Glastonbury or academic conference? Welcome to the Connections in Legal Education Fest!

In this blog post for the School of Law, Courtney Leader writes about how the CLE Fest embraced collaborative pedagogy in the legal academy.

Imagine Glastonbury, but for legal education! Community-created floral arrangements, a colourful piñata, Instagram photo props and even bubble machines – the Connections in Legal education Fest was not your typical academic conference. Held at the School of Law, University of Leeds, on 20 June 2024, the event brought together and celebrated passionate legal educators. Professor Lydia Bleasdale, Dr Verona Ní Drisceoil and Professor Michael Doherty created the perfect environment for us to share, learn and celebrate the creative minds of legal education.

The fest was inaugurated by  Ishan Kolhatkar who captivated us all with his instructions to embrace our inner barristers. He explained how children’s musical instruments would signal the speakers’ time and managed to reference Will Smith at the Oscars for a humorous touch.  The CLE team wrapped up the opening with a powerful message: ‘Be excellent to each other and party on, dudes’.

Confidence and community

At the heart of the fest was how, together, we can empower our students and promote wellness through their educational experience. Since the day began, it was emphasised that good communication can help to convert challenges into opportunities. This message was confirmed through presentations and discussions that consistently evidenced what can be learnt from an open dialogue with students, colleagues, and legal professionals. Insights shared throughout the day revealed the emotional barriers that our students often face, emphasising the need for constructive approaches and a supportive community. Something that struck me was the power of connection within the legal network not only to enhance legal education but well-being too.

Lunchtime fun

The sunny Yorkshire weather allowed us to enjoy the gardens surrounding the Liberty Building at lunch. Our wonderful Leeds law student assistants were on hand to capture the excitement and enthusiasm of the vibrantly dressed attendees (and to help determine who wore the best hat of the day). During the break, we were invited to engage in a ‘talking to trees’ advocacy training exercise and a tote bag crafting workshop. These activities furthered the sense of connection that was central to the day and highlighted how we can engage our students in diverse and interactive ways. Plus, I now have a handmade memento!

Diversity and inclusion

We gained valuable intellectual insights from the speakers and were able to celebrate the successes of their initiatives. Many of these were focused on widening participation and supporting under-represented groups. I was inspired by the collaborative learning approaches, skills development support and practical engagement activities discussed, and I will certainly be incorporating these ideas into my classroom. It was clear that everyone present was committed to ensuring that all students feel valued and supported and shared a dedication to embracing diversity and fostering inclusion.

Skills development and innovative teaching

Throughout the day, legal, practical and technology skills were a focal point of many of the talks. I was greatly influenced by the emphasis on integrating students’ personalities into their learning experience and the importance of students acquiring essential skills early on in their legal learning journey. We were also able to engage with some truly innovative teaching practices in a series of interactive workshops. These included activities like school tasking, drawing clues for a case and a legal Jenga game! The creative approaches that were showcased really captured what Connecting Legal Education is all about.

A memorable conclusion

The day came to a close with a memorable experience: a silent disco. Seeing everyone moving and grooving encapsulated the spirit of the fest – connecting, collaborating, and taking enjoyment from the work that we do.

By Courtney Leader