Throughout 2013-14, the Social Sciences cluster is co-ordinating a strategic priority that focuses on the impact and implications of the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR). For further details of this priority please see http://bit.ly/1ezsxUf.
In January 2014 we held a learning and teaching summit that was designed to provide an opportunity to bring together an expert audience to discuss and plan actions on a key area of our work. Below you will find links to the presentations given during the summit. We will keep the community updated on further developments resulting from this summit via this blog.
The first day of the summit opened with three presentations from our keynote speakers -Becky Huxley-Binns (Nottingham Trent University), Paul Maharg (Australian National University) and Nigel Duncan (City University).
Becky Huxley-Binns is Professor of Legal Education and Co-Director for the Centre for Legal Education at Nottingham Trent University. She is Chair of the Association of Law Teachers and is widely published in Criminal Law, English Legal System and legal education. She was awarded UK Law Teacher of the Year in 2010 and was appointed a National Teaching Fellow in 2012. She is also a Senior Fellow of the HEA and convenes the National Student Law Forum as an Academic Associate of the HEA.
Summarising her presentation Becky said "Isn’t change hard? Isn’t the future both exciting and scary? As much as we might have lamented the regulations and restrictions which mandated the how and sometimes the what of legal education and training, they brought some comfort because we knew where we were and what we had to do (and we sometimes even hid behind them (“ah, well, you see, the PSRB says...”). There exists now both the opportunity for each law school to create a USP and a challenge for each law school to create a USP. We are not yet sure how much flexibility there will be, but I bet each law school is reflecting on its provision and on the market and reconsidering its curriculum, against the best market intelligence of its competitors. But for the community of legal educators, for the legal academy itself, there is both a desire and a need for collaboration. My keynote will be about the nature of collaboration, and the contribution legal academics and legal service providers, and the HEA, can and should make to working together for a strong legal education and training future."
Paul Maharg is Professor of Law at the Australian National University College of Law, and part-time Professor of Law, Nottingham Law School. Prior to this he was Professor of Legal Education at Northumbria Law School, and Professor of Law in the Glasgow Graduate School (GGSL), University of Strathclyde where he was Co-Director of Legal Practice Courses, and Director of the innovative Learning Technologies Development Unit at the GGSL, as well as Director of the two-year, JISC/UKCLE-funded project, SIMPLE (SIMulated Professional Learning Environment). He is the author of numerous books on legal education.
Summarising his presentation Paul said "The LETR report recently identified ways in which the quality, accessibility and flexibility of legal services education and training (LSET) could be enhanced; and proposed a range of incremental but collectively significant reforms. These reforms were evidence-based, but were also based on future projections that took into account trends in horizontal and vertical mobility, market fluidity, uncertain quality standards, changing forms of knowledge and skills, and increasing cost barriers to legal education. All these factors, while impacting LSET, also have effects on academic law programmes where the issues facing law schools include the undergraduate financing of LLBs and its effects on mature and part-time students, the standards of the degrees, the system of external examining and QA generally, the effects of NSS, the effects of emergent digital technologies, the precarious reliance upon postgraduate taught courses to fund departmental and school initiatives and the rise of private legal education providers, backed by corporate finance.
In this brief presentation I shall argue that as the regulatory framework for both LSET and academic programmes shifts in the future, innovation in curriculum design and re-definition of the function and methods of legal education will become increasingly important. As a result law schools will need to be more active in the future in reshaping legal education, both within and without law schools, and particularly in their relationships with regulators. They will also need to produce legal educational research that can support evidence-based claims about legal education. As LETR has pointed out, the gathering of better-quality quantitative demographic, diversity and progression data is essential, together with on-going evaluation of education taking place in new legal entities such as ABSs; and all within a global context. In addition, the quality of our educational research, in comparison to the research processes and outputs of sister disciplines such as medical education, needs to improve; and I shall explore contexts and areas in which improvement can be brought about."
Nigel Duncan is Professor of Legal Education at The City Law School, City University, London. He is Course Director of the LLM in Professional Legal Skills. His main teaching is on the Bar Professional Training Course where he supervises the FRU Option which involves students in representing real clients in the employment tribunals. He also teaches an LLM in Criminal Litigation and supervises student dissertations. He is Academic Lead for Assessment for City University London and a University Teaching and Learning Fellow.
Summarising his presentation Nigel said "The LETR finds: “The centrality of professional ethics and legal values to practice across the regulated workforce is one of the clearest conclusions to be drawn from the LETR research data, …”. It recommends that: “LSET schemes should include appropriate learning outcomes in respect of professional ethics, …” (Rec 6), and “The learning outcomes at initial stages of LSET should include reference (as appropriate to the individual practitioner’s role) to an understanding of the relationship between morality and law, the values underpinning the legal system, and the role of lawyers in relation to those values.” (Rec 7). Furthermore, the regulators are seeking greater flexibility in the processes by which individuals may become qualified to provide legal services and propose regulation by outcomes, which is likely to imply less prescription of the content of legal education programmes. In this changing environment law schools face the challenge of proving the inherent value of their programmes and have the opportunity to develop a genuinely distinctive offering which meets the interests of their students and their faculty. This keynote will explore the variety of approaches which might be adopted to considering how the relationship between morality and law, the values underpinning the legal system, and the role of lawyers in relation to those values might be addressed most effectively into undergraduate law degrees. In so doing it will consider the perceived dichotomy between providing a liberal education and meeting the needs of the profession in the light of the guidance in para 7.89 of the LETR Report. It will make use of the insights drawn from the series of Teaching Legal Ethics UK workshops held over the last two years and make proposals for future collaboration."
These three keynotes were followed by a panel discussion with questions from the delegates, which was chaired by our discussant Richard Kirkham (University of Sheffield).
The second day of the summit began with presentations from colleagues involved in either organising events as part of the HEA Social Sciences workshop and seminar series 2013 - 14 or who will be leading projects we have funded as part of our work for this strategic priority.
Richard Whitecross is Lecturer in EU Law, Dispute Resolution and Obligations at the School of Accounting, Edinburgh Napier University. Summarising his presentation Richard said " The Legal Education and Training Report (June 2013) identified three broad areas of concern. The first area of concern highlights the need to strengthen how legal ethics, values and professionalism are taught. The second on the importance of developing legal writing, research and reasoning skills. Finally, the importance of students (with support from their institutions) taking responsibility in planning their personal and professional development. Although the LETR focussed on legal education and training in England and Wales these three broad areas apply equally to the Scottish legal education context. This presentation focuses on work in progress that relates to the third theme, the need to embed Personal Development Plans (PDPs) from Year 1. The LETR notes that general skills are embedded across LLB subjects. However, there is no consistent approach to ensure that students develop and maintain a PDP that captures the skills embedded in the LLB core courses. This weakness impacts on law students from less privileged backgrounds. To ensure an explicit focus on PDPs from the start of their university career this project will seek to develop a model for the development of student PDPs incrementally from Year 1 – Year 4. The presentation will outline the approach being taken in the project and how lessons from the project will be communicated."
Emma Flint is Senior Lecturer at the School of Law, Birmingham City University. Summarising her presentation Emma said "It is essential that a modern law curriculum should embed legal skills into substantive teaching to avoid the danger of legal skills potentially being treated as a 'bolt-on' to teaching. If legal skills are not embedded in this way, we run the danger of students viewing them as an unimportant part of their learning. This may partially explain why the LETR and Susskind found that many law graduates in England and Wales are unprepared for undertaking legal work as currently required. At BCU, we have already undertaken a review of parts of our curriculum to ensure that legal skills are not just taught but are also assessed as part of the learning journey of our students. Within the Law School at BCU there is a growing recognition that as a lifelong skill, reflection is crucial to students’ learning and, importantly, that students need help in order to reflect effectively. We want to help our students to develop as reflective practitioners and to set them on a path towards lifelong learning that will enable them to reflect on their performance not just as a student but as a legal practitioner. We want them to evaluate their practice, act on feedback and improve their performance at both the academic stage of their training and into their careers. We sometimes assume that students will instinctively know how to reflect on their progress but we rarely check this and it is usually not assessed. We have also come to recognise that in many law assessments what is assessed is 'product' rather than 'process'. Our perception is that legal writing is not always assessed at undergraduate level – we assess knowledge, application, evaluation but not necessarily communication. For example, we might mark an essay or an answer to a problem question but rarely assess how the student has arrived at their answer – which arguably is the more valuable in terms of their learning. Equally in assessing students through traditional exam / coursework style assessments, we are encouraging particular forms of academic writing and are not necessarily preparing students for practice where they will have to write for different audiences. Our experience in use of eLearning methods, in particular the use of ePortfolios, has helped us to re-evaluate our teaching and assessment methods, something Susskind advocated for all law academics. The Law School at BCU rolled out the use of ePortfolios at level 4 in 2010/11 in a standalone Skills based module. After evaluating student responses to the use of ePortfolios, in 2013/14 we have developed and extended their use at Level 5 core LLB Module, Land Law. The re-design project has involved a shift away from the traditional end of year exam to a portfolio approach where students will evidence their learning journey through the module. By introducing the use of ePortfolios into land law along the lines advocated by Susskind, we are using eLearning in “the creation of new and often transformative ways of educating and learning”. Assessment within the module comprises of reflection (reflective journal), research and evaluation skills (annotated bibliography) and writing (memorandum of advice to training principal). The assessment and formative opportunities linked to it are embedded into the design of the curriculum. The aim is to embed research and writing skills in the curriculum and reinforce their importance as part of the learning process and to address the skill of legal writing in different formats and for different audiences.
Lucy Yeatman is a Senior Lecturer in Law and Sarah Crofts is Law Librarian and Associate Teaching Fellow, both at the University of Greenwich. Summarising their presentation Lucy and Sarah said "The LETR identified that “legal research skills are not sufficiently acquired by the end of the academic stage” and recommended the introduction of distinct assessment in legal research to the LLB. This presentation will look at ways in which legal research skills can be developed and assessed within a qualifying law degree. In the presentation we will describe how we embed research skills across the curriculum at Greenwich. The specialist law librarian is a valued member of the teaching team and is included in all departmental meetings and emails. We co-ordinate the teaching of legal research skills with the law librarian across different courses, developing them throughout the three years of the undergraduate degree. Students learn skills best within a meaningful context, so using carefully planned constructive alignment we have developed legal research teaching within the knowledge-based curriculum. Research skills are taught at all three levels within both core and optional courses. We will also look at what is meant by “research skills”. In our view it is much more than just finding a case on a database. Research is about identifying a problem, finding relevant law and comment, reading and understanding relevant law and comment and summarising it. It is only by working in partnership that law lecturers and librarians can train students to be competent at independent legal research. Finally we will address some of the perceived tensions between skills teaching and academic content. It is our view that skills teaching should not be seen as a soft option or as something that takes time away from academic content. Universities have an important role to play in widening access to the professions and equipping students to enter graduate employment and giving specific skills training is a way of enabling students to work independently and develop the confidence. Skills teaching is an important aspect of the student journey which enhances their learning of core subject matter through a deeper engagement with both primary and secondary sources of law."
Rosemary Auchmuty is Director of Teaching and Learning at the School of Law, University of Reading. Summarising her presentation Rosemary said "It used to be assumed that students would have a grasp of basic research skills on arrival at university or would pick them up in the course of their studies. Law librarians would conduct a library ‘tour’ (physical or virtual) and that was the end of their involvement in the law curriculum. When it became apparent that students (both home and, especially, international) did not have the requisite skills, most law schools introduced an element of research training into a Legal Skills module in the first year of the LLB, in which the law librarian might be offered a single slot to showcase his or her wares. The problem with Legal Skills modules, however, is that students often fail to see their on-going relevance and, having passed the assessments, promptly forget much of what they have learnt. Yet when students seek an answer to a legal research query, it is often to the law librarian and not the law teacher that they turn. Law librarians have in fact been doing much of the legal research training of our students without a formal pedagogic role, and sometimes without the academics’ fully grasping what they are doing; and have indeed produced significant professional statements of legal information literacy skills. With so much emphasis on the importance of legal research skills these days (e.g. in the recent Legal Education and Training Review Report), we need to work even more closely together."
Jane Krishnadas is Lecturer/Director of Community Legal Outreach Collaboration at Keele University. Summarising her presentation Jane said "The Community Legal Outreach Collaboration, Keele (CLOCK) was inspired by Keele 'Law in Action' students' drive to bridge unmet legal needs. The partners launched a holistic strategy of education, research and innovation, to develop professional, ethical, commercial and social collaboration for access to justice. The Community Legal Companion is an innovative role premised upon the McKenzie Friend Principle, which affirms the right to assistance though filling in forms, organising papers, accompanying in court and note-taking. The CLC acts to assist, identify and refer legal aid, mediation and affordable legal services with judicial endorsement to attend civil, family, criminal, and tribunal proceedings. The collaborative training is delivered by academics, judiciary, legal and charitable professionals towards the Keele University Employability Achievement Award. CLC's are based at the official CLC desk in Stoke Combined Court and refer to mediation, law firm, barrister and charitable services. The critical evaluation of the data informs research and policy contributions. Drawing upon student, professional and litigant reflections, this paper will consider the potential of the CLC in legal education to act as an intermediary to pivot public, private and third sector legal services, synchronising a timely hand to identify and respond to intersecting complex legal needs."
These presentations were followed by round-table discussions of the various issues raised and of how the HEA might further develop their work in this area in the future. We will keep the community updated on further developments via this blog. If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please use the 'leave a reply' facility below.