A reflective account explaining the road to the point of embarking on a professional doctorate



The theory differs from practice, but both are fields of the same science. A practitioner, who is a carrier of the relevant theoretical knowledge (TK) must react to a real problem by applying the existed TK. This conception is vague. The only mechanism for the application of theory in practice is the mind of the actor. Further, even its exact use in practice is not enough for the successful treatment of the problem. The reality is complicated; there is always something which is missing from the abstract theoretical level. Within this gap, between theory and practice, there is room to conceive and develop a ground for their reciprocal relationship; this could be the reflection. This assignment discusses the reflection in professional lawyering.

Reflection-from-theory / in practice

When a practitioner (lawyer) reacts to an event, she reflects (Schön, 1983) on the TK to create new practical knowledge (PK). The reflection-in-practice is not executed in specific steps, and it has nothing to do with the intuition (Casey, 2013). The use of intuition excludes the use of mind, but the practitioner does not react to the event like an animal to its food. The previous TK, when absorbed, it cultivates the way of thinking and acting in hypothetical scenarios. A person without the same TK will be unable to react in the same way to the same event. For instance, people usually think that they can be lawyers because the lawyers do nothing better or more than all the other people. These actors cannot use the same pool to reflect in their actions, but they reflect in a way, possibly using their images, perceptions, or experiences. The professional practitioner, who serves a science, differs from all these actors because of her ability to reflect also on the TK.

The reflection-in-practice is unconscious, but not mindless. The practice is a complex environment affected by external factors. The application of theory in practice is a cognitive process for confirmation or differentiation of a theoretical approach, rather than a planned simulation (Husebø, O’Regan & Nestel, 1983, 2015). The practitioner has an intention. Namely, she says herself that she is going to apply her knowledge to practice. The lack of time at the moment of action is not relevant (Eraut, 1995). The reflection-in-practice is done with or without time, and it is possibly bad or good. The process which needs time takes place after the treatment of the problem when the practitioner reflects-on-practice.

The circular RRR model

Any new event is a unique context for reflection on previous knowledge, in practice, and for new PK, which respectively shall become TK. Namely, after the completion of the procedures of reflection-in-practice (RIP) (from theory) and reflection-on-practice (ROP) (for theory and practice), there is a very critical stage which is the reflection-from-practice (RFP) (to theory). RFP differs from reflection-about-practice or reflection-for-practice (Zeichner, 1993; Schön, 1983). The transformation of PK into TK (“theorization” of practical knowledge) is not well-discussed (Kolb’s, 1984). In lawyering, a circular approach is preferred, where the lawyer moves from RIP to ROP, and from ROP to RFP (RIP-ROP-RFP / RRR), and she makes RRR cycles.

The practitioner does not produce PK only in unique or uncertain conditions, but anytime she needs to react to an event. PK is experimental up to the point that it uses the exploration of the experience to confirm, correct, or even make the theory (Clarke, James & Kelly, 1996). However, it is conceived to be something more than the experimental knowledge of a researcher; particularly when it returns to the theoretical level, to be integrated with the science (scientification of the experience).

In RRR the practitioner does not reflect-on-practice only to improve her practice (Schön, 1983). The “epistemology of practice” is not accepted in the same way as in Schön’s (1983, 1991) literature. It does not emphasize enough on the fact the practitioner is a carrier of the same scientific knowledge, who is posed to the field of practice to serve the same science continuously, with this capacity of being a practitioner. The same is done by the researcher, but in a temporary or limited base, and from the position of a researcher. Each science has three distinct fields: the theory (including philosophy), the research, and the practice, and all these areas must communicate each-other to have an entirely socialized science.

In RRR model, the ROP stage is more complicated. The practitioner must evaluate the treatment of the past event, and see how much TK she used, how much new or different PK she produced, and how this PK interacts with the existent theory and it can be codified as new TK for the specific or similar events. However, this process is not a so strictly structured debriefing, as in Gibb’s (1988) reflective cycles, in midwifery. For example, when a lawyer omits to object, during a trial and the cross-examination of her client, she will probably reflect on this practice later, and she will start thinking: Should I object there? Why? What are the consequences of omitting so? What could I do to correct this omission? Should I fix it? At the same time, she will not improve only her future practice (in next hearing or trial), but she will form an internal theoretical rule, that any time she omits to object, the meaning is A and the possible anticipation is A-A. At the next court trial, the same omission may have the sense A, and the eventual expectation will be A-B, or it may have the meaning B, and the potential anticipation will be B-A.

When the lawyer expresses, develops and shares with others theses general rules or guidelines of A/A-A, A/A-B, B/B-A, she does not only perform the limited purposes of incorporating the PK to her future practice, and for her individual professional development (Jasper & Rosser, 2013). She returns to the abstract level of theory, where the interaction and integration of the PK with the theory becomes a new theory, instead of remaining “action” or “practice”. The treatment of the next events shall consist new circles of RRRs, and the more completed RRRs shall consist more science; not just further experience.

Making “knowing-how” guidelines is an indication of professionalism, but these can be prepared by any other actor who wants to appear herself as a professional. Although RIP-ROP (incomplete circles) could be indicative of a good standard of professionalism in the field of practice, studying professionalism in depth (through a professional doctorate) is also a step forward. It is about making circles of RRRs more consciously and learning how to investigate, persist on, express and share the scientific side of the professionalism.

More about RRR in lawyering

Reflection is an integral part of lawyering, particularly litigation lawyering (LIT). Law is the regulation of relationships of persons with other persons or with things, which itself reflects and it is reflected by some existed theories in sociology, criminology, psychology, and elsewhere. Even though the law is a social tool, it is also an autonomous science. Thus, it remains on the theoretical level until its application to the specific dispute, and the creation of the “case law” which, in turn, affects the treatment of the next similar cases, and the TK of the law, and of other sciences expressed through or by the law. Beyond this external reflection, there are inner circles of RRR; there are theoretical tools, like “procedural law” “evidence law” “professional ethics” which safeguard the application of the substantial law (like criminal law or civil law) from unregulated or unfair practices. Even though they are theoretical themselves (so they could be studied and taught only in theory), they must be used in practice, to apply the substantial law in the specific event (dispute) and to confirm the validity of the existed theory and science.

A lawyer who cannot act reflectively possibly will keep an “autistic” stance against the science of law; in the worst situation, she may forget the science of law. This possibility might also be a reason for which the overemphasis on the “epistemology of practice” creates the fear of encouraging “autistic” or scientifically unlinked and unfounded law practices. The risk of an “autistic” stance against the science is evident in LIT for many reasons. The real practice of law is the “uncharted waters” of the science of law since each lawyer hides her own “knowing-how” guidelines, as they were her good, competitive, mystic power. Of course, losing the connection with the science of law would expose the liberty or the assets of people in danger. Therefore, instead of discussing the “epistemology of practice” it might be more helpful to discuss the advantageous habit of scientification / theorization of the practical experiences of the professional actors. In this instance, the RFP is the most crucial stage, which can differentiate the scientific from the unscientific professional actor. The purpose of this differentiation is beyond, without excluding, the professional development of the actor; it is about the completion of science.

Embarking on a professional doctorate

Having the above thoughts, it may be evident that the personal journey to the point of beginning a professional doctorate shall not only for a kind of professional development. In the contemporary era, a licensed lawyer needs to find the ways to produce useful PK (able to be theorized) and to create the necessary bridges to respond back and inform the science of law. RRR constitutes a challenge, more exciting and innovative than doing research or participating in a theoretical discussion. Namely, by proving the importance of the practical side of the science of law for/to the whole science of law (particularly criminal law, criminal justice, criminology and forensic psychology) shall be considered as a contribution to the social destination of the science of law.

The simplification, communication, and socialization of the law and justice through different tools (like psychology, literature, arts, games, technology) is among the individual research interests, which could be characterized as more intense than others. This personal journey follows both academic knowledge and research skills (TK), which have been obtained through three post-graduate research degrees (in health care ethics and law, forensic and legal psychology and child legal studies), and a 12-years professional experience in LIT. Trying to link the academic background to the existent practice areas and to maintain a reciprocal relationship, the RRR model (completed reflection) is preferable.

Reflecting here and everywhere

Sometimes the discussion about reflection within a “professional context” creates some confusion. The reflection can take place in practice out of the context of a “profession” when the actor is a carrier of relative TK, but she is not a professional. In this instance, if one was taught how to be a cars’ engineer, but he does not work as a car engineer, he may be still able to reflect during the repair of his car (incomplete RIP-ROP model). Although the reflection may be considered as a necessary tool for “professionals” which leads to more science-informed practices and practice-informed sciences, and to self-improvement through the development of creative thinking and metacognitive skills (Casey, 2013), professionalism is not only about reflective practices. An essential notifying difference of professionalism is the RFP stage, which reminds to the lawyer that she serves and represents a social science, and she is the link which is closer to the society. By writing this assignment a small RRR circle is completed, but the current expectation (deriving from the already formed theory and the experience of writing this piece of work) is that more RRR circles are to be completed until the end of this doctorate program, which shall satisfy the imperative of enhancing the RRR competency.

Casey, T. (2013). Reflective practice in legal education: the stages of reflection. Clinical Law Review, 20, 317 – 354.

Clarke, B., James, C. & Kelly, J. (1996). Reflective practice: reviewing the issues and refocusing the debate. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 33, 171 – 180.

Eraut, M. (1995). Schon Shock: a case for reforming reflection-in-action? Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 1, 9 – 22.

Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing. A guide to teaching and learning methods. London: Further Education Unit at Oxford Polytechnic.

Husebø, S. E., O’Regan, S. & Nestel, D. (2015). Reflective practice and its role to simulation. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 11, 368 – 275.

Husebø, S. E., O’Regan, S. & Nestel, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith.

Jasper, M. & Rosser, M. (2013). Reflection and reflective practice. In M. Rosser, G.P. Mooney, M. Jasper (Eds.), Professional development, reflection and decision-making in nursing and healthcare (pp. 41 – 82). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Schön, D. A. (1991). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Aldershot: Avebury.

Schön, D. A. (1987). Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Zeichner, K. M. (1993). Action research: Personal renewal and social reconstruction. Educational Action Research, 1, 199 – 220.

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