IALS event : The Role of Academics in Legal Education and Training

by Pete Smith.

This event brought together a number of academics- and others!- to discuss the place of academics in legal education and training. Much of the discussion focused on the law degree post Legal Education and Training Review. (LETR)

The day opened with an address from Professor William Twining, who has written a great deal on the topic of legal education.

Twining noted that since 1966 legal education had been under almost continuous review. He sees legal education in England as being somewhat parochial in its outlook, and lacking an interest in pedagogy. He also offered ‘constructive support’ for LETR, highlighting several issues.

Overall he sees the LETR research phase report as couched in bureaucratic language and lacking in an historical understanding of the contingent nature of legal education systems. Attention by academic lawyers to the liberal education and contextual elements of legal education could act as correctives.

The focus on day one competence could lead to a culture of adequacy in legal education and practice. LETR should focus on fostering an attitude of excellence; there are many desirable elements crowded out by the ‘necessary.’ This includes interdisciplinary studies, especially relevant aspects of the social sciences.

Ethics in legal education is a hot topic, and  Twining said that academic lawyers could make a contribution here. Jurisprudence could be a vehicle for considering individual integrity and its relationship with professional ethics.

Twining called for a replacement for the UK Centre for Legal Education, a victim of funding cuts within the Higher Education Academy (HEA.) This echoes the LETR call for a Legal Education Council, although Twining’s vision might not be that of the LETR research phase report.

Such a group could carry out some of the research Twining identified as useful, such as looking at career destinations of law graduates and the forms of assessment used in vocational courses.

In response to concerns about non-degree routes to legal practice, Twining noted that there were concerns with the anti-intellectual elements of some GDL conversion courses. That said, he was sympathetic to a range of routes to qualifying for legal practice.

One commenter said that the LETR did not recognise ‘non-traditional’ students enough, and that law in general does not have mechanisms for accrediting prior learning. Here it could be said that CILEX is based in part on such accreditation, and that historically there was an element of this with ‘ten year men.’

There were then two group discussion sessions- I can only comment on the group I was part of.

Concern was expressed that losing the Qualifying Law Degree would leave control of access to the profession solely in the hands of the regulators. There is also the (perceived) need to maintain the liberal education elements of a legal education, and worries about the input academic lawyers would have beyond the vocational stage.

There was a desire to create something to do the work formerly done by UKCLE, perhaps via a ‘virtual’ group within the HEA.

Legal academics need to pay heed to teaching theory and incorporate it into practice.

With regard to legal skills, who would / should teach such skills? How would they develop the skills themselves?

I think there is some tension within the legal academic community, with differing views on the aims, content, and ethos of the law degree. This is not in itself a bad thing, so long as no one interpretation becomes dominant or is given a sense of moral superiority.

The day ended with a plenary discussion. 

Chris Ashford noted that the different responses of the SRA and the BSB showed how open to interpretation the LETR research phase report is.  It can be taken as a radical document, and a conservative one.

Stephen Bailey questioned whether we have evidence of problems in legal education, and whether LETR represents a strong enough evidence base for radical change. He noted that the LSB’s agenda would be crucial in the implementation of LETR recommendations.

Anthony Bradney commented that we do not know enough about what lawyers do to make any claims for a legal education based on law firm activity. And any such employability driven approach diminishes education in so far as it aims at the person as employee rather than the person as a whole.

Becky Huxley-Binns noted, as had Bradney, that there is a distinction to be made between legal education and legal services education and training- LETR had covered the latter. She argued for a move away from a stage-based time-served model to one based on outcomes and competences. Huxley-Binns is a strong proponent of a skills based approach, bringing together ‘what you know and what you do.’

Andrew Sanders echoed Bradney’s position on the educational nature of the law degree as the ‘intellectual foundation’ of legal practice. Degrees should not have anything to do with employability skills. Bradney commented that law students are employable by virtue of their degree- it is well regarded.

Conclusions

There is no consensus amongst legal academics, although future meetings may well try to hammer one out. I am not sure a consensus is desirable, or achievable. Universities must be free to purse the objectives they set- be this a purely liberal education or one with a strong element of employability. No one model should be held up as an ideal from which others depart for the worse.

CEPLER 2013 – Part Two

by Pete Smith.

Law as engineering

David Howarth compared the work of lawyers and engineers. Both design and make things for clients- in the case of lawyers that could be a will, a contract,a statute… Legal education focuses strongly, if not exclusively, on litigation- a model Howarth rejects. He was also clear that legal engineering needs to develop a sense of the consequences of people using (or misusing) what you design and make.

Howarth also criticised the lack of drafting practice students get in law degrees. If students are to use contracts, statutes, etc they should develop an understanding of how such documents are constructed. I think this would work well in complementing ethics discussions, in moving students away from the ‘pathology’ of litigation and error recovery and towards better design of legal matters.

The value of studying law

Martin George covered the value of studying law. If as Lord Sumption and others have argued it is better to study something (anything?) else then convert to law, what is the value of having Law degrees?

George argued that it is through pedagogy that the imagination of students is engaged, an engagement Sumption et al feel is lacking in legal studies. George used the example of the trust to show how practicing lawyers used their imagination and creativity to serve their clients- an example which shows how creativity has a place in law, and that law is not the static and priestly endeavour Sumption paints it as.

Beyond this, law touches on many aspects of human life, not being as narrow as Lord Denning suggested. This wide coverage needs to be reflected in the curriculum of law degrees. And even if Law were to lose its connection with legal practice, it would retain its intellectual vigour and reason for being.

Net-working

Jon Harman covered teaching – and learning. He said that much work, including LETR, focussed on content- it needs to focus on learning.

We live, he argued, in the age of connection. We need to use that connectivity to build learning networks, distributing discovery and enabling engagement. There is also a need to make use of insights from research into learning, especially from neuroscience. Allied to this is a need to make use of the data our systems provide us, to analyse student performance and responses.

Assessment needs to be formative and focussed on what is being learned, rather than documenting responses to what has been taught. Gamification and open badges can be part of this, offering alternative and more flexible approaches to accrediting learning.

The European dimension

Ole Hammerslo covered the European aspect of legal education. The big challenge is getting a shared understanding of EU law across member countries and especially within the judiciary.

A point I found interesting was the idea that there are many informal aspects of curriculum design, for example the influence of ‘prestige’ schools of law. This could represent a brake on innovation as schools are worried to move away from models which are seen as successful.

Hammerslo also noted that some results may be shaped by the format of assessment, for example gender differences in responses to different forms of assessment.

Panel discussion

Stephen Mayson noted that the gaps in knowledge we have around legal practice and legal regulation cannot be filled- we can only guess- and perhaps shape such changes. There is a ‘problem with preparing for the future in the present system.’

Julian Lonbay called for more comparative study, particularly the lack of a European dimension.

Mayson said that regulation- and hence education- should be aimed at activities, not titles. The law degree should not be regulated, except by the relevant academic quality bodies. Jon Harman said that we could- and perhaps should- have ‘theoretical’ and ‘practical’ law degrees.

There was support for a Legal Education Council, something notably opposed by the frontline regulators. I think such a council would be worthwhile, in the absence of a (called for from the audience) recreation of the UKCLE. Caution was raised as to the fate of the ACLEC, a form of Legal Education Council- it was shut down owing to its opposition to some government plans.

 

Conclusions

There is evidently a desire to experiment, to innovate- alongside concern that systems militate against this. Students need- but do they want?- more flexible pedagogies, more varied experiences of practice, and above all better information about legal education and legal services.

Competencies could provide clear and measurable targets, but could easily become restrictive; there is a need to make sure they allow for varied teaching and learning methods, and can be combined into meaningful sets to support activities.

For me, above all, law should be seen as a viable and important academic field as well as part of a system to educate lawyers.

CEPLER 2013 – Part One

by Pete Smith.

Friday 18th October saw a large and varied crowd gather at the University of Birmingham for the CEPLER conference on The Futures of Legal Education and the Legal Profession. I was lucky enough to be part of that crowd, and here is Part One of my reflections, based on a Storify of the tweets from the conference- http://storify.com/LawSync/cepler-2013-future-of-legal-education-and-the-lega

Note : I attended the Legal Education track. There are several other Storify records of the event, which may contain tweets from the Legal Profession track.

CEPLER

CEPLER- the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research- has a number of aims, but at its core is research and collaborative work on preparing students for legal careers. To that extent, as Hilary Sommerlad noted, it represents a ‘marketisation’ of HE; but equally students do need to find work after graduation, and universities can be seen to have  a duty to help them with this.  Sommerlad spoke of a ‘legal precariate,’ law students who cannot get law work; CEPLER is in part a response to this.

CEPLER is a response to major changes in the relationship between the individual and the state, and related changes in the nature of law and the legal profession. As with other law schools, Birmingham is evidently trying to adapt its curriculum and pedagogy to these changes, particularly the widening gap between the globalised firms and the impoverished high street and the impact of neo-liberal market ideals on law firms and their customers / clients.

Awareness

There has been much talk, including from LawSync, on ‘commercial awareness.’ Sommerlad extended the idea of ‘awareness’ to mean ‘context’. This is an understanding of how legal doctrine operates in a specific practice area or setting.

In this sense, ‘commercial awareness’ represents an understanding of context appropriate to the City, whereas ‘social awareness’ is the idea appropriate to pro bono work. This awareness of varying contexts was seen as being central to the career flexibility called for by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR.)

Students need to develop a critical awareness of all contexts and the changes happening in and between them.

Legal education reform- a short journey round the world

Julian Webb, of Warwick and the LETR team, gave an overview of legal education reform discussions and actions. He drew attention to China, with its massive expansion in HE not meeting a similar expansion in jobs; the Chinese government has called on law schools to reduce their intake. This echoes concerns in the United States, where there is a perceived over-supply of law graduates- or an under-supply of jobs, a problem also seen in the UK.

Australia has a clear outcomes based approach to legal education, with a competency framework being very important in vocational education. It’s interesting to note that UK regulators seem very keen on outcomes focused regulation, and competencies form a large part of LETR. The future for UK legal education seems to include some sort of competency framework, linked to risk / outcomes based regulation of legal services. Such a move is apparent in the United States as well, a system ‘on the way’ to crisis in Webb’s words; perhaps competency frameworks will help avoid crisis?

With such changes in mind, Webb asked if the current system is ‘preparation for elite practice in a fragmented market?’ Yes, yes it is! It is so in the sense that even in the more experimental curricula, the underlying model is rooted in solicitor / barrister training and the related desires of these professions.

On LETR, Webb noted that there is a need for more information for aspiring lawyers. This is something  agree with- many law students start their degrees with a very limited idea of what their degree will teach them and what they can do with it, and an equally limited idea of the legal jobs market.

Regulation

Alex Roy of the Legal Services Board spoke to their vision for legal education and legal services. It sees its role as pushing for consumer focussed regulation and practice. In itself this seems good, as long as the idea of who the consumer is takes as wide a view as possible- it’s not just those who buy legal services, but pretty much everyone, in such a law saturated society.

The LSB wants to encourage diversity in legal services and to promote competition. The emergence of new forms of firms will go alongside new forms of regulation, which will in turn affect the content of legal education.

As noted above, there was a clear commitment to outcomes focused regulation, with activities forming one element. Legal education would need to link its requirements to the skills and attributes required for those activities- the competencies discussed earlier. There should be many routes to authorisation for practice- a flexible market for students as well as firms.

One interesting point was that innovation in law firm structures were part of – if not the- answer to reductions in legal aid. Whilst this is in part true, there is always the concern that ‘innovation’ will equate to cheapening and mean more restricted services and perhaps poorer quality.

The profession(s)

Tony King of Clifford Chance noted the huge changes in the profession since he started work as a solicitor. These have included major changes in technology, in organisation, and in the scope of the profession itself.

He noted that even the ‘high end’ work done by the likes of Clifford Chance can be- and indeed has been- commoditised and shifted off-shore. This is important to note in light of Susskind’s model; some may have sought comfort in the idea that their work could only ever be at the bespoke end, but King seems to be saying no work can be ‘safe’ from moving ‘down’ the scale.

Training as a lawyer is expensive, and King pointed out the risk that this means people will move to firms who can help cover the costs of training. He supports the idea of legal apprenticeships and a range of routes to allow for flexibility.

Ethics

Richard Moorhead addressed the issue of law student ethics. He rehearsed the old story of law student disenchantment- their loss of a moral compass to the subtleties and pragmatic compromises of The Law. How can students be engaged with ethical issues, especially in the asymmetric power structures of legal practice?

There have certainly been many calls to incorporate ethics into the LLB programme- but how? A separate ethics module might work, but could equally see ethics treated pragmatically as a form of adherence to codes.  Moorhead discussed some research into ethical decision making, and from this it seems to me that to teach ethics it is important to cover ethical concepts and how these might apply in actual situations, and to allow students to consider the role of structures and systems in how they would apply ethical ideas and ideals. As Moorhead said, ethical risks flow from systems and cultures, and so understanding these is as important as understanding rules and philosophies.

Reflections on BIALL 2013

by Pete Smith.

BIALL 2013- ‘The business of law’

The theme of BIALL 2013, held in Glasgow, was ‘the business of law.’ This reflects current concerns with the commercial aspect of law firms, and whether lawyers are sufficiently skilled in these areas to be effective. Many of the sessions were aimed at helping librarians to be more effective in ‘business’ as well, looking at issues such as networking, pitching ideas, and our paper on collaboration.

The conference was opened by Professor Hector MacQueen, who spoke about the prospects for Scots law. He argued that Scots law had been losing autonomy since the Union, and that process was accelerated by accession to the EU. More damagingly for Scots law, many people- including Scots- are unaware of the existence of a separate body of Scots law and even if they do know of it, are increasingly likely to use English law. Many Scots lawyers fear parochialism, a cutting off from wider streams if they focus on Scots law.

Scottish courts are underused; many face closure. English law, and therefore English courts, is often preferred. Some Scottish law firms are doing preparatory work for English law firms.

MacQueen referred to a Law Commission report which said that legal systems need ‘critical mass’ to develop; does Scots law have the cases needed to create that mass?

With all of these challenges, does Scots law have a future? MacQueen quoted the Megrahi case as an example of the continued vigour of a separate Scots legal system. He also argued that as a mixed system, Scots law prefigured EU law, and could be a useful ‘laboratory’ for developments in European and international law.

Even if there is a ‘No’ vote in the 2014 independence referendum, MacQueen sees increased devolution and the persistence of separate Scots legal and political institutions. The hoped for aim- the ‘holy grail of Scots law’- is seen as an increase in codification of the law, reforms of the courts, connections with other jurisdictions, and a greater public awareness and use of the Scots legal system.

Carol Tullo of The National Archives gave the next address, speaking about legislation.gov.uk The volume, piecemeal nature, and speed of amendments make finding legislation difficult. Complying with legislation- including finding what it is!- estimated to cost £5.5bn

The National Archives has set itself the goal of having all legislation online, up-to-date, by 2015. As part of this they have set up an ‘expert participation’ scheme. Here lawyers- and others with expertise- can edit legislation. This means that the site can be more easily kept up-to-date. A new development is the (coming) availability of revised secondary legislation, important given how much of our law is now in such form.

The ‘Good Law’ initiative is working on making legislation not only more accessible, but better designed from the beginning- legislation will be ‘necessary, effective, clear, and accessible.’- see https://www.gov.uk/good-law for more information.

The first parallel session I attended was with Renae Satterley of the Middle Temple, talking about generating income. The Middle Temple has a number of rare books, and has sold copies of illustrations from them to photo libraries. Renae said this is a good source of income, and publicity, but it needs careful planning. You need to be clear you have a right to take and sell photographs; if using an external photographer, you’ll need to carefully negotiate rights with them, and using outside people is a cost to be factored in. She recommended Pinterest as a way of showcasing images / artefacts from your collections; JISC has guidance on using Pinterest at http://www.jisclegal.ac.uk/ManageContent/ViewDetail/ID/2705/Pinterest-Image-Sharing-Websites-and-the-Law-5-December-2012.aspx

Our LawSync session followed, details of which can be found here.

The first plenary of the second day was with David Fraser, talking about managing change. He said we need to build connections to deal with change; in times of change and disruption we tend to retreat into ourselves, but we need to continue with connections that we have built.

David was followed by Nicola Fraser, talking about her experience with flipping the classroom at Salford University. Nicola teaches information skills as part of the level4 Analytical and Research Skills module. There had been a number of issues with the module- poor attendance, negative feedback, and little transfer of knowledge from A&RS to other modules.

To deal with these Nicola decided to ‘flip’ the classroom, shifting to being a ‘guide on the side’ as opposed to a ‘sage on the stage.’ The classes would be student led and problem based. Before the practical session / lecture, students would complete pre-study activities.

Students feel ownership of their learning, can work at their own pace, and there is less ‘risk’- no worries about exposing lack of knowledge. There is an issue that you don’t ‘know’ what students have picked up, and you also must be careful not to overload students with too much pre-study work.

Nicola recommends keeping activities short; reusing existing materials; and linking to other modules to make tasks relevant.

Onto another parallel session, with Tony Simmonds of Nottingham University, talking about his experiences with open access.  By advocating for open access and use of the institutional repository, Tony managed to go from 8 papers by 1 author on the IR to 77 papers by 12 authors. He found using lecturers as advocates very effective, in the face of indifference, claims on academic time, concerns over academic freedom, and worries about quality control.

In academia we will all have to deal with Open Access as the Finch Report mandates open access for all publicly funded research. The exact model is still being worked out; the report endorsed the ‘gold route’ of publication in an open journal with a publishing charge paid by the institution. This could shift to the ‘green’ route, with deposition of working versions of papers on an IR.

There are concerns amongst academics. Two examples- the availability of funds to pay publishing charges and the effect it may have on the ability to publish, and the CC-BY licence recommended by Research Councils UK which is seen to be too open.

I organised an impromptu meeting on OA to develop the discussion in Tony’s session. There were concerns expressed over gold OA- could it be sustained? Some present criticised the current publishing model as a whole, calling for a new way of doing things- publishing charges and gold OA just perpetuate publisher roles and profits via a new route. The group also considered whether the association journal should be OA- some said no, as it represents a member benefit and without it staying so many might not join the association. To keep the discussion going a BIALL OA working group has been proposed.

The next parallel session looked at elevator pitches, presented by Suzanne Wheatley of Sue Hill Recruitment. An elevator pitch aims to create a relationship and present an attractive idea.

We looked at key aspects of pitching- good posture, eye-contact, volume control etc. In your pitch you should

  • introduce yourself
  • say what you do
  • what your USP is
  • ask a question to engage the other person
  • close

We then practiced elevator pitches on other delegates!

For me the conference closed with a session on Legal Information Management by its editor David Wills of Cambridge University. In response to the OA question, LIM has adopted a wait-and-see approach. If it is to become OA it will require peer review, something it does not usually do at the moment.

Many in the meeting said they wanted LIM to retain its broad base, and not become an ‘academic’ journal- David said he agreed with this.

I found the conference very enjoyable, with a good range of topics and speakers. It was especially good to be able to put faces to names of people I know via Twitter. Looking forward to BIALL 2014 which in Harrogate – a little closer to home!

LawSync at BIALL 2013

by Pete Smith.

Peter and I presented a paper at BIALL 2013- the presentation can be found at Slideshare. We focused on collaboration, making the general point that collaboration is an important tool in responding to change and making institutions and individuals effective.

We both felt that the presentation went well, and hope that the people who came to hear it took something away from it. To see tweets from the session, including questions we were asked, see http://storify.com/LawSync/lawsync-biall-2013/ 

Below is the text of our presentation.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Whatever we feel about change, it is happening and as law librarians, academics, and legal practitioners we need to respond effectively.
What are the main areas of change which LawSync aims to respond to? Our focus has been on technology, regulation, business structures, and consumer culture.
Change- It’s coming to publishing and education. Current means of disseminating

legal information- including established online providers- are being challenged by
other means, such as Smartphone apps. Universities are being challenged by online

forms, such as MOOCs; apprenticeship is another challenge to law schools. Step change which is easy to deal with is being replace by disruption, which makes adapting much more difficult.

Potentially disruptive change is also taking place in the world of legal services and

the legal system. Courts at all levels are facing financial pressures; law firms too.
Technology is changing the way people find and use legal services, and the ways in
which legal services are delivered; it is also changing the way law firms conduct
business, and opening new possibilities for the distribution of legal information. The effects of the Legal Services Act 2007 and the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 are to an extent still to be fully felt, but we can see that the emergence of new forms of law firm will have an effect on how people find, use, and work for legal services.
All of these changes have their effect in legal education, as higher education in

general feels pressure to deliver an employability agenda. Curriculum and teaching

will need to reflect the changes to legal services. LawSync was created to contribute to SHU’s response to such changes.
Our colleague Richard Whittle had the original idea. He put together a proposal for a project to be funded by Innovation Project money. He first approached Peter Griffith about working on a project looking at “innovation in legal services.” Richard and Peter then approached Pete Smith, with a view to him acting as researcher for the project. When creating the team, the idea was that its members had an interest in the areas to be covered, some understanding of the issues, and relevant skills.
In putting the bid together the team ensured that the proposal was aligned with the department’s strategy and wider university objectives- forming partnerships, making the curriculum relevant, and enhancing student employability.
The bid, including money to pay for Pete’s time, was approved and the project

launched.
The innovation in law project- now named LawSync- aimed at developing an online

presence. The team wanted to contribute to debates around legal education and
legal services, and to learn from others in these fields. To that end a website was
created and a Twitter account set up. The website was designed to present basic
information about the project. It also hosts a blog, where members of the team could post ideas. In essence it acts as a ‘shop window.’
The site was set up by IT colleagues, some of that support paid for by project

funding. Domain names were purchased; WordPress was used as the CMS, SHU
having used it for other project sites. Server space was made available by SHU
.
Whilst all of this did help in getting the site up- we lacked the expertise to do so- it

does mean that we are dependent on others for updates. Learning more about the
tech side of the project is something we plan to look into
.
When setting up the site and Twitter feed, we did not set out a plan for how we would ensure we had stuff to put on them! A form of content management plan- an idea introduced to us by our colleague Anthony Smith- would have helped with this, along with an editorial policy. As the group expanded, a policy which addressed issues such as editorial ‘voice’ would have been useful and is something we are now working on.

The creation of a brand helps to establish an identifiable vision and team- something potential partners can engage with. It also makes promoting the project easier.

Being clear on IP is important- it’s something we need to revisit, especially as more

people from outside SHU are involved. Different institutions may have different
policies regarding IP.
As our presence developed, we attracted interest from people outside SHU. Three

colleagues- Anthony Smith, Mitch Kowalski, and Stephen Allen- joined the LawSync
team. As the team grew, we needed some way of managing communication- email
was too clunky.
Google+ hangouts allowed for the team to meet despite being in different locations; other such tools are available, and all offer the chance not only to hold meetings but also to share content and record the meetings.

We invested in Basecamp. as a ‘replacement’ for emailing documents. Basecamp
allows for creating discrete ‘projects,’ within which documents can be created or
shared, timelines created, and conversations held. It has allowed us to create virtual
‘teams’ for different projects, by inviting different people into the relevant projects.
Again, other such tools are available- within organisations something like SharePoint could be used. Basecamp is useful for projects which cross organisations.
Why collaborate? What are the benefits? For institutions- access to a wider pool of

expertise, promotion of the institution, possible new markets.
For individuals, collaboration can lead to personal and professional development
opportunities- the chance to speak at conferences, be published, to work on projects. It all helps to demonstrate your skills and your contributions.

——————————————————————————-

 

Branding… or branded?

by Pete Smith.

As I prepare for BIALL 2013 in Glasgow, I think about image and branding. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, my professional organisation- the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)- is going through a somewhat controversial rebranding exercise. Secondly, there was some… consternation at comments about solicitor attitudes to customer service made by a Co-Op Legal Services marketing person. Linking these issues is the conference theme of ‘law as a business’ – one aspect of law-as-business is the importance of image and branding.

CILIP clearly feels that its brand is not strong or clear enough. Librarians as a whole can be said to have an image problem- the whole ‘bun and twin-set’ thing. Beyond this literal image problem- how culture imagines they look- librarians face a brand issue- what do they stand for? What do they do? Why do we need them?

All of these questions face lawyers- indeed many professionals.  It’s not just the idea that lawyers find customer service ‘alien’- a charge levelled at librarians too- but that people question whether there is a need for lawyers at all, at least in the sense of degree holding solicitors and barristers.

For both librarians and lawyers, the image / branding issue comes down to this: there are strong, if erroneous, ideas about who you are and what you do already. How do you combat these? How do you demonstrate the good that you do, the skills you have, and create a better sense of your profession amongst the public?

I hope ideas and answers will form part of the discussions at BIALL. Peter Griffith and I are presenting at the conference, and  I’ll report back.

Networking and collaboration

by Eleyna.

When we started the LawSync project, we were aware that it was as much about learning in areas new to us as it was about sharing our ideas about innovation in legal services. One way we hoped to learn was by making connections with experts- one of the best ways to learn about a new area is to build a network of people from whom you can learn. By putting our ideas out there via Twitter and the blog, we hoped to become part of the debates in legal services and legal education, and develop our understanding as people critiqued our comments.

Collaboration is a great way to learn- it exposes you to different ways of thinking and working, shaking up your ideas and practices. For law schools it seems increasingly likely that networking and collaboration is the way forward- Law Without Walls and ReInvent Law being examples of this principle in action. Staff and students benefit from sharing their knowledge and experience, and the chance to work with colleagues from other jurisdictions is very valuable as legal practice becomes globalised. As they attend classes, online or in person, staff and students will also begin building their own professional network.

Collaboration is also a great way to escape the ‘echo chamber’ effect of keeping discussions within professional and organisational boundaries.

A recent Special Libraries Association Twitter-talk took collaboration as its theme; it is evidently an idea of interest to librarians. Peter Griffith and Pete Smith will be presenting a paper to the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) 2013 conference, discussing their experiences of networking and collaboration in the context of LawSync. They’ll be thinking about some of the issues that have arisen- planning, process, and so on- as well as talking about the benefits of collaboration.

Presenting a paper- and attending conferences- is a well established form of networking, and we certainly hope to catch up with existing contacts and make new ones.

Online networking is the ‘new normal’ of collaboration, and not just for librarians. It’s interesting to note that the recent Riverview Law / DMH Stallard alliance started life on Twitter, but equally interesting to note Jon Busby’s point that this should be no more astonishing that they made contact by phone.

Having built a network, what do you do with it? Learning from it is one key use of a network but we hope to make use of the diverse expertise within it in a number of ways. In the immediate short term we are looking to work with some of them on a series of open access discussions on themes relevant to legal education and legal practice. These discussions would be ‘broadcast’ via Google+ and recorded.

Questions could be sent in during the broadcast- for example via Twitter- and some could be responded to immediately. Time could be given over to selected questions- questions could even be sent in ahead of time. The recordings would be available via YouTube, building an archive of discussions available as a teaching resource for students and practitioners.

To make it all work, we need speakers. We have some people interested; if you’d like to take part, contact us via Twitter @LawSync or comment on the post. Help us build our network, and yours.

LawSync : what’s new?

by Pete Smith.

The LawSync blog has been quiet of late. Where are we, and what are our plans?

The main issue we face is that we did not recruit sufficient students to run the module this year. Peter Griffith and Richard will be meeting with senior colleagues in May to discuss the future of LawSync.

We have been planning for this meeting and have concluded that while failure to recruit isn’t unusual – some modules have not run in their first year, or had years when they have not recruited after several successful years – we need to look at how we will market the module better next year. We will also look at how students perceive ‘law jobs’, how that affects their choice of work-based modules, and what we might do to broaden those perceptions.

As part of marketing our ideas – and thus the module – we would like to run a series of open discussions on topics of interest to law students, law teachers, and legal professionals. These would likely take the form of a Google+ or Blackboard Collaborate broadcast, with questions from the audience either ‘live’ or in response to questions posted in chat. The sessions could be recorded; this would allow for people to catch them at a time suited to them, with the chance to pose questions via e-mail, twitter, etc.

We are also looking at running an essay / innovation competition; this would both promote the module and give us an idea of how students understand the issues covered by LawSync.

Alongside the development / marketing of the LawSync module we are looking at how we can integrate the ideas our research has identified into the LLB degree as a whole.

We will write a LawSync response to the LETR report when it is published, and contribute to SHU discussions around its implications.

Pete Smith and Peter Griffith will be presenting a paper at the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) conference in June, looking at how the different professions within LawSync have worked together.

In summary- we will continue our research and network building, looking to recruit students for the module whilst also contributing to broader discussions around the law degree at SHU and beyond.

If you would like to be involved with the proposed open discussions, the module, or any other aspect of LawSync’s work do please contact us.

LawSync module

by Pete Smith.

Great news! The Department of Law, Criminology and Community Justice has approved LawSync as a module. It will run as a pilot for level 6 (third year) students from September.

The team are now working on the details of the module, particularly the content of the sessions and the assessment of the work.

We welcome any ideas and suggestions, and are particularly looking for people to take part! The module will feature weekly forums, in which students will discuss various topics, and we hope that people from all parts of the law world will take part. Drop us a line if you are interested- comment here, tweet us @LawSync or e-mail one of the team.

Happy New Year- what will it bring

by Pete Smith.

A Happy New Year from all at LawSync! What will 2013 bring? I’m far from a futurist, so here’s a couple of definites…

The Legal Education and Training Review should issue its Research Phase Report- it will be interesting to see what recommendations emerge, and how the profession responds. Related is the emergence of higher legal apprenticeships- what will they mean for law schools and the legal profession?

The full provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012- ‘LASPO’- will kick in from April; to be watched with interest as to how it effects certain groups and whether the courts will see a rise in litigants in person, and if anyone emerges to serve this group.

What do you think will be important / interesting / horrifiying developments for the year ahead? Will it be a technology breakthrough from the world of big and linked data? A truly new type of law firm? A new rebel Law Society?

Legal AI Renaissance?

by Antony Smith.

Chris Devers - Kismet the AI Robot

At the recent Legal Futures conference (London, November 19th 2012) Daniel Katz, Assistant Professor of Law at Michigan University suggested that there is something of a renaissance going on in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Law.  Professor Katz gave a really entertaining talk where he explained about Quantitative Legal Prediction.  Essentially this is where very large data sets are interrogated from which computer software appears to learn and can thereafter predict outcomes.  Two obvious application areas for this technology would appear to be E-discovery and analysis / prediction of judicial decision making.  The rationale for this technology was said to be that human experts, although very good at pattern recognition, simply cannot absorb and traverse the huge amount of data which is now becoming increasingly available to all thanks to the internet.  There is much more information available at Professor Katz’s Computational Legal Studies Website. Read more

Industry and professional.. side by side…harmony?

by Pete Smith.

Law: profession, industry, or both?

Our LawSync colleague Stephen Allen has spoken of a legal services industry, of which the legal professions are part. In a recent Law Society Gazette story, one commentator stated they are a member of a profession and implicitly criticised the idea of a “legal industry.”

I don’t think we have to choose. I think we can usefully distinguish between a profession- in this case the legal profession- and areas where members of that profession work, in this case a ‘legal industry.’

The Profession

To begin with we must consider the nature of the profession.

Whilst there are many areas of practice, and two ‘headline’ types of lawyer- barristers and solicitors- they are all joined by the notion of practicing law. A lawyer is one who holds out expertise in law – knowledge of what the law is, understanding of how the law works, and experience in the various forms and theatres of the law. In the case of barristers and solicitors, this claim is backed by the validation of organised professional bodies- the Law Society and the Bar- as well as a long history and tradition of legal service. More recent members of the lawyer group- legal executives, licenced conveyancers- also lay claim to specialist knowledge and skill backed by the validation of an organised body, marked by qualifications.

The law degree, and related education forms such as CILEX exams, is a key part of the validation of the profession’s knowledge and skill claims. An agreed body of knowledge has been developed over time, with its current expression being the statement of the Joint Academic Stage Board. This body, bringing together representatives of the professional and regulatory bodies for solicitors and barristers, lays out the content for law degrees and ‘conversion courses.’ This can be taken as laying out the agreed knowledge base for these professions- it expresses what the professions expect an entrant to know before they move on to the ‘vocational’ stage of their education.

The profession  also has a regulated set of activities- activities which can only be undertaken by those within defined groups; it is this set of activities, as much as the knowledge base, that has defined the legal profession, particularly solicitors and barristers.

Beyond the knowledge claims there is also the issue of ethics, and it is in this area that some in the legal profession have voiced concerns over the legal profession being ‘turned into’ a commercial / industry entity. The legal profession is seen to be defined in part- a big part- by its adherence to an ethic based on public service and independence; this is contrasted, particularly in discussions of Alternative Business Structures, with the profit orientation of investors and (implicitly) non-lawyers in general.

The legal industry

We then need to understand  what we might mean by ‘legal industry.’ Many electrons have been spilled on the idea of ‘legal services’ and ‘consumers’ as opposed to ‘law’ and ‘clients.’ Underlying all that angst is a concern that an ‘industry’ cannot include  the values of legal professionalism – that outside investments would have a particularly  corrosive effect on legal professionals

I do not subscribe to this view. Is there a need for careful management of external investment? Yes. The regulatory regime has to become much more robust than that latterly seen in financial services.

Harmony?

That said, professionals should be able to work in many environments, bringing their professionalism to these environments. Whilst there is nothing unique to legal professionals in terms of their ethical and service commitments, there is value in professions- they provide a strong base for such commitment and a place for such concerns to be articulated.

There is no inevitable tension between the existence of a strong legal profession and the workings of a diverse legal ‘industry’; indeed, a strong legal industry needs a strong profession.