WG Hart, day 2, session 2

by Paul Maharg on 24/06/2014

Parallel session: Pat Leighton, The LLB as a liberal degree? A re-assessment from an historical perspective.  There’s been a failure to develop a coherent and robust LLB in law schools.  We need to explore the culture of what we teach, how we teach it.  Pat focuses on the LLB, its history and culture.  She has read extensively in 19th century texts — crammer handbooks, law texts from the 1870s, the Gibson & Weldon approach to English legal education.  (Interesting to compare Scottish legal education in this regard — especially the culture of 19th century higher education culture, the effect of the Civil Service examinations on Scottish HE, cf the democratic intellect argument of George Elder Davie).  She argues that many attitudes derive from this period — she starts in 1824.  I like this: she’s taking a historical + realist approach (New Historical approach? would Pat agree with that?) to legal educational history, an approach that combines legal history and legal education.  The question arose for the early examiners — what does the law consist of?  why is it there at all?  These debates were part of the early curricula.  Eg early casebooks, legal notes texts, model answers — all these texts and their culture began early in the nineteenth century and their culture affects us today.  We still face the difficulty of creating a credible and dynamic degree that is not simply for professional qualification.  And the people who have been seldom consulted about legal education, are us, she says — legal academics (NB – LETR was a major consultation with the legal academic profession…).  The liberal law degree, she argues, still struggles for recognition.

Next up, Maureen Spencer: From the idealism of Robbins to the ideology of the market: Whitehall and legal education, 1963-83.  Very interesting topic, one she’s been working on for a while, and I’m looking forward to reading when it’s published.  Her argument:  public good values in discussions in 1960s & 70s made HE vulnerable in the 1980s.  She quoted Shattuck (2008 – must reread) on Thatcher’s administration’s paper of 1983.  Robbins, back in the 1960s, was aware of financial burdens.  R. is rightly applauded as a humanistic document.  But it was criticised too eg that it didn’t focus on purpose and function of HE.  Robbins is influential on Ormrod (1971) — Ormrod fails to come to grip with public interest, which has implications for the way in which the public good arguments are articulated, particularly when faced with the ever-rising costs of HE as massification slowly grew.  Two questions are raised by her research.  First, whatever the economic and efficiency arguments for opening up HE to novel forms of privatisation, will the ethos of the market undermine HE’s enduring public benefits (social cohesion, critical engagement of ideas).  Second, how far does the funding regime of HE impact on the quotidian culture and interactions between academic staff and students — f2f or in the digital domain?  I like this research a lot because Maureen is doing much-need empirical and historical research into government policy and the lived experience of those of us in HE; but she also takes an ironic distance from the development of both the law school and government policy.  And she asks us: how well do we articulate our values now, on public goods and the nature and function of the law degree, within the context of Higher Education?  Excellent paper.

Finally, Egle Dagilyte and Peter Coe, on Professionalism in law degrees: Chartering the territory between liberal education and legal services.  Consumerism and economic efficiency dominate the discourse.  Egle & Peter argue that academic degrees could address professionalism within undergraduate degree programmes.  They say there is both a wide and narrow definition of professionalism, and that the narrow one is no longer appropriate to contemporary legal education.  Not sure how wide their literature research was on professionalism, but they seem to adopt Colby & Sullivan (2008, U of St Thomas Law Journal) as the narrow definition.  Their wide definition is very wide: it involves skills and values — but no mention of social contractual discourses, etc (which of course Rick Abel has so extensively mapped and analysed).  They say that LETR draws on Epstein and Hundert’s (2002) model.  Which is partly true, but there’s more to it, I think.  But I like their examples of students undertaking skills education in a professionalism model.  They discuss new strategies and types of assessment, eg take-home examinations, supported by LETR recommendation 11.  They stress the public purpose of the legal profession by actively supporting law students’ engagement in activities that benefit the public (eg pro bono)

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