Guest post: Student voice on LETR missing?

Over 350. This is the number of pages in the LETR report. Not particularly inviting. And yet, I, a student, set myself the task of spending the day reading it. This wasn’t for the reason that it was going to dramatically increase my employability. It wasn’t necessarily relevant for my studies. And it would not get me a First. Shock horror, I was actually interested.

The report reviews Legal Education and conducted a number of studies. Academics and regulators then responded to these studies. Indeed, there is a great wealth of literature written on legal education.

Surprisingly though there is something missing from this process. As I read on through the report, I was struck by something startling. Nobody seemed to actually ask a reasonable body of students why they were completing a law degree or an LPC. Nor what their career ambitions were. Or what, if anything they felt was wrong with the system.

To be clear, 67 law students did respond to the unweighted survey according to Table 1.4. They also gave their views on whether training contracts and pupillages should be abolished completely (Table 2.3). Note here, there was no opportunity here for them to discuss amendments to the system. Students were also asked about access to information (paragraph 6.20). Table D.1 regarding the LETR research consultations overview states no current GDL students responded. There was one LLM student response and four from current BPTC students.

Surely more of an effort could have been made. I would be extremely surprised if I was the only student who had an opinion on the quality of my degree or the LPC and how the system could be reformed. Most concerning of all is that the report seems to show little concern for the number or quality of student viewpoints. No analysis is made of the student response in paragraphs 1.39 and 1.40. The fact no GDL students responded to the research consultation is footnoted with ‘Information on the GDL comes from employers and graduates rather than current students’. I, for one, do not think this is good enough. This was the biggest review of legal education in decades.

There is some irony that the report concludes we students lack basic skills. Perhaps if we were asked to give our opinion, we might have a chance to develop them.

My view on the subject is quite simple. The qualifying law degree that I am studying is a good degree and valuable. I have learnt about how to structure arguments and analyse information. These skills will be useful for practice. I am, however, slightly sceptical about the role of the LPC. This is mainly based on information from students who have been through the Course.

With regards to developing skills for the workplace, I think the report places far too much pressure on Higher Education Institutions. Perhaps this is because I was in the last of the non £9000 a year cohort, but I think students should have some responsibility. We have an excellent Law Society which runs competitions such as Negotiations and Mooting and is in charge of all Careers Events at the Faculty. If students want a job they should be able to develop some of these skills themselves.

To conclude, I present to you a seemingly radical idea. It makes sense to ask the people that are both paying for and actually going through the education what they think about it. This is what I plan to do. Academics, practitioners, politicians and others; I think you might well be surprised by both the number and the quality of responses.

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This is a guest post from am amonymous student.

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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7 Responses to Guest post: Student voice on LETR missing?

  1. One would hope that legal educators both in the regulatory bodies and the providers themselves improve upon student engagement and I don’t mean the tokenistic stuff that the marketing dept does. Involve students more in the conversational dialogue of developing and improving both courses and the overall educational framework. I was very disappointed that whenever I went to a legal ed debate relating to the LETR, when a student did offer up a viewpoint they were often ignored or patronised by the industry, educators and regulators.

    The QAA and NUS have been working together to improve upon this across HE, maybe Law Faculties and Regulators could take note: http://www.nusconnect.org.uk/campaigns/highereducation/student-engagement/toolkit/

  2. Nigel Hudson says:

    I absolutely agree. Learning is for the learners (to state the obvious). If we don’t ask the learners for their views, and take note of their experiences and feedback, then we can’t possibly produce something of worth. The idea that ‘we know best’ is absurd. ‘We’ may have had similar experiences but surely it’s worth having that confirmed at least.

  3. Jen says:

    I admit that I haven’t read the LETR. However, as a current GDL student and also a qualified professional in another area, I have a dual point of view: current student, and current supervisor of students (albeit in a different profession). A professional at the beginning of his/her career needs two things: subject knowledge (including the ability to apply knowledge to real-world problems) and the ability to function in the workplace.
    The GDL provides the first of these two: subject knowledge and, at least at the University of Law, training in applying it to factual situations. This is, of course, different to being able to apply knowledge to facts in real life, but it’s still better – for professional purposes – than purely academic knowledge. The worst trainees I ever had through my department, oddly enough, all had first class degrees. They variously had an inability to extrapolate from known facts to reach a conclusion, an inability to use common sense to apply academic knowledge to the real world, and a terrifying belief in their own godlike abilities. Academic knowledge is not enough when training people for a profession: the provider must also either teach students to apply knowledge, or weed out those whose minds (however excellent in other ways) just are not wired that way.
    The problem of workplace functioning is what the LPC is supposed to deal with. The idea being, presumably, that by the time a student hits the workplace, they are already a useful member of the team. Does it do the job? I don’t know. I haven’t got that far yet, and in any case, I do not think it is possible to judge whether the LPC is fit for purpose until after completing it and finding out whether I can function as a trainee solicitor.
    The law profession, however, might usefully consider how other professions manage this problem. Trainee doctors, pharmacists, and nurses all have to acquire both subject knowledge and the ability to function in the workplace. Equally, these are not the sort of roles it’s possible to train for in an artificial environment: real patients are required.
    Nurses integrate ward experience from the beginning; doctors do too. Nurses emerge from university fully qualified; doctors have a year of provisional registration before they are fully qualified. Pharmacists have either a year in the workplace after graduating, or two six-month periods, split between half-way through their degree and at the end. Pharmacists do not register until after completing their year of workplace training and passing another exam; workplace training consists of on-the-job training in ‘how to do it’, supplemented by lectures and training courses. Each trainee must gather evidence to prove that they have mastered each one of the competences that the General Pharmaceutical Council demands.
    In conclusion, my view would be that the GDL seems to do what it is supposed to: impart subject knowledge and the ability to relate this to factual problems. I cannot think of a different way sufficient subject knowledge might be taught in such a compressed period. Combining subject knowledge with workplace experience has its advantages but it is a dangerous game, at least in the early stages. Unless the aim is simply to give ‘workplace familiarity’, the student needs at least a basic level of subject knowledge in order to understand what is going on. There is no point expecting a student to do anything other than watch, or do very basic tasks, at an early stage. Better to wait until they have some knowledge that they can practice applying before putting them in the workplace – unless the aim is to discover whether they have what it takes to do the job at all (very important in nursing and medicine). Combining subject knowledge with work experience in the knowledge-acquisition stage also, in the case of law, presupposes that every law/GDL student wishes to practise law. Unlike the more targeted healthcare professional degrees which are overwhelmingly pursued by students wishing to enter the relevant profession, a law degree/GDL is more versatile and need not always lead to traditional legal practice.

  4. I would be happy to help with this kind of research. Diana

  5. Re your comment that “Nobody seemed to actually ask a reasonable body of students why they were completing a law degree or an LPC. Nor what their career ambitions were. Or what, if anything they felt was wrong with the system”, can I give you some comfort that someone is. These have been concerns of mine for some time, and those are the questions which form the basis of research I have been, and still am, conducting into the career intentions of law students over the last few years, which I have given the alias “Up to the job?”. The report of the first study I undertook for the UKCLE in 2011/2012, which was cited in the LETR Report, can be found at http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/disciplines/law/Hardee-Report-2012.pdf . Am just about to start the second year of a longitudinal cohort study that I started with first year students in 2012/2013 academic year, which extends the research in the UKCLE study. A comparison of the results of the UKCLE study and the first year of the Cohort study (which are very similar) is contained in an Interim Report. There is also the full report of the First Year about to be published, both of which will be on the HEA website. Students’ motivations in studying law, their career ambitions and their perceptions of the system are things that universities, regulators and employers need to understand if they are to make sensible and informed decisions about what is the right system for the future.

  6. Pingback: Morning round-up: Thursday 7 November | Legal Cheek

  7. Lawyertobe says:

    Strange that a review does not carry out in depth research on the students who are receiving a legal education. I was personally asked if I was willing to undergo a survey over the phone on my experience of my law degree which was not a red brick university. Whether this was the uni’s own way of conducting its course feedback I am unsure, but surveys like these would surely be helpful for reviews like this one. More communication with education providers is needed.

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