Research proposal

In the spirit of environmental responsibility, here is the re-purposed draft of my application. This will be submitted once I’ve drawn up the initial literature review.

Outline of research area:
The proposed research focuses on the relationship between university law schools, the legal system, and wider society. In particular it will analyse the role law schools currently play – and could play in the future- in the provision of public legal education through engagement with groups such as schools, charities, and the legal professions.

Aims of the project:
The project aims to critically analyse and lay out the theoretical and practical issues involved in public legal education provision by law schools. It will discuss university public engagement in general- looking particularly at work in STEM fields and the public understanding of science- and then move on to current public legal education, with a focus on the work of law schools. Finally it will describe and critically analyse potential schemes of public engagement with law mediate via law schools.

Following an initial literature review which will establish the theoretical and practical background to the research a series of semi-structured interviews will be carried out. Interviewees will be drawn from heads of law schools and members of relevant community groups. The interviews will be transcribed and coded, and the resultant set of responses analysed.

Currently the research is framed in terms of the following:-

The nature of the English legal system, in particular the idea of the rule of law and the importance for individuals of understanding the system;

The idea of ‘pro bono’ work in law and legal education;

The current Higher Education system, in particular the challenges presented by fees, marketisation, and competition and the implications that these have for curriculum development and outreach work; and

The challenges facing organisations such as schools and charities, and how these affect their capacity to provide public legal education.

Potential impact:
The project could clarify the theoretical and practical issues involved in setting up law school provided public legal education projects, and in so doing provide a framework for law schools who wish to conduct such activities. Such a framework could also be of use to policy makers in schools and higher education.

Connections could be set up between law schools and potential partners via the interviews, furthering the provision of public legal education.

Research proposal

So here we are again…

Soon I will be submitting an application to Sheffield Hallam University, to join the PhD programme in the Department of Law and Criminology. It’ll be self-funded initially, with the chance of some faculty funding if the stars align…

I’m reviving this blog as a record of my activity and as a place to share thoughts. The first substantive post will go over the research proposal- but for now, in brief:-

is there a role for university law schools in public legal education?

So here we are again…

Public understanding of law

Last night I sat down with the family to watch the new BBC quiz ‘Insert Name Here’, which I can highly recommend. One of the guests was Alice Roberts, whom some will know as a presenter of a number of science documentaries; she is also the Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham.

Straight after that we watched ‘Stargazing Live’ with those two excellent science communicators Dara O’Briain and Brian Cox. Browsing the iPlayer- or Amazon Prime, or Netflix, or YouTube- we could easily have filled our week with science.

Not so much law. Police procedurals– absolutely. Drama featuring lawyers- no problem. But accessible discussion of how the law affects us all, featuring practitioners and academics from the field- perhaps with a celebrity added in- not so much. Why might that be an issue and what can be done about it?

On Twitter our esteemed colleague Professor Julian Webb noted that the public understanding of law is as important to us all as is the public understanding of science. (1) An understanding of how laws are made is valuable in assessing those laws and the policies which give rise to them. It can also be a corrective to apathy. (2)

Julian called for collaboration between academics and practitioners in developing the public understanding of law (3) This is something I mentioned in my LLM thesis (4), drawing on the work of William Twining. It can be argued that many universities already do some form of public understanding of law work via their clinics. This work, whilst admirable, only covers such aspects of law as the clinics cover and only reaches their clients.

Universities could develop lecture programmes, develop their outreach with schools and workplaces, and as Julian noted reach out to the profession to develop collaborative work. This would be socially beneficial, and would also help both parties demonstrate their value to their communities.

A beginning might be found in the creation of a chair – or several chairs- in the Public Understanding of Law. This is an idea I kicked around with a few colleagues (including Julian.) If funding could be found then this person or people could begin working on how the talent, knowledge and experience of the legal and academic professions could be brought to bear on the challenge of making law as accessible and exciting as science.(5)


(2) Of course, you can understand and rail against🙂

(3) ,


(5) Insert ‘send all the lawyers into space’ jokes here…

Public understanding of law

New Year, New?…

What to do , to read about, to write about this year?

With the SRA and BSB working on their post-LETR education plans, there’s certainly enough there. Will a thousand clichés bloom in the SRA garden of many paths? Will the BSB resolve the thorny issue of just exactly what a degree is worth? Will CILEX quietly move build their own new features?

And behind all this, will LSA 2007 be reviewed? Replaced? Repealed?

There’s also the (proposed) changes in HE, and the effect this will have on university law schools? Will there be more private providers to take advantage of changes both in legal education and HE provision? How will university law schools position themselves, and will we see a divide between a liberal and an employability driven  response?

In terms of legal publishing, open access and open law remain interesting. Lively Twitter discussion of reform / review of the US Bluebook citation standards is but one part of that. Should all standards be open- as OSCOLA is? Why should you have to buy- or someone buy for you- the Bluebook in order to be able to cite in the approved manner?

Open law is also crucial, as previously discussed, to public understanding of law and public legal education. Free access to primary materials is a big part of that, but what of secondary materials such as commentary? Open access publishing comes in here, making such work available.

So, I guess I’ll be writing about some of that! I will try (honest I will…) to work some of it up into an article. I’d like to move on to a PhD, but there’s money- or rather, there isn’t… Still, onwards! And a good 2016 to you all.


New Year, New?…

Classification, or “there’s a name for it”

“And names make all the difference in the world.” (i)

Classification- how very librarian, eh? Well, yes, but the classification of law is something which has exercised the minds of legal academics as well.

When thinking about making legal information accessible, how can we classify / organise the information?

We could try to identify particular types of legal interaction or relationship- Obligations, Crimes- and then subdivide from there. Justinian time, so to speak. Such an approach underlies  legal academic taxonomies of law.


It also features in library classifications. For example the Dewey Decimal System has divisions for Contract, Tort etc as part of a wider class on Private law. DDC also incorporates a model in which law is classified according to what we might call ‘themes’- trade law, welfare law, jurisprudence etc. It also adds in features such as classification by form so we get classes like’dictionaries of law of X’, and by country so you can have ‘law of contract in country A.’

Both approaches tend to treat law as a thing under study, amenable to neat lines and clear classes. DDC does allow for some flexibility in application, but like any formal system depends either on knowledge of the system or assistance in using it. Neither an academic classification nor a library form seem best suited to classifying law in support of access to legal information, depending as they do on specialised knowledge and / or assistance.

An alternative approach is to organise information according to legal issue. This was the approach taken by the LAMS CCS scheme for advice sites (ii) LAMS CCS was designed to be used on sites which would be used by members of the public seeking legal advice, and so in its structure and language aimed to be as issue specific and jargon free as possible.

Such a scheme is an important element of access to legal information, alongside open access to information and the provision of IT infrastructure and training; if it’s hard to understand the structure of a site, it’s hard to use it.

That is not to say that there is no place for systems such as DDC, or Moys, or academic taxonomies. These can be used alongside ‘homebrew’ systems, providing a complementary structure and allowing for different forms of searching, and for interoperability. Classification could take on the role of translator, perhaps, enabling professionals and lay people to share in the construction and use of legal information systems. Taxonomy, taxonoyou, taxonoeveryone…. (iii)

(i) ‘Give me back my name’ – Talking Heads, from the album Little Creatures

(ii) The LAMS CCS – a Classification Scheme for Legal and Advice Websites

Jones, Martin. Legal Information Management 10.1 (Mar 2010): 10-12. Jones notes the the jargon heavy nature of existing schemes was a factor in the decision to create a new scheme

(iii) A riff there on Eddie Izzard’s ‘blasphemy, blas for you’ line

Classification, or “there’s a name for it”

Top down, bottom up

Short and sweet today!

Previous posts have dealt with the opening up of legal information and understanding through the work of law schools and legal publishers. This is very much a ‘top down’ approach, dependant on the ability and will of these organisations to take part in making legal information and understanding available.

How could a more ‘bottom up,’ community based approach work? Looking at the work of colleagues in the Radical Librarian Collective, I thought of:-

Gathering expertise- brining together people with knowledge and the willingness to share it

Building capacity – using that expertise to educate and train others who can build networks in their own area

Creating / using tools-sharing technical knowledge, creating tools to share information, making use of existing systems (such as the API (i) )

Please do add your own thoughts in the comments (ii)


(i) Thanks to Paul Magrath of the ICLR for his piece in the BIALL newsletter covering the API

(ii) Of course all of this is within the context of accepting the socio-legal system as is; some of you may want to detail how you can organise for transition to a new one😉

Top down, bottom up


Wait, come back! This is a post about the role of the law school and law publishers in pro bono work in the area of legal information and public legal education. It features two Latinisms, the other being ad hoc.

I think we do have pro bono work from law schools and publishers, some of which connects with legal information and public legal education provision, but it is ad hoc and could benefit from a more systematic approach.

Legal publishers do provide some information and education for free. The Incorporated Council for Law Reporting provides free case summaries, and through its blog it also provides a form of legal interpretation and analysis.

How much more could publishers do? That’s a question which takes us into wider discussions around Open Access, capitalism and the rentier behaviour of some publishers, the nature of the common law… So perhaps another post.

Right now, realistically in the UK, publishers are doing as much as we might expect in terms of pro bono provision of legal information. It’s ad hoc, at the whims of publishers and given that it is largely hosted online subject to the access problems discussed in my previous post.

A systematic answer to provision of primary legal information lies with government and improvements to services such as the online statute book, and with the courts in terms of the development of services such as the production of commentary for key decisions as seen on the Supreme Court site.

Related to this is a need for a range of accessible dissemination channels, for example by reversing cuts in public libraries and investing in online provision there and through developing other sites for public access to online materials, such as sites in schools.

In terms of opening access, institutions with law schools could- as some have- negotiate access to law databases for members of the public. (Publishers could offer this for free or low cost via public libraries also…) Libraries within such institutions could be given support in providing assistance with the use of these databases- time for staff to do drop-ins, hiring staff to do the same…

What of law schools? Certainly they do pro bono work- law clinics being the best known example. It could be that as a side-effect of such work, public understanding of law is improved, but that is definitionally ad hoc and limited.

Could- should?– law schools themselves do more? I argued in my thesis that they can and should. By extending their work into pro bono public legal education law schools would demonstrate wider relevance, open up the law to a wider audience, and begin to lessen their dependence on what Twining called ‘primary school’ education of future lawyers.

Law schools could work with local schools, colleges, and workplaces to develop and deliver education in the law.(i) That could mean creating materials, holding open lecture series, being involved in school visits… All of this likely does happen, but could happen in a more co-ordinated and targeted fashion. The ‘pro bono law school’ would complement the pro bono publishers – which includes government and judiciary sites- in making legal material accessible and understood.

A wider Public Understanding of Law approach could be taken(ii), bringing together law schools, the legal professions, law firms, the judiciary, and government. Professors of the Public Understanding of Law could be appointed, and programs developed around them. This would be  a major undertaking, but certainly not ad hoc and very much pro bono.(iii)


(i) The idea of the law school working on public legal education as part of its role as am element of the legal system was discussed by William Twining- see for example  “Developments in legal education : beyond the primary school model” [1991] 2 Legal Education Review 35; “Thinking about law schools: Rutland reviewed” [1998] Journal of Law and Society 25 (1) 1

(ii) I have discussed such an idea on Twitter with law professors John Flood and Julian Webb, and Tom Laidlaw of Lexis. The big issue is funding – I would be wary of legal publishers providing the funding, and more in support of collaborative funding by HEIs and perhaps law firms.

(iii) OK, some people would need to be paid…