School of law

What is clinical legal education?

Clinical legal education is a teaching method that combines theoretical concepts and actual legal practice. Its purpose is to help students learn from their own experience and from their reflection on that experience.

Students are given the opportunity to exercise professional judgment while working on real cases. Students are responsible for all aspects of the client's case under the supervision of the solicitors. The students' experiences then become the subject of critical review and reflection. This review teaches students how to better evaluate their own legal work and the legal work performed by others. Clinical teaching helps to make law school the beginning, not the end, of a legal education by assisting students to develop models and techniques for systematic and self-conscious review of their experiences.

Most law units provide hypothetical legal problems to solve but SCALES challenges students to solve real legal problems for real people and doing so not as an individual but as a member of a team in a real law office. At SCALES you get to apply the knowledge being learned in other law units and that really helps you in gaining a practical understanding of the application of those legal principles and helps learning in other subjects (which can only help at exam time!)

Michael Perrella, Criminal Lawyer and Former Crown Prosecutor WA DPP, SCALES 97/98

The hands on nature of the course makes it different to any other unit. It is the only law course that gives you any idea about what it is like to be a lawyer. Other courses tend to see law as an isolated issue that only deals with knowledge while SCALES puts that knowledge in context.

Stephen Shaw, Lecturer Murdoch University , SCALES 1999/2000

What do students do at SCALES?

Students engage in all of the tasks normally associated with the legal client work. Students bear primary responsibility for interviewing, investigation, planning, negotiation, strategic analysis, research, writing (letters and legal submissions), and advocacy.

SCALES is of assistance with understanding complexity of people and law, it exposes students to client needs and consideration required in dealing with and managing client’s needs and expectations. Graham Wimbridge, Solicitor, Mullins Handcock, SCALES 97/98

The interviewing techniques learned at SCALES provided me with a strong foundation for my Articles year, where I was predominantly involved in taking client instructions. Learning a good structure for conducting client interviews was invaluable.

Tim Hammond, Barrister, SCALES 1998

The most important thing that stands out in my mind is that I was actually managing my own files; I was responsible for arranging client interviews and putting together submissions. The experience at SCALES allowed me to practise being a 'real' lawyer in a safe environment, as I was under expert supervision.

Maria Fifield, Solicitor, Avon Legal, SCALES 2001

What kind of clients do students work with?

SCALES clients are usually those who would not otherwise be able to obtain legal assistance. Like other community legal centres the clients are low income. SCALES tries to focus its services on people who are most in need of assistance and this includes: young people, people in public housing, indigenous people, people with disabilities, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and women who have experienced family violence.

The best incentive after a long day at work at SCALES, is that you have made a difference to a person's life, who without your input, may not have access to their legal rights. You will not solve everything, but you are given the opportunity to have a real go, and learn a lot from the process. I highly recommend SCALES as one of the best unit(s) you could ever do at law school.

Harinder Kaur, Human Rights Lawyer, SCALES 2002/2003

Do students get to go to court?

In some cases students are able to deliver pleas in mitigation in the Children’s Court; appear on behalf of clients on tenancy matters in the Local Court and advocate on behalf of clients in Department of Housing Tribunals. Other students are able to work on and prepare submissions for the Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal, Federal Court and High Court. Students can then also attend the Tribunal or Court and watch the arguments in those cases.

Who teaches clinical courses?

All of the supervisors are qualified legal practitioners and some are registered migration agents as well. The supervisors have a background in working in community legal centres, aboriginal legal service, legal aid and private practice. Students get to work with a variety of supervisors who have expertise in diverse areas of law.

SCALES also has a number of administrative support staff who manage the office. The administrative staff have tremendous experience in advocacy and community work.

What is the supervisor/student ratio?

The supervisor/student ratio varies between 1 to 8.

Clinical courses offered

LLB308 Introduction to Legal Practice 3pts

This unit gives you the skills and knowledge you will need for legal practice. Through a seminar series and self-directed learning you can develop important legal skills such as interviewing clients, researching and formulating advice, advocacy and representation and reflection and ethical practice. This unit lays the foundations for participation in one of our award winning clinics, giving you the knowledge and skills which will allow you to take on legal practice. This unit is a pass/fail unit.

LLB390 Clinical Legal Education (General Clinic) 3pts

This course is offered at our Rockingham office and is the best opportunity to immerse yourself in legal practice. It involves attending one full day per week at the SCALES office in Rockingham where you will interview clients, prepare legal research, advise clients and assist them with ongoing legal issues including representing or assisting them in court all under the supervision of our solicitors.

SCALES is a general legal practice, so you will have opportunity to work in many different areas including criminal, family, tenancy, criminal injuries compensation, discrimination, civil disputes and many more.

LLB386 Family Law Clinic 3pts

The Family Law Clinic gives you an opportunity to dive into this fascinating and complex area of law. You will interview clients, undertake research and give advice as well as draft court documents and negotiation letters. It also gives you exposure to alternative dispute resolution and how it is used within the family law system. If you intend to practice in Family Law this unit is a must; giving you practical experience and insight into the area. This course is based at our Rockingham office.

It involves attending one full day per week at the SCALES office in Rockingham where you will interview clients, prepare legal research, advise clients and assist them with ongoing family law issues.

LLB387 Human Rights Clinic 3pts

The Human Rights Clinic has you working on real human rights cases from asylum seekers and torture victims, to discrimination and prison conditions. This clinic runs a varied caseload; we have run cases in Supreme, Federal and High Courts, as well as taken cases to the United nations. This course gives you first-hand knowledge of the human rights framework and uses it both domestically and internationally to argue for our client’s human rights. This unit also gives you an opportunity to work on policy and law reform by contributing to submission to parliamentary committees, inquiries and shadow reports. It is taught from our Murdoch (South Street) office and runs concurrently with the general clinic, it requires attendance of one full-day per week, plus a weekly seminar, which will reflect on and develop the skills you are learning in practice.

If you have any questions about any of these course, please contact the course co-ordinator Anna Copeland.

How are students selected for a clinic? How do you enrol?

In order to do a clinic you must first complete LLB308 Introduction to Legal Practice. You can enrol online, however there is a quota so be quick!

How are students graded?

The Introduction to Legal Practice is a pass/fail unit. The clinical units use the same grading scale (HD-P) that is used in other units at Murdoch. The clinic is not bound by a grading curve. There are no examinations, rather student evaluations are based on performance of the lawyering tasks associated with the representation of a client and on a student's ability to reflect and learn from those experiences.

Will being in a clinic help me learn how to be a lawyer?

Absolutely. Teaching students how to be skilled, responsible members of the profession is the central goal of clinical education. Students in clinics learn how to be lawyers by engaging in the practice of law in a controlled educational environment that promotes self-reflection on each lawyering task. The direct nature of the work helps students to understand and apply the professional obligations and ethical standards that are part of being a lawyer.

It was real. You were not learning in a vacuum. It was not hypothetical or "just academic". It was in context, these were real people with real problems and it mattered.

Sharon Burchell, Barrister-at-Law, Victoria , SCALES 1999

Without undertaking the CLE and Advanced CLE units, I would not have the analytical skills and writing skills that I have now - and these skills have proved vital in the work that I do now. I also feel the support given to me by my supervisors and the staff at SCALES encouraged me to reach my potential and realise there are so many options that exist 'out there' when one has a legal degree.

Meike Dixon, Senior Solicitor AGS, SCALES 2002