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

Into the weekend…

Slowly but surely getting through the reading. Started in on Tomlins’¬†How autonomous is law (1) last night, and realised I have a lot of philosophy reading to do…

Why am I reading on the autonomy of law? Well, it’s all to do with the idea of law as a¬†discipline in the academy. In its turn this is because I want to look at what law in the academy¬†is.¬†The idea of what law as a discipline is shapes the idea of what it is legitimate for law schools to do. If the vision of what law ‘is’ does not encompass engagement with society, for example, then PLE is less likely to be supported.

I’ll be framing the discussions (for now) in terms of the well-worn liberal v vocational debate, and the wider policy dimensions covered by ideas such as New Public Management and neo-liberalism. You can derive both ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments from ALL OF THEM! That’s all of the fun of the PhD…

So, have a good weekend! Heidegger, Heidegger, it’s off to read I go…


(1) Annual Review of Law and Social Science 2007 Vol. 3:45-68

A love-this is some straight up BS relationship

The past week’s reading has focused on the ‘what are law schools for?’ question. One of the main answers to this question- one that has featured heavily this week- is ‘to provide a liberal legal education.’

Now, this is something that in many ways I should be on board with. Independent inquiry, self-betterment, what’s not to like?

Well… sometimes I just find the whole approach a touch¬†aristocratic. And when it’s not aristocratic it’s¬†monastic. There’s a nod to issues of power and hierarchy, but all too often little follow up as to how this might affect the liberal enterprise¬†itself. My inchoate opposition to the position comes from a feeling that it is¬†too individualistic whilst at the same time trying to understand social issues.

Still, it’s challenging and interesting and I will no doubt get on to other approaches to teaching and studying law that will annoy me just as much…

I’ve also been working on the RDF planner, where the ‘love’ element of the relationship is…smaller. I fully appreciate the value of self-reflection, and know there are several areas where I need to develop, but… the RDF planner itself is so over-engineered it acts as a disincentive to the process. See also CILIP’s PKSB.

This week’s reading moves on to public legal education itself, starting with the PLEAS taskforce material, working towards a definition of PLE. More love in that I think!

Nearly five weeks in…

I’ve got the reading sorted, in the sense that I have downloaded the articles and arranged access to the books… I’ve got notes from some sources already, and have carefully put links to everything in Refworks. Some of the reading is re-reading, as it’s material I used in the LLM Res, such as Cownie and Bradney’s work on law schools.

I’ve fallen behind a bit on the RDF planner- the system we’re using for doctoral skills development needs analysis. I hope to pick it up this week. So far I’ve identified the following needs:-

  • Formal research methods training. I’ll be doing a couple of MRes modules to cover that.
  • Training on software for interview analysis. That comes down to online materials and practice.

I’ve also been looking at Scrivener. So far so good, but not decided yet on whether to invest in it. Might also look at some project management sort of tools, like Trello.

So a mix of the substantive and the procedural. More like a piece of law work in that sense ūüėČ


The weekend and fun!

Well, I say fun…

I’m planning on Saturdays being a ‘bureaucracy day.’ By that I mean a day to:-

type up notes

update reference management files

work on RDF planner entries

update / work on RF1 and ethics forms

This way I can feel that I am working on the PhD without it being a full on day of reading and writing. I’ll also be sure to take a break from the PhD on Sunday – perhaps get a run in, I’ve been rather lax on that front lately. I think regular running will be good not just for body but for mind…