Tag Archives: Law school

Call for Papers: LETR 5 years on

I am really excited that my institution is hosting a one day event next June (25th June) to celebrate (if that’s the right word? Maybe ‘mark’ is better) 5 years since the publication of the Legal Education and Training Review. It’s going to be a great event. We already have representatives from the professional bodies as well as most of the original research team confirmed as speakers. In addition Professor Anthony Bradney has agreed to give the closing keynote. I can’t wait. The call for papers is ready but of course all distribution and membership lists have closed down for the Christmas break, getting anything on the Law school website might not happen until January either and getting the call out there is just really difficult at this time of year.

We are however working to relatively tight deadlines with abstracts due by the 29th January and this might be the one week where academics have just that little bit of time to think about abstracts and papers (who am I kidding, most of us are too tired to function!). So here it is:

LETR 5 Years on – call for papers

And for those of you who (like me) find clicking on a link too much like hard work as you reach for another mince pie, here’s what you need to know:

We now invite submission of abstracts for papers which explore any aspect of the LETR and subsequent developments. Topics might include but are not limited to

  • Who are tomorrow’s lawyers and who should be educating/training them?
  • What are Law Degrees for?
  • Routes to qualification for solicitors, barristers and legal executives
  • Education and training for paralegals
  • The value of a liberal legal education
  • The impact of LETR and subsequent developments on specific substantive areas
  • Impact of the LETR and subsequent developments on Law Schools
  • International comparisons
  • The Futures of Legal Education and Training

Please submit your abstract of no more than 500 words to Dr Jessica Guth by email (j.guth@leedsbeckett.ac.uk) stating 3-5 keywords which will help us group related papers together. The deadline for submission is 5pm on Monday 29th January 2018. We will make decisions on the abstracts and put together a preliminary programme by Friday 9th February.

It’s going to be a great day and I look forward to seeing your abstracts. If you want to come but don’t want to present anything, booking for the event will open in February and we will keep the cost of the event to a minimum. Watch this space!

Brexit and Law Schools – my thoughts

I attended an event at Northumbria University today. It was titled Brexit and the Law School and I was asked to contribute some thoughts on ‘Learning, Teaching and the University: The Changing Shape of the University Community’. Below is a summary of my brief talk. I’ll try and summarise the rest of the day’s discussion in another post

  1. Law Schools are, in my view, distinct little communities within the wider university community, within the wider local, regional and national communities and, again in my view, communities are shaped by those who inhabit them. Therefore, to understand the impact of Brexit on Law Schools we need to understand how Brexit might change the make-up of the Law School and university communities and what that change might mean on the ground
  2. So how will the make-up of Law School and University inhabits change post Brexit? We don’t know!
  3. Here’s what we do know
  • UCAS figures show that applications from UK students for Law Courses for 2017 entry are up by 7% whereas applications from EU students are down 3%
  • UCAS figures also show that applications from UK students across the board for 2017 entry are down by 4%, whereas applications from EU students are down by 6%
  • The proportion of EU students studying law is relatively small when compared to the proportion of EU students studying some other subjects
  • The number and proportion of EU students varies quite dramatically between institutions
  • There is lots of anecdotal evidence that EU national academic staff are considering or actively looking to leave the UK and work elsewhere in Europe or the rest of the world
  • There is also anecdotal evidence of EU nationals discounting the UK as a possible destination for work
  • However there is also anecdotal evidence of EU national colleagues making plans to stay in the UK long term and also of some recruitment of EU national staff since the referendum
  • The UCU survey about academics’ views on Brexit suggests that 76% of non-UK national academics are considering leaving the UK. That’s pretty damning. However, I would urge caution over that figure because ‘considering’ is very different from ‘planning to’ and the considering may be the result of quite significant uncertainty. Thing may change as we get clarification on what rights exactly will be available to our EU colleagues

4. This leads me on to what these figures don’t tell us

  • Whether they are a trend or a blip. The applications for Law from EU nationals are still higher in number than for the 3 years running up to 2016 so was 2016 just a bumper year and we are returning to ‘normal’?
  • What will the figures be over the next 5-10 years? Only once we know that can the data really tell us something about whether Brexit had a significant impact on the number of EU national (law) students in the UK
  • If it is more than a blip, is it really Brexit or the uncertainty around Brexit that has caused the drop?

5. In short we don’t know how the make-up of Law School inhabitants might change. We really don’t. But let’s assume the worst – that we will loose the majority of our EU students and colleagues and that we will loose access to the Erasmus+ programme and research mobility/exchange programmes – what would the impact of that be? Well I think it would be devastating. I think we could see

  • a shift on who and what is valued in Law Schools
  • a more inward looking and insular approach to scholarship and teaching
  • less engagement with EU and international issues and in particular with non-common law issues and approaches
  • less well rounded curricula -explicit and hidden
  • a reduction in the opportunities to learn from each other and a loss of the sort of creativity that happens when you tackle a problem together with people who bring different ways of thinking and doing things to the table
  • less tolerance for different ideas and approaches and ways of thinking
  • less well rounded lawyers – whether academics, practitioners or ‘just’ citizens of (a possibly much more narrowly defined) world

So my question really is – how do we make sure that we don’t become insular and inward looking law schools that irrelevant to the rest of the world or possibly just irrelevant?

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.

 

Clearing – I’ve been there

It is A-Level results week. But then if you have any interest in universities or schools you will know that. This week always comes with mixed feelings for me. I remember the disappointment of not quite getting the A-levels I was hoping for, the heartbreak of not getting into my first choice uni (Sheffield if anyone cares), the panic about not being able to find a place and the excitement of eventually securing a place to study Law at Leicester. It’s also a week of mixed feelings because this week I have to make decisions which change people’s lives.

Anyway, CLEARING. I was there once. It is awful. I got my results, I missed one A grade by a tiny margin and didn’t meet my offer. I called and was rejected. I cried. I had my heart set on going to Sheffield. In those days you had to go through the newspaper to find institutions with place available. I called Leicester because I had actually been on an open day there and liked it a lot – I’d just liked Sheffield more at the time. I also phoned the University of Sussex – my Mum went there as a student – that was the extent of my knowledge. Both institutions took my details, both said they’d phone back. I waited. Leicester called first and offered me a place on the LLB. I accepted and then I cried –  a lot, mostly with relief. I was going to Uni and I was going somewhere I’d seen and I’d liked and it was all going to be fine.

What’s my advice to anyone facing this possible scenario tomorrow? It’ll be fine, don’t panic. Breathe. My institution offers some advice (as do most others I would imagine!) – it includes thinking about where else you might want to go and make a list of alternatives. Do that now. Did you like the look of any institutions you visited for an Open Day but didn’t select in the end? That might be a good candidate to phone – you already know something about them. Think about how far away from home you want to go, if you’re going to live at home then that limits your options, if not, how easy to you want to make it for your parents to come visit or for you to nip home? Put the list in order of preference and then, if you have to, you can start at the top and work your way down.

On the day make sure you have your phone fully charged or access to a landline (ideally both so you can use one for calling out, leaving a line clear for call backs) and make sure you can access your email. Also have pen and paper ready so you can easily take down any reference numbers.

Take your time over making the decision. This decision will change your life. The university and the course have to be right for you. If you don’t know the institution, ask if you can go visit, speak to an academic if possible, ask questions, see if it feels right. This is about your future after all! Listen to those around you offering advice but remember that ultimately it has to be your decision!

And if you just haven’t got the grades to do what you really want? Well that can happen. Get advice. Maybe there’s a foundation year you can do, maybe your College can offer resits or further study or maybe you’re just not as suited to your chosen subject as you thought and it is time for a re-think. Talk it through, think it through, don’t do anything in a panic

Good Luck. I feel for you, I really do. I’ve been there. I will take up my duties on our Clearing helpline tomorrow morning with a knot in my stomach. I will remember my 18 year old self and I will try and handle any of your calls with the same calm and reassurance as the admissions team did at Leicester all those years ago (thank you  – whoever it was!) and I really do hope I’ll be able to say ‘yes, please join us for your student journey’.

Being Head of School

I have been Head of the School of Law at the Unviversity of Bradford for nearly a year now. I have on and off thought about blogging about that and have started one or two drafts and then deleted them again. Now though, it seems to me, is a good opportunity to reflect on the last year. Being Head of School was never part of my Master Plan (as far as I have one). I always saw myself, and still do, as an academic, not as an academic manager. I applied for the interim post out of necessity rather than because I really wanted the job. If it hadn’t been me it would have been someone external and I don’t think at the time that would have been the right thing for us.

So, what’s being Head of School like? Hm, it’s bloody hard work, that’s what it is. It is frustrating on so many levels. There’s so so much pointless admin; there’s the impossibility of herding academic cats (says the worst anti-hearding academic cat ever); there is meeting after meeting with no time between meetings to follow up on things discussed in meetings; there’s only really seeing students for the wrong reasons – for plagiarism, for behaviour issues or when they have serious problems… there’s other people not doing their jobs (or my perception of them not doing their jobs, let’s try and be fair) and then there’s people doing their jobs perfectly well but just not doing things my way (yep, control freak).

Being Head of School is also rewarding on all sorts of levels. There’s something really amazing about shaping the School, it’s programmes, its research and in a way there is also something amazing (if insanely infuriating) about having to justify, explain and fight for that vision. A visison which is so common sense to me and so alien to almost everyone else in the Faculty/Institution: That of a liberal legal education that is focused on learning, skills and personal growth not employability, labour markets and making money. A vision that has thinking about social justice on all sorts of levels, well actually that has thinking – full stop – at its heart. It’s a battle, every day is a battle to try and keep true to some key principles – people and their academic freedom are the most critical thing in a Law School. Freedom to shapre their careers, do their learning and research, interact with each other and learn from each other (I mean both students and staff here) – freedom to not be constrained by corporate PowerPoint slides and uniform VLEs, freedom to think and challenge and freedom to be wrong. This might sound great but then the realitiy of day to day and disengaged students and overworked colleagues hits and dumbing down, not questioning templates and processes etc is just easier. Not fighting every singly idiocy (and there are many) is easier. Not forcing your students to think is easier. Add that a lot of this goes against current university policy – Corporate PowerPoints are a must – and you can perhaps understand that I have very mixed feelings about the last year and the future.

If I am going to be Head of School for any longer (shortlisting for the post takes place Monday) I need to think really carefully about which principles are red lines and I need to think really carefully about how I can protect colleagues and students from the far too prevalent neo-liberal crap we are spoonfed daily and I need to think really carefully about how I look after myself. Because this is personal, this is about everything I believe in as an academic and a law teacher and as such, I can’t just leave it on my desk  on a Friday to come back to on Monday; I can’t just stop thinking about it so I have to find a way to deal with all the crap that I will inevitably take home with me… I don’t know whether I want the job for any longer but I do feel like it’s a job I have to keep doing for a Law School I passionately believe in, for students who are for the most part amazing and for colleagues, academic and administrative, who are an inspiration every day