|dc.description.abstract||This thesis explores the issue of supervision in the legal profession, with a focus on supervised practice. Supervised practice is a form of work-based training and acts as an important segue between formal university-based legal education and independent legal practice.
Supervision is an important issue relevant to a number of contemporary legal education and legal profession debates including: the legal education framework; changes in the nature of legal practice driven by technology; and mental health and well-being. Despite this, the area remains very underdeveloped in the literature. There is some indirect empirical evidence that identifies supervision as important to the development and well-being of lawyers. However, a conceptual understanding of supervision, and the processes it includes, is absent in the literature. Specifically, there is no evidence that identifies the nature of supervision received during supervised practice, whether that supervision is effective and what the impact of that supervision is.
This thesis will address this gap in the literature by asking and answering the following Central Research Question: “What are the implications of the legal profession’s current conception of, and approach to, supervision during supervised practice?” This gap in the literature will be addressed by developing an empirically supported theoretical understanding of supervision in legal practice, which surprisingly is yet to be done. The empirical dimension of this research is derived from comprehensive, supervision-specific survey data that provides a rich source of information on the perceptions and experiences of a broad cross section of practising lawyers in Queensland.
This thesis relies on a mixed-methods approach to answer the central research question by developing a conceptual framework used to guide and inform the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. Developing the conceptual framework includes a review and analysis of aspects of the legal education, legal profession and legal practice management literature. This uncovers that supervision in legal practice is conceived primarily as a tool for risk management and profitability.
The legal profession’s approach to supervision is myopic when contrasted with supervision in other professional disciplines. The supervision scholarship in other related endeavours has a stronger theoretical foundation and evidence base. In other professional disciplines, supervision is conceived as a multi-functional, relationship-based endeavour concerned with training and development in the workplace. Effective supervision is underpinned by a strong supervisory relationship supported by a range of mechanisms including regular and frequent meetings.
When positioned against the literature in other professional disciplines, the legal profession’s conception of supervision can be described in terms of focussing on normative (management) functions with an emphasis on monitoring. This is a limited form of administrative supervision and deficient in its lack of focus on formative (training) and restorative (supportive) functions.
The survey data provides evidence that current supervision practices are likely to be ineffective for several reasons including a failure to foster strong supervisory relationships. Supervisees completing supervised practice are significantly more likely than other supervisees to perceive their supervision as inappropriate given their lack of practice experience. There are number of reasons why this is the case. The main underlying reason is that supervision fails to act as a forum for training, development and support. In addition, the supervisory relationship is weakened by a failure to structure supervision around regular frequent meetings and create an environment where supervisees generally feel able to disagree with their supervisor.
These factors together provide evidence that the impact of current supervision practices is that lawyers completing supervised practice are at a high risk of not receiving the training and development needed at this stage of their legal training. From this central finding, this thesis makes a number of recommendations directed at the legal profession (including law societies, admitting authorities and individual firms) about how to respond to this challenge. In addition, this thesis also identifies a series of prospects for further research to build on these base-line findings in an underdeveloped area of scholarship.||