excitement and trepidation and by the end, those feelings had been replaced with a sense of belonging and optimism.  By attending and presenting, I felt part of an academic community committed to the next generation of professionals and my optimism stems from a sense that although the legal profession is changing rapidly through technology this provides huge opportunities for legal professionals, academics and students to work together to help shape the future. Watch this space.

Simon Price is a Senior Lecturer in Innovation and Employability at Lancashire Law School and is part of the school’s employability team.

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