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Valuing what clients think : standardized clients and the assessment of clinical competence

Barton, Karen and Cunningham, Clark D. and Jones, Gregory Todd and Maharg, Paul (2006) Valuing what clients think : standardized clients and the assessment of clinical competence. Clinical Law Review, 13 (1). pp. 1-65. ISSN 1079-1159

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Abstract

An international and interdisciplinary team from the Glasgow Graduate School of Law (GGSL) and the Dundee Medical School - in Scotland - and the Georgia State University College of Law (GSU) - in the United States - has undertaken an ambitious project to change the way lawyer-client communication skills are taught and assessed. Medical education in both America and Great Britain has been trans-formed by a new methodology for assessing competence in patient communication: the use of intensively-trained lay persons who present standardized patient scenarios to medical candidates and then assess the candidates’ performance. GGSL is the site for a series of pilot projects testing whether a similar methodology using standardized clients (SCs) would be as valid, reliable and cost-effective as the current GGSL approach, which is widely used by many law schools, of having client roles played by students with assessment based on law teacher review of the interview videotape. These projects culminated in January 2006 with a graded interviewing exercise that GGSL students must pass in order eventually to be eligible for a law license. Over 250 GGSL students conducted this exercise with SCs, and the SC assessments were analyzed and compared with law teachers’ evaluations of the interview videotapes. The results strongly indicated that assessment by SCs was sufficiently valid and reliable to be used for a high-stakes examination in legal education. As a direct result of this project, the way lawyer skills are taught and assessed is undergoing fundamental change not only at GGSL but elsewhere in Great Britain.