Making it relevant

We can (and most of us do) contextualize our discussion of cases in lectures and tutorials with a bit of history, some statistics, a picture or some biographical information about the judge concerned but, although these may help students to grasp the issues and perhaps fix the cases more clearly in their minds, they may subsequently discard this additional information as irrelevant detail of no legal significance. We need to embed the socio-legal perspective in the module structure itself. This means, of course, requiring students to demonstrate an understanding of the socio-legal context and approach to property law as a learning outcome for the module and assessing it appropriately. Students are very focused and will readily identify what really matters (that is, what is to be assessed); indeed, one of the skills we teach them is how to separate out the relevant from the irrelevant when it comes to legal issues. Socio-legal analysis must therefore be relocated in the relevant.

One way to do this is to focus on the current and the local. Many of us use newspaper articles, photographs or documentary footage to draw students' attention to the law in practice. There is always coverage of some celebrity who has left an enormous bequest to her pet dog or cat which you can use to illustrate anomalous purpose trusts in your Equity module. When we introduce this kind of real-life example we remind students that law is about real people (and real places when it comes to land law), and thus alert them not only to the expected recognition of the problems they create for law but also to what they suggest about national character, class, gender assumptions and so on. It is always worth looking out for newsworthy items to enliven a class and get them to think about how and why the law develops in the ways it does, especially if you can catch it at the precise moment that it is developing.

Fixing on the local also brings the law home in a memorable way. The early pages of Clarke and Greer's admirable textbook, Land Law Directions (2010), include photographs (many taken by Clarke herself) of landmarks in the Greenwich area where they teach. I particularly like the juxtaposition of the Cutty Sark and Gypsy Moth IV which invites students to apply the 'degree of annexation' test to determine whether each monument is a chattel or part and parcel of the land (pp. 14-15). For my own students, the fact that the Pye of J A Pye (Oxford) Ltd v Graham [2002] was (and still is) a major property developer around Reading gives the case particular resonance: they can imagine the large tracts of Berkshire farming land soon to be turned into housing estates; they can see what the estates look like. These prompts are valuable aids to understanding and memory but they also encourage students to reflect on the social consequences of legal decisions and priorities for their own local community.

 
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