SLS Conference, session 2

by Paul Maharg on 09/09/2016

The second session started with Amanda Zacharopoulou, describing the experience of pre-arrival activities at the University of Ulster Law School

She described the process of developing induction activities for students, and particularly pre-arrival activities.  Through evaluation they found: the majority of students felt confident to study law; students felt studies advisers were encouraging and supportive; students wanted more socialisation; and, rather unexpectedly, some students did not appear to place the same value on the pre-arrival as staff did.  Staff therefore amended the pre-arrival activity to include a case and journal article; specific guidance on how to read a case, and how to read an article.  The case chosen specifically to tie in with Year 1 modules and an interesting case was chosen (cannibalism and the defence of necessity…)

Very good feedback, from both students and staff.  Amanda concluded that a comprehensive pre-arrival activity can help to engender excitement and help students in their first year; but it must be clearly structured and relevant.  Students need support and direction, and it must be properly managed.

Next up, Jenny Crewe from the Law Society of England & Wales on ‘Why the SRA loves the SQE’.  Jenny was part of the team that I was involved with at the SRA in putting together the QLTS.  She’s now with the Law Society of England & Wales.  She started by pointing out the differences between LSEW and the SRA.  She outlined the situation of the QLTS as an assessment for lawyers who qualified elsewhere and wanted to practise in England and Wales, why it was set up, the differences between QLTS and QLTT.  She focused on validity and reliability (using Cronbach’s Alpha and Standard Error measurement) and how the QLTS was set up to ensure these as guiding principles of the new assessment.  Centralised assessment clearly makes assessment more reliable and valid.  On a risk spectrum for regulators, higher risk assessment activities are those involving unstructured period of work-based experience, the LPC and law degrees.  The middle ground of risk is occupied by specific assessment tools delegated to trained members of profession.  The lower risk field is OSCE and MCT.

Standard-setting is always arbitrary, but the 50% cut score more than most, Jenny said.  QLTS is useful because based upon the quality of the client’s experience, fairness to candidates, and is defensible in the face of legal challenges.  She cited the Angoff Method, used for MCTs, with standard setting group convened by the SRA, with discussion of characteristics of day one borderline competent newly qualified solicitor.  Each panel member assesses how many out of 10 borderline competent candidates would answer the question correctly.  She also described the Borderline Group Regression method.  The result of both methods is variable pass marks, and she pointed out that in the context of the robust methods, this was acceptable.  Interesting presentation, challenged by some during questions, but a useful and perceptive summary of QLTS.

Finally, Graham Ferris on ‘The promise and perils of positive psychology in legal education’.  He drew a distinction between Positive psychology and Positive Psychology.  He supported the former, not the latter, if I have him right.  He described it as being about the nature of the good life (natural law theory – Finnis, Aristotle, Aquinas, Dworkin, etc).  Those authors shared a universal concept of human good.  It can include hedonic utilitarianism (Bentham, Layard).  I’m not quite sure I caught the remainder of the distinctions he made in the rest of the presentation, so I’ll leave it there.

Useful and challenging session.

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