Professor Toby Seddon, Head of the School of Law and prior to entering academia and a Professor of Criminology at the School, spent 10 years as a researcher in the voluntary sector, working in the areas of penal reform, criminal justice, drug policy and homelessness. In this blog he discusses the role of Law schools in the Twenty-First Century to coincide with the publication of a report commissioned by The University of Manchester’s School of Law entitled: ‘Clinical Legal Education and Experiential Learning: Looking to the Future’
When the world’s first university was established in Bologna in 1088, the teaching of law was one of its earliest endeavours. Indeed, legal education and legal scholarship have always been an important part of the academy as well as significant in the wider world. Some of the major figures of modern history have been law graduates, including Fidel Castro, Christabel Pankhurst, Nelson Mandela and, most recently, Barack Obama. And Law Schools continue to be vital and thriving parts of the very best global universities: Harvard without its Law School is hard to imagine!
In Britain, law has consistently proved to be a highly popular subject for study and numbers on undergraduate programmes have increased very significantly, particularly over the last five or so years. Some Law Schools, including within the Russell Group, continue to follow an expansionist path, with intakes this September of over 500 to their LLB programmes. Yet there are undoubtedly some headwinds gathering force which present new twenty-first century challenges for Law Schools, including: an increasing government policy emphasis on teaching quality (and the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework); the pressure from all employers to prepare students better for the world of work; the impact of technology on the learning environment and the workplace; and the increasing focus on the wider ‘impact’ of our research activities. On top of all that, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is currently consulting on the biggest changes to professional legal education and training for decades.
At Manchester, we have been working hard to develop a strategic response to these challenges, so that we can not only thrive but also be in a position to seize some of the new opportunities that will no doubt be presented in this ‘new world’. Our first step has been the decision to reduce the intake on our LLB programmes this year to just under 200. This is bucking the trend of many other top Law Schools but is essential to allow us to focus on the quality of the student learning experience.
One of the areas where we have long been at the forefront is in Clinical Legal Education (CLE), through our award-winning Legal Advice Centre established by Dinah Crystal some 15 years ago. To help us think about how we might develop CLE further in the future, we commissioned the report on Clinical Legal Education and Experiential Learning which has been published today. The report provides a picture of how CLE within Law Schools has the potential to be developed in new and exciting directions. We plan to invest significantly in our Legal Advice Centre in the next couple of years, as it will be increasingly important that we can offer all our students opportunities for in-house pro bono work where they can apply and hone their knowledge and understanding, at the same time as developing skills.
The integration of CLE and wider skills into the curriculum will be critical. Alongside this, we will be aiming to secure structured workplace experience for students which is also properly integrated within programmes. Built on our traditional foundation of the highest academic standards and intellectual rigour, our reshaped and integrated programmes will prepare our graduates to become the leaders of tomorrow, whether in the legal profession or the diverse range of other sectors they go into.
The legal services and justice sectors in Manchester have been rapidly expanding and regional devolution – DevoManc – looks set to transform the local landscape of health, social care and criminal justice. Students on all our programmes – law, criminology, and healthcare law and ethics – have a unique opportunity to benefit from being on the doorstep of these developments and we are working to extend our networks with external agencies and local employers. In the legal services sector, we have been discussing these issues and our plans with some of the major Manchester-based law firms. Andrew Austin, Graduate Recruitment Partner at Freshfields, has commented:
“We have been talking to the School of Law about the skills that we think that our international lawyers of the future will need. Future generations of law graduates from Manchester will be better skilled, more innovative, more diverse and therefore better prepared to join the profession than ever before.”
Similarly, Malcolm Pike at Addleshaw Goddard emphasises our long-standing relationship:
“Addleshaw Goddard and Manchester University have a long heritage working together. The firm’s Managing Partner is a graduate of the University and many members of staff have been involved in teaching,
pro-bono, management and advisory activities throughout the years we have worked together. As one of the leading firms in Manchester, we are delighted with the direction that School is taking. The legal profession continues to change and develop and, with Manchester spearheading itself as the legal hub outside of London, the School’s plans to equip better the lawyers of tomorrow is truly exciting and is something we, as a firm, strongly believe in. We very much look forward to working together in the future to address those challenges.”
At the core of all this change, some things remain the same. The profound importance of teaching and research on questions of rights, law and justice is unaltered. And the contribution that Law Schools can make to the world is still enormous in its potential and reality. At Manchester, our passion and commitment to being part of that larger global endeavour burn as bright as ever.