Equality and Diversity in Legal Education 3

And here’s the third and final part of  my reflections on the workshop on Equality and Diversity in Legal Education. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here.

After lunch we had another set of parallel sessions and I chaired Session 2B. The  first paper picked up the theme of ‘polish’ and helping students to assimilate. Dominic De Saulles took a pragmatic view that the legal culture at the Bar is what it is and then considered our responsibilities and duties to those of our students aspiring to the bar.img_1422

He noted the significant ethical challenges we face in helping or even encouraging students to join that legal culture which might mean they have to ascribe to values they find unpalatable and lose some of their sense of self in doing so. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the Kantian ethics justification for helping students learn to pass as barristers but I need to think about this a bit more. It seems to me that what would be more valuable is to talk about resistance and how things might be changed but I also accept that for that to be possible these non-authentic lawyers need to get into the professions otherwise there is little hope of a revolution from within! Dominic had some lovely pictures on his slides and one of my favourites was this one which shows img_1426a court room with lots of people doing things they shouldn’t be – the defendant is pleading guilty thus depriving lawyers of income, one advocate has lost the plot and is showing emotion, another id ducking rather than standing up for his client….

The second paper was given by Elisabeth Griffiths and grappled with hierarchies of rights and protection under the Equality Act 2010 and how this might play out in employer networks. She had some really interesting data on networks (or lack of networks) and we had an interesting discussion about how effective those networks might be and how much they are just for show or for ticking boxes.

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I was also interested in Elisabeth’s comments about how doing this research has impacted on her teaching and is leading her to be less doctrinal in her approach. I do think what and how we research can have an impact on how we teach certain topics. I guess this is an argument for having people teaching in areas where they are also research active but I think it probably also says something about the relationship between research and teaching more generally. I have weekend brain though so I’ll wait to think about that a bit more until I am back on working day brain!

The day finished with a roundtable with Pat Leighton asking what is special about researching equality and diversity; Charlotte O’Brien offering comments on teaching equality and diversity in the very contested Brexit context and Debra Malpass of the SRA providing some information about a call for statistical analysis and a data workshop coming up shortly (sorry I tuned out on the project call because I can’t do stats). The roundtable touched on many of the thoughts I’d had throughout the day – we need more and better information about how inequalities are playing out across legal education and training and in the professions. We need longitudinal data, we need data that is richer and deeper than a questionnaire will offer, we need high quality qualitative empirical data and we need high quality clear and comprehensive quantitative data and we need to keep talking – to each other, to our students, to those in the profession and to anyone who will listen – and, perhaps more importantly than all of those – to those who don’t want to listen. Yes, most of all we need to be talking to them!

Equality and Diversity in Legal Education 2

Here’s part 2 of my reflections on the University of Sheffield School of Law and LERN co-hosted worksop on equality and diversity in legal education.

The day continued with a parallel session where I listened to 3 papers which were all interesting and which all triggered different but related thoughts and ideas. The first was about how we can achieve  more inclusive legal education in the context of disability and it engaged with both the lack of visibility or presence of disability in the legal curriculum and problems of access to legal education for disabled students. img_1416The idea of what a good lawyer is again came up. If a good lawyer is the person who can stand the heat in the kitchen then any notion of weakness means you can never be a good lawyer. Declaring a disability or asking for an adjustment therefore becomes impossible. Hidden disabilities in particular are then easily construed as a deficit. For example you cannot be a good lawyer if you are dyslexic because law is text based and you need to read things quickly…Surely it can’t be beyond us to think about these skills differently.

The second paper was about how we can actually build a curriculum around the students in the classroom and start from their experiences. Jenny Gibbons from York Univeristy explained how she did this for her employment law module. I like this idea. You talk to your students about their experiences and knowledge and build on that – this means the content of the module has to be fluid and flexible and about developing skills and constructing knowledge, not about learning or acquiring knowledge. That can be challenging to do in an institutional context which is keen on measuring very specific learning outcomes and ensuring the equivalence of experience for all students. It is also a challenge to traditional teaching orthodoxy because the classroom experience for the teacher is less structured, less safe and less planned. That can be scary. In fact, it is scary. It’s daunting walking into a classroom not being quite sure what is going to come up, what you’re going to be discussing and where the discussions might take you. Of course it is easier to simply set some questions and go through the answers… it’s also more boring, less rewarding and less likely to actually engage the students and encourage deep learning.  So there – I’m all for asking questions you don’t know the answer to and to being open to learning from our students.

The third paper was about globalized legal education and the benefits this might bring and it got me thinking about what truly globalized legal education might be. We also talked about whether globalized legal education and/or exchange programmes could help students build the all important cultural capital (and start to develop some of the sort of professionalism required – See post  1 in this series). I’m afraid I missed some of this paper because I got sidetracked thinking about what globalised legal education would really mean. Not that I have got very far with this but I was thinking about the tensions between law being jurisdiction specific and the (perceived?) need to teach legal rules which will mostly be set in the national context and the idea of global legal education.

So by lunch time my head was already full of thoughts and ideas. I was beginning to make connections to some of the things I have been thinking about for a while and which I will pick up again soon – questions around academic identity and how that plays out in law schools and what impact that may have on students too. Watch this space – it’s currently all swirling round in my brain and I need to wait for it to settle before I manfully articulate this.

After lunch I chaired a session with two excellent papers which you can read about in part 3 and if you missed my thoughts on the keynote, have a look at part 1.

Equality and Diversity in Legal Education 1

Yesterday I attended a brilliant workshop hosted by the University of Sheffield School of Law and the Legal Education Research Network (LERN). A big thanks to Tammy Hervey for urging me to register and for reassuring me that I could come along and just be. This workshop was advertised at a time when I couldn’t even begin to imagine wanting to be in a room full of academics, never mind think about stuff. In the end I did, as Tammy predicted, have a fantastic day and enjoyed chairing a session, too.

The day kicked off with a slightly depressing and thought provoking key note by Professor Hilary Sommerlad. Depressing because research seems to be indicating that things are getting worse in the legal profession rather than better; thought provoking because there are so many barriers to equality and diversity and yet they seem to me to always come back to how we think about what a ‘good lawyer’ is. If we don’t reconceptualise that, we’ll never make any real progress. Why is it that we can’t get past this? Why is it so difficult to remove some of these barriers even where the solution appears to be blindingly obvious?

Hilary talked about two of her projects in particular. The first study is roughly 10 years old now and looked at how LPC students saw the legal field. As part of her focus groups participants drew pictures of lawyers as they saw them/imagined them and the pictures she shared were all quite similar – white, male, middle class lawyers working long hours being paid lots. Interestingly Hilary pointed out that when talking to her participants and highlighting that they were painting a picture of people that were  (in many cases anyway) very different to themselves and not very sympathetic, some participants said that this was part of the appeal. Others were also keenly aware of their otherness and the fact that they’d never fit in. It reminded me of the meal I attended at a very posh restaurant in Leicester at the beginning of my second year as a law student. I had come in the top 6 students in my year and a well known City Law Firm took us out for tea. I didn’t wear a dress, I wore trousers and a shirt. I didn’t tone down my Yorkshire accent, I didn’t hide the fact I came from a single parent family and I didn’t hide the fact I hadn’t gone to a grammar school. I ordered the wrong wine and probably the wrong thing off the menu. I chatted, happily, with the people from the firm about the privilege of going to university, the fact that I had enjoyed Tort more than Contract and that I was looking forward to spending Christmas at my Gran’s in the deepest depth of West Yorkshire. I didn’t know that this was not how you played the game – nobody had told me the rules. I didn’t know there were rules! I wish I had known. If I had I might have played better. Not because I wanted desperately to get a training contract with that firm but because if I know what the rules are I can challenge them, break them, laugh at them. I think everyone else at that dinner was invited for an interview – I never heard from them again.

Anyway, I digress. The second project Hilary talked about is a study recently published about how recruiters see talent and merit. I wasn’t surprised to hear that merit equals academic achievement. I have spoken to people responsible for recruitment who, after a glass of wine or two and a lot of nudging admitted that they want to recruit people who look different but otherwise are identical because it allows them to hit diversity statistics without actually doing anything different or risk ‘alienating clients’.  It’s disappointing and slightly sickening to see how little progress has been made in the legal profession.

The key point from the key note for me was the fact that clearly so many people self-select themselves out of a career in law or out of particular sectors within the legal professions because they don’t see themselves as fitting in. I wonder how many more select themselves out of studying law because they think it’s not for them? We need to talk about this, unpack it and challenge it. People should never have to make a decision about whether or not to follow their dreams based on having the wrong accent, the wrong parents, the wrong background, the wrong whatever it may be.

So what do we do to change things? Do we try and help our students achieve that particular type of professionalism that Professor Sommerlad talks about? Do we help polish them? This doesn’t sit comfortably with me. If we teach them to pass in that world, to assimilate we change nothing about the culture and we might well make them really quite miserable! Leaving aside the fact that I never could teach someone how to speak properly, dress to impress and talk about the right sort of things, I don’t think we should be suggesting to students that they should be doing this. However, I do think we should tell it as it is. We can’t raise aspirations without being honest about what that might mean and what students might have to deal with to get into the professions, stay there and progress. Part of our job then has to be to teach students about the sort of professionalism that is expected, about the behaviour that is expected and the sort of things some people in the professions will take for granted and that which will go unquestioned and unchallenged. I also strongly believe that teaching critical thinking skills and encouraging students to question and challenge everything is more important than ever. To go back to one of my favourite books on legal education – we need to empower students to have their own conversations, make their own choices and take their own chances (See Anthony Bradney).

The key note made me think again about what lawyering is and what it means to be a good lawyer. How do we model this in the class room? What assumptions do we make and are they justified? What messages are we sending by what we say and do in the classroom and elsewhere when engaging with students? What are we telling students about lawyers and being a lawyer? What are we not telling them? How much difference does what we say make given that they get their messages from all sorts of sources including TV series and films as well as society generally? What is our role in the identity formation of our students and what is our responsibility in all of this?

As usual I have far more questions than answers for now! For part 2 of my reflections see the next blog post and for part three, the one after that.

 

 

 

Induction 1

I am stuck on a rather delayed train from London to Leeds and while I’ve been sitting here, I’ve been reflecting on the academic induction I did yesterday. In common with other institutions Leeds Beckett University offers an induction for all staff (which I haven’t done yet but you’ll see from the title of this post that I am keeping my option open for blogging on that one too!) as well as a full day induction for new academic staff. That full day was yesterday.

So, organisational issues aside (you know me, poor organisation drives me just a little crazy and there were one or two issues) here are my thoughts.

  1. Academic inductions are impossible, just impossible to get right
  2. I would have liked to be given a pack or folder with the information in and just left alone to read. There was nothing there that I couldn’t have just read and in fact I have forgotten a lot of the stuff we were told already and will have to find it again on the website or in the various bits of literature we were given
  3. I am not sure what I would put into an academic induction
  4. I am not sure I would have two slots for the Quality people. I say this in spite of the two short talks by the Quality team actually being amongst the better ones of the day. Somehow it sent the wrong message
  5. Graduate attributes are a funny concept – they are supposed to distinguish graduates of the same subjects from different universities but this presumes that institutions have different graduate attributes. It struck me how similar those of my previous and current institutions are – they just use different terms to describe them
  6. The research people got it – they brought leaflets, said a very quick hello and then left. I now have names which I can link to faces and leaflets to remind me as and when I need information
  7. It’s good to have a slot about equality and diversity – if we have to have slots at all. I still maintain that a new academic staff folder that you’re given when you start would be better! Maybe with a networking lunch or something where new academics can meet key people.
  8. While it was probably useful to be given an overview of services etc by central university teams there was a fair amount of stuff that referred us back to School based teams/people. It would be more useful for me to meet them but not right now, when I need them because otherwise I will just forget
  9. I have not been that bored in a very very long time. I feel awful saying that but I really was bored stupid. It was all so pointless. Yes, I am back to the folders idea.
  10. Ok, I’m trying not to be negative. Was there anything good – well I met a few people I’ll probably not see again; I touched based with the Centre for Learning and Teaching; I… nope, that’s it I think

I do wonder if everyone feels like this about the induction or whether this is me being particularly cynical again. Am I just being the proverbial cat that doesn’t want to be herded in any way at all? Do I underestimate the level of experience I have in HE and does that impact in how useful I think the induction was? I also realise that I may have tuned out a whole load of really useful information and that this might all come back to bite me when I really need to know something and can’t find the answer!

Week 1

Many of you will know that this week I started my new job as Senior Lecturer in Law at Leeds Beckett University. Monday seems like such a very very long time ago. It’s been a good week. I am shattered today but I wanted to offer some reflections on my first week – a week which has gone some way to confirming that academia may be where I belong after all.

I have had lovely messages of support by email, on twitter and Facebook but there are three people who have stood out. First there is Bex who looked after us so well the weekend before I started and just let me be, do nothing, relax and have fun. Going to see her the weekend before starting the new job was such a good decision and set the tone for this week. Second and third are two people who I actually don’t know that well but who have been amazing and who seemed to just ‘get’ what starting this new adventure meant to me. The first is the lovely Linda who also works at Leeds Beckett and who delivered a card to the Law School on Monday. It made me cry (of course it did – these things do). The card was full of great advice – like where to find things on the website and where to get good coffee. (Linda if you read this – I’ll be in touch to say thanks over coffee in person!)

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Then there was Elaine who is as brilliant as she is lovely and she sent me  this card, which I love because it makes me laugh and these utterly awesome coloured pencils:

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I’m not quite sure when they arrived because I didn’t quite register that I had a little pigeon hole! Anyway, they are amazing and even though I didn’t know I needed them, I clearly do need them and have no idea how I functioned before I had them. They have brightened up my notes and make me smile every time I look at them.

So the week has been a bit of a blur really. I have met new people, learned about new systems and software packages, learned how to use the phone system and then had the phone taken away and Skype for business installed. I’ve booked myself on inductions, got lost in buildings, found the library, got lost a bit more, set up calendars, email and folder structures, met more people, talked about teaching, timetables and Foucault… It’s all good.

I am in a big open plan office which will take some getting used to – for a start I may have to dial down the swearing at technology a little. I quite like the noise around me – it helps me focus (Am I weird?) but I don’t know how that will work out in the long run – will people interrupt my by coming over? We’ll see. I am glad I am at the back of the office rather than in the middle where people walk past all the time. I will also have to do much of my writing work at home because there’s not enough space for me to spread out all my crap around me.

The week finished with an Away Day today. A number of things struck me about that. First, it was actually sort of away… Well, it felt like it was away to me – it was at Headingly stadium in the Carnegie Pavilion overlooking the cricket ground. It is a Leeds Beckett building so it wasn’t really away but it felt like it, particularly because there was a match on.

It also struck me that there is a huge amount to celebrate at the Law School and that people are doing a huge amount of really good work which is of real value to students and yet my colleagues seemed to lack a bit of confidence in themselves (I mean collectively, as a School not individually) and the really good work they are doing. We talk about raising the aspirations of our students – maybe we should also raise our own. I also noticed that for a group of academics we were pretty quiet. I think people did engage with all the activities and presentations but I wondered whether people were holding back, whether people were a little cynical about the away day and the issues being raised. Don’t get me wrong, I am cynical about everything and I am the first to roll my eyes at away day type activities, I hate ice breakers and if there is role play to be done I will be an awkward sod BUT this wasn’t like that. It seemed to me to genuinely be about celebrating success and thinking about how to build on that and I was a little puzzled by the lack of ambition and the extent to which we got bogged down in operational detail. However, maybe it isn’t surprising because we are at the time of the academic year when operational detail hits us square in the face. LPC teaching has started and we’re not far off undergraduate inductions etc. Maybe it is obvious that we will all be more concerned with getting ourselves in front of the students rather than with strategic thinking about where we want to be. There may of course also be an institutional history and legacy that I’m not part of which colours people’s perception of away days and shapes behaviour.

Anyway, I feel like I have a better sense of the place, a better idea of how it functions, what people are concerned about and what should be celebrated more. Clearly I have landed in a Law School that has much to be proud of but hasn’t been told that enough. Importantly, none of it feels alien. I don’t feel out of place. Even on day two, walking to my desk felt ‘right’, like I’m supposed to be there, belong.

I am sure there is lots more but I now have ‘Friday Brain’ and can’t really process anything.  I think the important thing I wanted to share (because of course you’ve been waiting impatiently for me to update you) is that it has been a good week. It’s been full of support and what has certainly felt like genuine collegiality. I have enjoyed going to work, I have been pretty efficient, I have worked sensible hours and I am looking forward to next week.