First hurdle cleared

Yesterday I got a letter from the Research Degrees Committee (RDC), informing me that my RF1 had been accepted with no conditions. This means that I can now progress to the next stage, the RF2.

Whilst the RF2 is a light-touch initial assessment, it’s good to have it done and be free to move on.

The Assessor did recommend I create a timetable- something I had thought of doing. I have another 6 years or so to complete within the permitted time, but hope to do it earlier than that.

My next ‘target date’ is February 2018- my first annual review. By then I hope to have:

  • the structure sorted
  • draft chapters written
  • ethics approval for interviews
  • arrangements in place to do interviews

I can then go on to conduct some interviews and do initial analysis ready for the RF2 in February 2019. The RF2 is a much more serious business than the RF1. It involves preparing preparing a 6000 word report and presenting to an assessment panel. If that goes well, I will be permitted to progress to examination.

So, more reading to come! And now, the writing too.

 

Did I clear the hurdle?…

Well, I’m sort of heading for it in very slow motion. The RF1 forms are in, an assessor is being selected, and they will report back to the appropriate committee later this month. The most common outcome is ‘progress to next stage with minor amendments’- sort of lightly clipping the hurdle as you clear it.

The main thing for me now is to keep going. There’s no deadline now until the first annual review in February, so I have to set targets for myself. These will revolve around reading for the most part, but I also want to work on my method and related ethics forms, so that I can start on interviews as soon as is practicable.

The reading right now is vols 3 and 4 of the¬†History of the University in Europe. Not all of them, anymore than I read the whole of vols 1 and 2! I’ve read- and will read- the ‘Themes’ and ‘Patterns’ chapters, along with such chapters on teaching and law faculties as seem relevant. They’ve been very interesting- and useful- so far, especially in pointing up the varied roles and purposes chosen by or for universities over time.

I’ve signed up for two methods modules, to be done in September-December, so will also be doing reading relevant to that aspect of the research. And, post-election, reading on the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, or whatever may replace it!

I will of course post from the other side of the hurdle… in the meantime, planning grids and the history of higher education it is!

Sure, the method

Method was an issue in my LLM, and I don’t want it to be one in my PhD. I’m taking a couple of MRes modules in the Autumn to help with that, and putting a lot of thought into the method bit of the RF1.

Jess Guth shared a useful analogy with me. Methodology is like a style of cooking- vegan say- and method is then a particular recipe. You set out your cuisine (approach, theory, etc) and then provide details of how you’re going to use it in this instance.

Two things come from this. One, I find it helpful to think of ‘the method bit’ as ‘model + method’; two, networking really works- thanks Jess!

In case you’re wondering, this all obviously leads to a hint of Bourdieu, a bit of Cowney, a dash of Bradney….

The first hurdle- RF1

The first assessment point in the SHU PhD journey is the RF1. It’s a relatively light touch assessment, designed to see that a project is viable.

My RF1 form is due in on 31st May. I’ve sent a draft to my supervisors, and present it here. Do comment should you feel so inclined ūüôā

 

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Research context

Public legal education (PLE) entails the provision of education in legal processes, rights, and responsibilities to the lay public[1] and focuses on the knowledge and skills required for participation in the legal system.[2] It can be thought of as the legal equivalent of  public health education or public understanding of science work.

There are several legal and policy drivers relating to PLE. At the most general level, the rule of law requires that people know- or they can find out about- the law as it applies to them.[3]

The cuts to legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO 2012) has seen an increased number of self-represented litigants, and associated cuts to advice services has made getting legal information and support harder.[4]

The potential creation of an online court, as envisioned in the 2015 Briggs report[5], would require  litigants to navigate the complexities of both  IT systems and the court system .

Additionally, cuts to legal aid and advice have potentially damaging implications for  individuals and the system itself; a lack of legal knowledge acts as a barrier to vindicating rights[6] and can contribute to difficulties with using the legal system.[7] This lack of knowledge can lead to inefficient uses of the legal system, or indeed non-use .[8]

PLE is one intervention in response to these changes, offering people the knowledge they need for self-advocacy and agency.[9]

There is no system for PLE, LASPO 2012 having abolished the provisions for PLE in the Access to Justice Act 1999. The Legal Services Act 2007 places a responsibility for PLE on the legal professions, and LASPO 2012 gave the Lord Chancellor the ability to support PLE. [8]

Universities, law schools, and legal  academics

In government policy universities are charged with supporting the economy and producing skilled workers.[11] New public management, the shift to fee based financing, and the development of consumerism have contributed to this shift in policy and emphasis. [12]

Historically the mission of universities has been defined in terms of two or three elements- research and teaching, sometimes joined by service.[13] Recent work on the ‚Äėthird mission‚Äô (service) has (re)-opened community engagement and other forms of service as an area of work for universities.[14]

This possibility for service is challenged by the ongoing emphasis on research and teaching metrics[15] and the economic role of universities.[16]

Law schools are subject to the same range of social and political pressures as their parent institutions[17]. If student satisfaction, degree completion rates, or REF results are the key measures, there are implications for the feasibility of undertaking¬† PLE or other ‚Äėexternal‚Äô activities which do not support those measured activities.

Many legal academics see themselves as committed to liberal education[18] and its values of open enquiry free of practical demands. This could mean they are less inclined to PLE because it falls outside of the perceived roles of themselves  and  the university. [19]  However, some legal academics see PLE as an element of the work of the law school, not as a direct provider of PLE but as a source of information and support.[20]

Legal academics‚Äô conceptions of law as a discipline [21] are a potential barrier to¬† engagement with PLE., if Law¬† is seen either as an autonomous way of reasoning about specific forms of activity[22] or when it is seen as a vehicle for the aims of liberal education discussed above.[23] In both cases the ‚Äėproper‚Äô role of law school and legal academics does not include engagement with the ‚Äėoutside‚Äô world except as an object of study or the material of a case.

Research problem

Whilst PLE can be thought of as the legal equivalent of public science and health education, it is by comparison underdeveloped- it was described as inadequate by the Bach Commission[24] report. Twining’s call for greater involvement by legal academics in public legal education[25] does not seem to have been met in any systematic way in England.

This research sets out to understand why this is so. It will analyse why there has not been a wider and more systematic response ¬†by legal academics to the needs and challenges presented by the generally low level of popular legal knowledge, challenges compounded by changes in the legal aid and court systems. In particular it will identify and explore the policy,practice, and disciplinary pressures which act as barriers to engagement in activities seen to be outside the ‘core‚Äô research and teaching mission of universities and academics.

Methodology

As part of the literature review, I will search the academic and grey literature, focusing on these areas-

  • Nature and practice of public engagement- focus on health, science, and law
  • Policy context- legal aid, advice provision, court systems, higher education- role of universities and academics
  • Disciplinary context- law as academic discipline, law within the university, law and professions
  • Individual context- views of legal academics on their role

Legal academics will be approached to take part in semi-structured interviews. They will be selected so that the sample is representative in terms of:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • University ‚Äėtype‚Äô- Russell Group, University Alliance etc

Interviews will be transcribed verbatim and transcripts will be coded using NVIVO, and analysed following a grounded theory approach.

Summary

The pervasive presence of law means that everyone has a need to understand how the law affects them. In addition, recent cuts to advice and legal aid and changes in court systems have made the challenges of using the court system much greater.

PLE is as way of responding to these challenges and needs, and presents an opportunity for legal academics and their law schools, but there is no systematic provision of PLE by universities. [26] This research sets out to develop a theory as to  why this is so, based on analysis of the literature on PLE and the interview responses of a range of legal academics.

References and Bibliography

Amnesty International, Cuts that hurt (2016) Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur45/4936/2016/en/

J Axtell, Wisdom’s workshop: the rise of the modern university (Princeton UP 2016)

Ronald Barnett, Understanding the university: institution, ideas, possibilities (Routledge 2016)

——————— ‘Constructing the university: towards a social philosophy of higher education’ (2017) 49 (1) Educational Philosophy and Theory 78

Tom Bingham, The rule of law (Penguin 2011)

Brian Bix, ‘Law as an autonomous discipline’ in Mark Tushnet and Peter Cane (eds) Oxford handbook of legal studies (OUP 2005)

Geoffrey Boulton and Colin Lucas, What are universities for? (2011) Retrieved from http://www.leru.org/files/general/%E2%80%A2What%20are%20universities%20for%20(September%202008).pdf  ;

Anthony Bradney, ‘Law as a parasitic discipline’ (1998) 25 (1) Journal of law and society 71

———————— Conversations, choices and chances (Hart 2003)

M Briggs (2016) Civil Courts Structure Review: Final Report Retrieved from https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/civil-courts-structure-review-final-report/

Roger Brownsword ‘Law schools for lawyers, citizens and people’ in Fiona Cownie (ed) The law school : global issues, local questions (Ashgate 1999)

Alexy Buck, Pascoe Pleasence and Nigel Balmer, ‘Do citizens know how to deal with legal issues? Some empirical insights’ (2008) 37 (4) Jnl Soc Pol 661

Stefan Collini, Speaking of universities (Verso 2017)

Fiona Cownie (ed) The law school : global issues, local questions (Ashgate 1999)

————————- Legal academics (Hart 2004)

Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz, ‘ The hollowed-out university? A critical analysis of changing institutional and academic norms in UK higher education’ (2013) 34 (3) Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 338

Frank Dignan, Richard Grimes and Rebecca Parker, ‘Pro bono and clinical work in law schools: summary and analysis’ (2017) 4 (1)¬† Asian Journal of Legal Education 1

E3M, Fostering and measuring ‘third mission’ in higher education institutions Retrieved from http://e3mproject.eu/Green%20paper-p.pdf

The Fabian Society (2016) The crisis in the justice system in England and Wales Retrieved from http://www.fabians.org.uk/access-to-justice-the-bach-commission/

Legal Action Group, Towards a national strategy for public legal education (Legal Action Group 2004)

————————— Public legal education: a proposal for development (Legal Action Group 2005)

Marta Lenartowicz, ‘The nature of the university’ (2015) 69 Higher education 947

PLEAS Task Force, Developing capable citizens: the role of public legal education (PLEAS Task Force 2007)

Francine Rochford, ‘Is there any clear idea of a university?’ (2006) 28 (2) Journal of higher education policy and management 14

John Scott, ‘The mission of the university: medieval to postmodern transformations’ (2006) 77 (1) The journal of higher education 1

Mathias Siems and Daithi MacSithigh, ‘Mapping legal research’ (2012) 71 (3) Cambridge law journal 651

Margaret Thornton, Privatizing the public university: the case of law (Routledge 2007)

Christopher Tomlins, ‘Framing the field’ (200) 34 (4) Law and society review 911

Mark Tushnet and Peter Cane (eds) Oxford handbook of legal studies (OUP 2005)

William Twining, Blackstone’s tower (Sweet and Maxwell 1994)

———————‘Thinking about law schools: Rutland reviewed’ (1998) 25 (1) Journal of law and society 1

———————- ‘ The SLS Centenary Lecture Punching our weight? Legal scholarship and public understanding’ (2009) 29 (4) Legal studies ¬†519

 

Notes

[1] PLEAS Task Force, Developing capable citizens: the role of public legal education (PLEAS Task Force 2007) 9; Frank Dignan, Richard Grimes and Rebecca Parker, ‘Pro bono and clinical work in law schools: summary and analysis’ (2017) 4 (1)¬† Asian Journal of Legal Education 1, 3; Alexy Buck, Pascoe Pleasence, Nigel Balmer, ‘Do citizens know how to deal with legal issues? Some empirical insights’ (2008) 37 (4) Jnl Soc Pol 661, 662

[2] Legal Action Group, Public legal education: a proposal for development (Legal Action Group 2005) 3, 9

[3] Legal Action Group, Towards a national strategy for public legal education (Legal Action Group 2004) 1; Tom Bingham, The rule of law (Penguin 2011) c3

[4] Amnesty International, Cuts that hurt (2016) Retrieved from https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur45/4936/2016/en/ 6, 36

[5] M Briggs (2016) Civil Courts Structure Review: Final Report Retrieved from https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/civil-courts-structure-review-final-report/

[6] Legal Action Group n2 1-2

[7] Legal Action Group n2 2

[8] PLEAS Task Force n1 7

[9] Legal Action Group n2 2

[10] Removal of CLS- Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 Sch.5(1) para.51(a); role of Lord Chancellor in PLE – Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 s1 (3)

[11] Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz, ‘ The hollowed-out university? A critical analysis of changing institutional and academic norms in UK higher education’ (2013) 34 (3) Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 338, 341; Stefan Collini, Speaking of universities (Verso 2017) 23

[12] Ronald Barnett, ‘Constructing the university: towards a social philosophy of higher education’ (2017) 49 (1) Educational Philosophy and Theory 78, 84-85; Stefan Collini n13 21; R Brownsword ‘Law schools for lawyers, citizens and people’ in Fiona Cownie (ed) The law school : global issues, local questions (Ashgate 1999) 63

[13] Marta Lenartowicz, ‘The nature of the university'(2015) 69 Higher education 947, 951; John Scott, ‘The mission of the university: medieval to postmodern transformations’ (2006) 77 (1) The journal of higher education 1, 2; on universities in general see J Axtell¬† , Wisdom’s workshop: the rise of the modern university (Princeton UP 2016); Ronald Barnett, Understanding the university: institution, ideas, possibilities (Routledge 2016)

[14] See for example E3M, Fostering and measuring ‘third mission’ in higher education institutions Retrieved from http://e3mproject.eu/Green%20paper-p.pdf

[15] Geoffrey Boulton and Colin Lucas, What are universities for? (2011) Retrieved from http://www.leru.org/files/general/%E2%80%A2What%20are%20universities%20for%20(September%202008).pdf ; Anthony Bradney, Conversations, choices and chances (Hart 2003) 19;

[16] Francine Rochford, ‘Is there any clear idea of a university’ (2006) 28 (2) Journal of higher education policy and management 147, 156

[17] Fiona Cownie n12; Anthony Bradney n15; Margaret Thornton, Privatizing the public university: the case of law (Routledge 2007)

[18] Fiona Cownie, Legal academics (Hart 2004) 76; Anthony Bradney n15 28, 31

[19] Anthony Bradney n15 125; William Twining, ‘Thinking about law schools: Rutland reviewed’ (1998) 25 (1) Journal of law and society 1, 6

[20] William Twining n19 12; see William Twining, Blackstone’s tower (Sweet and Maxwell 1994) for Twining’s detailed account of his ‘multifunctional’ law school model

[21] See Mathias Siems and Daithi MacSithigh, ‘Mapping legal research’ (2012) 71 (3) Cambridge law journal 651 and Christopher Tomlins, ‘Framing the field’ (200) 34 (4) Law and society review 911 for a general discussion of law as a discipline

[22] See for example Brian Bix, ‘Law as an autonomous discipline’ in Mark Tushnet and Peter Cane (eds) Oxford handbook of legal studies (OUP 2005) 985-6

[23] See for example Anthony Bradney, ‘Law as a parasitic discipline’ (1998) 25 (1) Journal of law and society 71

[24] The Fabian Society (2016) The crisis in the justice system in England and Wales Retrieved from http://www.fabians.org.uk/access-to-justice-the-bach-commission/

[25] William Twining, ‘ The SLS Centenary Lecture Punching our weight? Legal scholarship and public understanding’ (2009) 29 (4) Legal studies ¬†519

[26] see the following for examples of small-scale local university PLE activity- Dawn Watkins and Maribel Canto-Lopez, ‘Working with law students to develop legal literacy materials’ (2016) 50 (2) The law teacher 195; Paul McKeown and Sarah Morse, ‘Litigants in person: is there a role for higher education?’ (2015) 49 (1) The law teacher 122; Frank Dignan, Richard Grimes and Rebecca Parker n8

 

 

A brief update

Two weeks since my last post! Which coincided with the Easter break, which was very welcome ūüôā

I did do some work during the break, to keep up the momentum. I’m careful to try and stick to a work rhythm, whilst also being sure to have days when I don’t work on the research.

My first ‘landmark’ is due on 31st May. This is the RF1, which will be assessed by a rapporteur from my department. The RF1 sets out the aims and objectives of the research, the proposed methods, and a brief literature review. If the rapporteur is happy with the RF1 the proposal is approved and I will move on to the next landmark, the more substantial RF2 ‘Confirmation’ process.

Where am I to then? Well, I’ve read all of the articles I consider to be key to the RF1 review, and some of the books. Right now I’m reading about higher education(1), as the nature and role of the university is one of the factors I think will be important when considering why academics do what they do- and don’t do what they don’t!

I’ll be going to our Method conference, to get some pointers on that aspect of the work. There isn’t a need for a¬†detailed method discussion in the RF1, but this is an area I have not focused on in the past, so any and all help is good.

What does the GE mean? Well, depends on the outcome of course, but if the HE bill gors through now or later, the landscape of HE is going to change- Cottom’s¬†Lower Ed may become alarmingly relevant here… There’s also been talk of a Green Paper with PLE as an element, so we’ll see.

(1) Axtell’s¬†Wisdom’s Workshop¬†and¬†Collini’s¬†Speaking of universities . Planning on looking at Barnett and Nussbaum. And, you know, Leavis-and-Newman-and….

PLE, legal scholars and engagement – a possible title tweak

Reading Boyer’s¬†Scholarship of engagement¬†(1)¬†last night¬†I thought “Is PLE a form of engaged scholarship? Could it be?”

Boyer argued for a closer link between American universities and the socio-political problems of the day. He felt that such a link had been an element of higher education in the USA from the beginning, and had rather faded in favour of an inward looking research and teaching mission. A ‘scholarship of engagement’ would be a corrective to this.

Many forms of legal research are engaged in this way, looking to bring the insights of research into solving problems in the legal system. In so far as it brings university students into the domain of a social problem, PLE is a form of engaged teaching.  There is a great deal of such activity, especially in the form of StreetLaw projects, and recently Birkbeck has launched a PLE module. (2)

Students benefit from such opportunities and even where PLE is not the primary aim (as in law clinics) some form of education often takes place.

To be engaged¬†scholarship, however, I think PLE would require the involvement of academics in the provision of PLE. There is some of this – legal blogging particular- but nothing systematic. Might we see a professor for the public understanding of law? (3) A series of lectures at Christmas? Why¬†don’t we?

With that in mind, my thesis may now move from looking at “barriers to law¬†school involvement in PLE” to looking at¬†“barriers to law¬†academics’¬†involvement in PLE.”

(1) http://openjournals.libs.uga.edu/index.php/jheoe/article/view/253/238 

(2) http://www.lawforlife.org.uk/law-for-life-projects/clinical-module/ 

(3) As discussed by Graeme Broadbent at CLE 2015 http://www.nlscle.org.uk/conference/access-to-justice-and-legal-education-june-2015/ 

 

Clinic, CLE, and PLE

If you follow law on Twitter, you’ll likely have seen a…lively discussion on the merits of a new McKenzie Friends registry. I don’t intend to get into that discussion- I don’t know nearly enough- but the involvement of two HEIs does lead to one of my thesis topics:

is clinical legal education a form of public legal education?

Certainly legal aid has been described as taking on the role of PLE, back when it was well funded. The post LASPO legal aid system, in particular cuts to funding, is mentioned as one reason for reviving efforts at PLE. People are now not getting PLE via the advice given in legal aid supported cases.

Legal aid as PLE is what we might call PLE by proxy. The¬†aim of legal aid is of course to enable people to vindicate their rights, but in the process they might gain a better understanding of the law in the area of their case.¬†This is a form of ‘just in time’ learning (1)- knowledge acquired at the time of need, as opposed to ‘just in case’ knowledge acquired without a specific issue in mind.

Clinical legal education, in particular law clinics, can be seen as a similar form of ‘just in time’ PLE. PLE is not the¬†aim of the clinic, usually, but it can be a beneficial outcome. Planning for PLE would enable clinics to function more effectively as sites of PLE.

Streetlaw is the main example of a clinical approach which has PLE as its main aim, and is a form of ‘just in case.’ Whilst the topics are relevant to the audience, there is not a pressing legal issue to be dealt with at the time. The main problem with Streetlaw is it of necessity focuses on a particular audience and topic, and whilst PLE is its aim, it must also deliver on pedagogy and student experience.

There has been work in which law students created teaching materials for schools (2) and this could be extended by linking the kind of cases that come into clinics to the help materials prepared.

Oh, OK, on the McK Friends thing? Seems like an OK idea, poorly executed, and driven by a hazy commitment to ‘entrepreneurship.’ It’s not the answer.

 

(1) see https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/research/find/keeping-up-to-date/ 

(2) (2016)¬†Dawn Watkins & Maribel Canto-Lopez¬†‘Working with law students to develop legal literacy materials’¬†The Law Teacher, 50:2, 195-208¬†http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2015.1064668