Brief notes on the LERN conference, Open University, 26th September

Futures of legal education- OU- 26/09/2017

This was a very useful and interesting conference. Not much networking for me, as I am still pretty new to this area- but I did make a couple of useful contacts!

I’d say my main impression- as reflected on by Fiona Cownie- was that responses to changes in HE and legal education vary very much according to ‘type’ of institution. Post-92 speakers seemed much more concerned and much readier to make changes in response to the incoming Solicitor Qualifying Exam (SQE.) Radical change may well not be on the horizon for some, but for others it’s very much a feature. The latitude to choose degree of change may well depend on how you see your students, their expectations, and the demands of your management.

Certainly the HERA 2017 can be presented as ‘codifying’ changes already here, and the OfS could well be a cautious and ‘continuity’ minded body- as argued by Fiona Cownie. I agree with her call for a ‘pragmatic and principled’ response. Pragmatism, to me, means taking professional and government demands seriously; principle means that those demands must be set in the context of the university’s role in personal development not merely job preparation.

Clinical legal education was discussed as one way to creatively respond to the challenges. It would allow teaching to align with / refer to the SQE, as well as providing interesting and authentic learning. CLE could not, one speaker said, take on the whole role of responding to the SQE- but it could provide a way to cover writing skills.

There was concern over the way that the SQE might make the law degree more practice oriented, crowding out theory and reflection. Can the law degree make people ‘SQE ready?’ Fiona argued no, and I would agree- and not just because to do so would be bad for the law degree.

As Patricia Leighton noted, we see much the same kinds of arguments that have been going on in legal education for the past 160 years! Legal education research should focus on these questions, but also look to see what research would be useful to the sector. One area which was referred to was ‘mapping’ the provision of legal education across sectors- schools, FE, HE, public and private etc. A challenging task, Antony Bradney said, given the sheer scale of legal education. My research may contribute in a small way to this, if I ‘map’ examples of PLE.

I had to leave before the end. The last substantive discussion I caught was around Brexit- the ghost at the feast for the next few years…

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