Lawcast 185: Gary Slapper, Director Open University Law School on the New College of Humanities and changes in legal education

Today I am talking to Professor Gary Slapper, Director of the Law School at The Open University.  We look at some topical matters relating to legal education, the reforms being considered by the profession, the influence of the big vocational law schools  on legal education syllabuses and teaching and the recent announcement by Professor A C Grayling of the New College for Humanities.


It is a wide ranging discussion, noting the influence of the big vocational schools, BPP University College and The College of Law, on legal education.
Listen to the podcast

My post on the New College of Humanities


And…thank you to Cassons For and  David Phillips & Partners Solicitors , Contact Law UK Solicitors

for sponsoring the podcast and the free student materials on Insite Law


2 thoughts on “Lawcast 185: Gary Slapper, Director Open University Law School on the New College of Humanities and changes in legal education

  1. Thanks for posting this podcast, @charonqc.

    @garyslapper, I feel, is right to call law as a ‘liberal study’, in other words you are not obligated to become a legal practitioner at the end of it. (One never stops learning in the law, but that’s a different matter.) For example, Lord Neuberger MR was not obligated to turn into a professional solid-state chemist following his degree at Oxford. People who study law are very employable in other disciplines; the same is not true after 6 years of medical study, unless you have done a B.Sc. (or similar) in a totally different discipline.

    That’s why I strongly agree with @BaronessDeech in her conversation with @charonqc in that people should be open-minded about what to do with their law degree, subsequent to qualifying. A Professor of Law at the University of London once told me that you couldn’t predict what use you would make of information in the future; for example, whilst I found the “rule of law” a very dry subject, I can now understand its clear application in access to justice and the possible impact of legal aid cuts. I also want to be able to appreciate an elegant, articulate article outside of my own interests in the law, say in criminal law or the law of evidence (for example, LJ Stephen Sedley in the London Review of Books).

    I started my legal studies at the age of 32. Personally, I am not a law student at all, although I will be doing the LPC at BPP from January 2011. I am studying the BPP MBA, and I happen to think my degrees in business and law go well together. My LLM in international commercial law from the LLM, which I enjoyed greatly, involved practice seats I may never have an experience of in real-life. I did my Ph.D. in social cognition (neurosciences) and its application in dementia; this has helped me to understand the generic issue of emotional intelligence (EI), and indeed there has been much academic and practitioner interest in the potential application of EI in leadership in professional legal practices.

    I enjoyed my GDL (and LLB upgrade) at BPP. The course is extremely demanding, but I believe in transferable skills. I got a very good First from Cambridge, but the skills required to pass the GDL were very different. You had to assimilate a lot of information fast, and I only answered (6 x 3) + 2 i.e. 20 1-hour problem questions across the seven foundation subjects. I didn’t answer a single essay (relatively few were offered), and therefore I never had to produce a sustained lengthy argument. The ability to produce a sustained argument I found was a valuable skill from my Ph.D., but likewise training contract interviews that I have done at Magic Circle firms have emphasised their wish for fee-earners to deal with commercial law matters in an efficient, fast manner. They don’t seem to wish people who can dwell on issues at great length; they certainly don’t want people to sit on-the-fence and reach no clear conclusions. And who can blame them? They’re paying your salary and for your training (but not in my case).

    My firm conclusion is this: law is a broach church, nobody should treat law course as a ‘servile’ unless they lack, fundamentally, a fertile intellect, and people should make every effort to find out what they enjoy in their training. This could be understanding the role of Bayesian probabilities in DNA analysis sampling over 20 months, or drafting a cloud-computing SLA agreement in less than 30 minutes. I spent 9 years at Cambridge, and 5 so far at BPP and the College of Law.

    Sad but true: nobody is better than the other. Similarly, it would be unwise to draw any hasty conclusions about #NCH, but there are interesting arguments concerning its future in “the knowledge economy” (@charonqc @garyslapper @DavidAllenGreen). Everyone is equal in front of the law, and all that!

  2. A law degree is the most versatile of academic qualifications. There is really just one career for a graduate of dental surgery but for law graduates there are multifarious paths to success.

    Many law graduates proceed to become solicitors or barristers but, equally, many others use the qualification to become successful in commercial life, academic research, the media, the civil service, corporations, local government, teaching, campaign organisations, and politics – over 80 MPs, for example, have law degrees. A law degree can prepare someone for work at the highest levels – Barack Obama used to be a legal academic. Having studied law, some people such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, John Cleese, Derren Brown, Gaby Logan, and Gerard Butler, move on to entirely different careers.

    There are now 70,500 people studying law in the UK, with around 15,500 graduating each year. A significant number do not go on to become practising lawyers. In England and Wales, about 5,700 training places in firms and organisations are now being offered for prospective solicitors each year and about 500 pupillages for barristers. So, many who take the Legal Practice Course or the new Bar Professional Training Course will not go directly into standard practice but will move into legal work that is not reserved for fully-apprenticed lawyers. Additionally, many law graduates glide directly into other occupations as the employment rate for law degree holders is exceptionally high. Research conducted at Warwick and Kent showed that law graduates earn more than graduates in other subjects, and research at University College London found that of all university subjects, the one seen by the public as most useful to gain employment was law.

    Law governs every facet of human life so there is something in the discipline for everyone, including the law related to science, technology, sport, entertainment, business, politics, finance, criminal justice, the family, employment, property, cars, medicine, and international affairs. Law graduates show prowess in many of the abilities in which employers now require accomplishment. A university legal education equips students with a formidable library of knowledge and a magnificent portfolio of skills. Law degrees certify that their holders have high levels of literacy, communication skill, rigorous powers of analysis, numeracy, IT skill, argumentative and evaluative skill, advanced problem-solving capability, research proficiency and presentational expertise.

    Most law degrees today have Qualifying Law Degree (QLD) status meaning that they are endorsed by the legal professional bodies and cover all the academic law that those intending to practise need to qualify. Superior QLDs offer more than this. As the distinguished legal academic and later Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, W.T.S. Stallybrass, noted in 1948, “a university education should be education in the Law and not only, or possibly not even primarily, education for the Law”. He said that universities should turn out people who were not merely professional lawyers but people of “general ability and acceptance”.

    That many law graduates do not enter chambers or law firms is not new. The enlightening value of the law degree has long produced people with illustrious careers outside law. In his inaugural lecture at Cambridge in 1955, Professor C. J. Hamson said that the number of his former students at the Bar was small. He said many of them went on to other kinds of legal service, local, colonial and civil and that, desirably, the law school was not solely concerned with producing lawyers.

    In 1947, Professor C.E.S. Wade noted in his inaugural lecture that law should be taught in the Universities “not as an exercise in professional technique but in relation to its place in the world in which we live”. A great modern law school is a place where academic theory is informed by those specialising in legal practice, and where legal practice is enhanced by those specialising in the scientific analysis of law and its social contexts. As the American jurist Karl Llewellyn noted in 1945 “Technique without ideals may be a menace, but ideals without technique are a mess”.

    If you play chess or cricket, football, or Monopoly it is a great advantage to know the rules well. The law is the rulebook applicable to the entire canvas of life. It is a rulebook rich in history, intrigue, thrills, cunning, comedy, and tragedy. Those who are expert in its contents are indispensable. As a matter of social health, there should be law graduates everywhere to guard against the danger observed by John le Carré: “it’s always wonderful what a lawyer can achieve when nobody knows the law”.
    Gary Slapper

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