Experiential learning guide now available

  • January 23, 2019
  • Kim Covert

The idea of experiential learning is perhaps most simply expressed by the 4-H motto: Learn to do by doing.

There is of course more to it than that – it also involves making observations about the experience and reflecting on them, and using those insights to build on or improve the experience the next time.

The CBA has produced an experiential learning guide that both explains the theory behind experiential learning and how it works, and provides a workbook with exercises for law students to complete to enhance their understanding of and takeaways from their hands-on legal experience (or in the book’s terms, “work-integrated learning.”

Learning Law in Place is one of a series of Canadian Bar Association projects emerging from the CBA’s 2013 report, Reaching Equal Justice, which challenges all those working in the justice system to think deeply about what they can do to move toward equal justice.

It is “written to enhance learning from experience in an access to justice context, with the goal of ensuring that increasing numbers of law school graduates and young lawyers are committed to advancing equal justice,” the guide says. “It is intended to be one tool directed toward the larger pedagogical mission of supporting access to justice through legal education. At the same time, it is designed to both gradually change the legal profession’s understanding of access to justice as a right, and also an integral part of lawyers’ professional responsibilities.”

Most learning during law school is of the passive variety – listening to lectures. “That approach can be useful for communicating a lot of complicated information; however, students often report challenges when asked to apply their knowledge to a real-life situation, especially with a client,” the guide says.

The workbook, which is available in PDF form, was created for students to use during internships, in student legal clinic work, during pro bono placements, law-related summer jobs, project-based law classes, during simulation exercises, articling placements and all other law practice-related tasks, to plan and prepare for hands-on learning, and to enhance what they’ve learned from that practical work.

“It encourages self-direction and self-reflection, thinking through the critical issues likely to come up in your work-integrated-learning experience,” and includes reflective practices and exercises relevant to a variety of situations, including becoming aware of existing attitudes and biases, dealing with vulnerable clients, developing a professional demeanour, and learning how to process feedback in order to make it a productive part of your experience. There is also a section focusing on wellness, an important consideration at any stage of a lawyer’s career.

Learning Law in Place is available as a practice tool in the Publications and Resources section of the CBA website.