“Student assessment in the clinical environment – what can we learn from the US experience?”


  • Ross Hyams Monash University




Clinical legal education has a relatively short history in Australia of some thirty years. By contrast, the US has a much longer and diverse history of clinical pedagogy and has been successfully teaching and assessing students in University legal clinics for over half a century. Traditional law school teaching methodology relies heavily on the Langdellian style of lectures, tutorials and then a form of summative evaluation. Clinical pedagogy is a radical departure from this style and as such assessment of clinical students necessitates a different approach. Clinicians have a duty to offer assessment regimes which complement the clinical technique of law teaching.This paper proceeds from the fundamental premise that there is a distinct purpose in assessing clinical students. As clinic is often only offered in the latter years of a law degree, it is the culmination of a student’s law school experience and thus seen by many students as the “testing ground” as to whether they can actually be a lawyer and what sort of lawyer they might be. The underlying objective of assessment in a clinical environment is to measure the development and progress of individual legal skills in each student enrolled in the clinic. This is not a normative measure and thus clinical assessment cannot be based upon objective standards. In this author’s view, assessment in clinic is about the development of legal, personal and ethical skills which is distinctive to the individual student – progressing students in their own personal development track.This paper investigates the issue of student assessment in the clinical environment and provides a comparative analysis of the US and Australian clinical assessment experience and the different assessment regimes currently being utilized in the clinical environment. It investigates whether the “younger” clinical programs in Australia can learn from the US experience. It considers what, if anything, might be adapted from that jurisdiction that would be relevant and appropriate for the Australian clinical environment.