These days at Osgoode PD, we’re working on not only on what gets taught, but we’re also experimenting with how things are taught. A recent major experiential education initiative involved supporting the work of Professor Paul Maharg in integrating Simulated Clients into teaching lawyering skills, in this case, client interviewing skills.
Simulated Clients (SCs) go beyond role-playing and are rigorously trained to engage in a client narrative and to assess students’ skills and attitudes. It’s a technique used extensively in medical education (with standardized patients) and is used at a growing number of law schools. Osgoode is the first Canadian law school to pilot the technique.
In the Fall of 2018, Professor Maharg trained 10 SCs for a pilot in the JD. The SCs not only had to learn the narratives cold (with several layers of key facts being available depending on the interviewer’s skill), they had to learn what and how to assess interviewing skills and achieve a standardized assessment approach. I joined one of the early training sessions and was called upon to interview one of the “SCs–in- training”. The other SCs observed and then assessed how well I did on several measures. My scores were gathered on a whiteboard and then analyzed with a view to the SCs coming to a consensus on scoring. The SCs’ impressive mastery of their narratives at that early stage and their vigorous engagement in learning the assessment made me excited for the JD students in the pilot.
290 JD students in Professor Shelley Kierstead’s first year Legal Process course interviewed a SC over a week in January of 2019. They got feedback from the SC plus a videotape of their interview to take away. The following week, they had a second opportunity to interview, this time with another SC, and they got feedback in turn from that SC.
The students loved it. When asked “did you find this a worthwhile activity?” these were some replies:
“One of my favourite and most worthwhile opportunities all year”
“Great opportunity […] good low-stress experience”
“I loved the feedback that the simulated client gave me. She was honest (but also kind). I haven’t viewed my video yet but I’m sure it will be very useful to see my questions/demeanour, etc.”
“The feedback was splendid. I see where I need to improve and the strengths that I can hone…”
Now that we have a core of trained SCs, we plan to expand their use. An Osgoode PD Family Practice skills program is in development featuring multiple uses of SCs, and Criminal Law and Elder Law are next up. Our vision is that Sim Clients will become a transformative teaching and learning tool, putting a human being at the heart of solving legal problems.