Qualifying law degree
While the standalone modules provide one way of introducing socio-legal studies into the curriculum and offering an engagement with empirical legal research, they are likely to be offered in the second and third years of study, when students may already have become fixed in their views as to what is required in the study of law. It is thus important that a socio-legal approach permeates not just such standalone modules but all elements of the degree programme and in particular the QLD compulsory modules.
All QLDs (in essence all law degrees in England and Wales) are required to comply with the Joint Statement Issued by the Law Society and the General Council of the Bar on the Completion of the Initial or Academic Stage of Training by Obtaining an Undergraduate Degree (Law Society and General Council of the Bar, 1999). Schedule 2 of that document sets out the 'Foundations of legal knowledge', which comprise seven legal areas that must be covered in a QLD. The chapters in Part II of this book reflect these, although different law schools may divide them up in slightly different ways.
It has been noted (see Charlotte O'Brien's chapter, quoting Ball and Dadomo, 2010) how the constraints of the Joint Statement can be used as a reason (or perhaps excuse) for keeping to a more traditional doctrinal approach to the qualifying subjects. However, the statement provides no real prescription at all as to the content of any QLD module. The schedule simply requires that 'the key elements and general principles' are taught. Whether because of the perceived requirement to comply with some mythical prescription or not, as Charlotte O'Brien in her chapter on EU law further notes, there is a danger in the curriculum of feeling the need to 'teach everything' (p. 185) and this can be true in other subject areas as well. Such an approach can lead to there being little room in the curriculum for anything but (an ever-expanding) amount of doctrinal law. The chapters in Part II reflect an approach that, hopefully, steps back from this and encourages those designing foundation modules to find room for key socio-legal questions about, for example, the reach and effect of the key elements and general principles as well as their doctrinal content.
The chapters all represent the authors' own take on the particular subject and are not intended in any way as prescriptive. Rather, we hope they will provide a stimulus to the pedagogic imagination. The chapters take different approaches, with some offering more advice on day-to-day classroom activities and assessments than others. Those on public law, property and equity and EU law give an overview of the subject and look at how taking a thematic approach to teaching can allow socio-legal issues to emerge (something I shall return to below). Karen Devine focuses on the particular approach to teaching obligations, and in particular tort, at Kent Law School. Matthew Weait and
Linda Mulcahy and Sally Wheeler in the chapters on crime and contract start from a narrower point. Both take an individual case (in crime, a trial transcript; in contract, a decision that went on appeal from the Technology and Construction Court through the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court) as their starting point.
The Nuffield Inquiry focused primarily on empirical legal research in civil rather than criminal justice. In criminal law, as Matthew Weait points out, there is a debate as to how far the existing myriad of criminal justice and criminological literature (empirical and otherwise) can be said to be sociolegal (there is always a question as to how far there is an overlap between criminologists and socio-legal scholars). Rather than provide a survey of that literature, he focuses on 'the legal and pedagogical expertise of those who typically teach criminal law, and of the expectations and interests of those who are studying it' and suggests 'one specific way in which we might bring the lived experience of criminal law into the classroom' through the use of trial transcripts (pp. 161-2). He suggests that:
active engagement with the trial provides those teaching and studying criminal law in the undergraduate curriculum with the opportunity not only to gain a richer understanding of the law in action (a central concern of socio-legal studies) but also of the appellate cases which constitute its core. (p. 163)
A similar approach, which can open up questions about the way in which the higher courts 'construct' cases, can also be seen in Linda Mulcahy and Sally Wheeler's chapter on contract law. Their focus on the decisions in a single case in the three courts in which it appeared provides a way of opening up a 'context-based study'. The case not only offers the opportunity to look at the operation of a contract in the 'real world', but also how and why the litigation proceeded (and thus a potential case study of the effect of the Woolf reforms) and an opportunity to reflect on how the higher courts construct the story. Indeed, this focus on legal story-telling emerges across a number of the chapters in this volume.