Introducing a ‘Third Space’ approach in the clinical legal education context

This presentation reports on strategies used by the Flinders Legal Advice Clinic to build law students’ reflective practice and workplace resilience capabilities. These include Wellness sessions during Induction, reinforcing reflective and reflexive practice using peer performance reviews, and most recently the introduction of ‘Third Space’1 techniques.

Literature over the last two decades clearly shows that both law students and legal professionals experience psychological distress and mental ill health at significant levels. Stressors include the nature of the work environment; levels of autonomy or lack of autonomy; workload and deadline pressures; and the types of work being undertaken, especially where that involves exposure to confronting or distressing material.

Law students come from increasingly diverse backgrounds and many have little personal knowledge of lawyers nor experience of working in professional environments. For these law students, interactions with supervisors and colleagues in the clinical context, and the intensity of responding to the time critical needs of real clinic clients can be as much of a shock and pressure as the nature of the work required to be undertaken. Where clinical legal education programs do not seek to build students’ capacity to successfully navigate these challenges, then that clinical education context itself may have the impact of magnifying stressors for students or causing distress.

In February 2017, the Flinders Legal Advice Clinic introduced the ‘Third Space’ concept to student interns as a key strategy for supporting students to develop workplace and personal resilience tools. ‘Third Space’, developed by Dr Adam Fraser2, aims to assist people to use ‘that moment of transition between a first activity and the second that follows it…, to mentally 'show up' right for whatever comes next.’3 ‘Third Space’ builds on earlier strategies developed since 2014 which include Wellness sessions as a key component of the Clinic’s Induction process, and peer performance reviews designed to allow student interns to reflect on their own participation in the clinic and to provide feedback for their peers. These existing programs not only allow students to reflect on their own performance and possible areas of challenge and improvement, but also to gain understanding of the perception others have of them in the workplace context. The addition of the ‘Third Space’ approach has enriched the existing multi-layered structure to facilitate ongoing reflective practices and the development of resilience strategies which can be applied outside the clinical environment.

Feedback from interns has shown how valuable this process has been in helping them recognise their strengths and weaknesses, areas for potential improvement, and strategies that they can use to overcome challenges.

IJCLE Conference Presentation [.ppt]