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16th World Conference of the International Society of Family Law (25-29th July 2017, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

The conference focused on whether the existing national family laws adequately reflect the rapidly changing realities of family life. Experts in family law, social sciences and empirical research attended and presented papers on a range of topics which can only be described and enlightening and informative. The topics ranged from children’s rights, divorce and cohabitation laws in various jurisdictions.

The presentation I delivered was titled “Time to jump on the bandwagon? The need for cohabitation laws”. The presentation explored the deficiencies with the current legal framework in protecting unmarried couples on separation. Over the past decade, figures from the Office of National Statistics show that unmarried couple families have more than doubled in number, however, the law does not adequately reflect the realities of the relationships of this fast growing non-traditional family. Unlike married couples who have greater financial protection when the marriage ends or upon the death of a spouse, cohabiting couples have to resort to piecemeal legislation and a legal framework which often produces outcomes of inequity and hardship.

In comparison to other jurisdictions, England and Wales appears to be lagging behind when it comes to providing statutory protection for unmarried couples. In contrast to this position, Scotland provides an alternative approach. The Scottish government acknowledged that there have been major changes in the way families are built and every family is important no matter how it was formed. Essentially, it was important to safeguard the best interests of children; promote and support stable families and update the law to reflect the reality of family life in Scotland today.

The presentation also considered cohabitation agreements/contracts and their advantages and disadvantages. Cohabitation agreements can be perceived as unromantic and cohabitants may find it difficult to discuss entering into one, however, such contracts can provide clarity and certainty. As there has so far been a lack of political will in providing cohabitation laws, perhaps better public education rather than legislation may provide couples with awareness, knowledge and understanding of their rights.

After the presentation, I had the fantastic opportunity of discussing with the other presenters the approaches adopted in Brazil, Italy and France. This enhanced my knowledge within this field and was an excellent opportunity to exchange ideas and consider collaboration in the future.

 

by Zanele Nyoni – Solicitor and Lecturer in Law

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Celebrating Excellence in Law Teaching

 

We are writing this blog as we travel back from the Celebrating Excellence in Law Teaching Conference at the University of Warwick. Surrounded by a seething mass of humanity, we reflected that what immediately struck us about today was that so much of our pre-discussions on our outward rail journey were replicated in the presentations on the changing face of legal education as well as the pedagogic techniques on display. Those moments when you look at each other with open mouths, and realise your ‘problems’ are universal.

The conference started briskly, with the first topic concerning the ‘prickly’ issue of feedback. Dr Emily Finch talked about several different techniques she had employed with varying degrees of success. There was a consensus amongst delegates that students appreciated voice feedback due to its subtler nuances and dislike written standard comments. Using screencasts was popular with students, but of course the negative side of more thorough feedback is the time it takes – time, however, being something, the whole room agreed, was in very short supply.

Dr Yvonne Skipper followed, with a fascinating psychological insight into mindsets concerning the mutability of intelligence. She identified a fixed / growth mindset continuum which relates to performance and mastery goals respectively. In other words, are students just aiming to pass an exam or do they also aspire to acquire a deeper understanding of the subject? The counter argument was expressed that any motivation can be valuable. It was clear, though, that some of the universities represented have been actively promoting growth mindsets and engineering brain plasticity during their induction activities, to embed aspirations to improve performance through perseverance.

Dr Finch and Dr Skipper agreed that the student/tutor relationship could be helpfully compared to that between an athlete and coach. It is never enough simply for the tutor to tell the student how to improve performance, the student needs to put the advice into practice. This is a partnership.  The real effect of perseverance and practice was graphically explained using a time-lapse video of a brain neurone; gaining in length and thickness as a skill was practised – physically demonstrating that a brain can, indeed, be hard-wired through practice.

graph image

The E3 student

The next session was charged with considering the ‘E3’student – the E s representing engaged, effective and employable. With highly regarded UCLan alumnus Professor Becky Huxley-Binns, the discussion first focused on employability – the view taken that (obviously) all students are employable (and often employed), and therefore casting doubt on this as an integral aspect of the student experience outcomes. In fact, Becky re-stated this as D3 – is this Doable? Desirable? – well, it is Debatable!

Ensuring students are employable within given sectors when they leave, was what mattered. The conversation then included concepts of student engagement as Professor Lisa Webley explored how we gradually inculcate autonomous learning by equipping students with the tools. Learning, of course, should not be focused on outcome, but on the journey itself. Teaching is not about transmission of facts or skills, or, indeed, ‘teaching to test’ but a far deeper instillation of hunger for knowledge and ensuring that confidence is built; there is a need for language choices to made with caution – mindful always of the implicit message. We must promote the ability not to be afraid of what is not yet known. Employability and exam results should be a bi- product of mastery and not framed as the only performance outcome.

The morning session was wrapped up with a rousing battle cry from Professor Alastair Hudson. Warning about the risks of the insidious corporatisation, bureaucratisation and commodification of higher education, which now sets the context and makes everything more difficult. We all agreed with him, that the decimation of the content of our libraries, the centralisation of administrative services, tutorial group sizes of up to (or more than) 24, everything dictated by its FEC, and architectural resistance (inadequate or non-existent rooms), resulted from a focus on finance from ‘those above’. All these factors were restricting our ability to provide the service to students, which – universally agreed – was necessary. Professor Huxley-Binns expressed her fear that if the sector continues along this track, we are at risk of “denuding education of its emancipatory potential.”

There could not have been a gathering of legal educators without the spectre of the SQE looming over us – lots of discussion about this, but the most interesting observation was that SQE contains a vast syllabus of law skewed towards the interest of the bourgeoisie; a law syllabus for the wealthy. There was exasperation at the changes afoot and the lack of clear guidance for planning, or an understandable rationale, but as always the resilience of staff was palpable. Whatever is required, we will deliver it.

The highlight of the day for the UCLan staff present, was the student panel of two including our own Emma- Jane Darley. Emma, who started as a mature foundation student, and has now successfully completed the second year of her MLaw course, was put on the spot with questions from the floor. She emphasised the importance of a nurturing environment populated with law lecturers who care about the individual, and have time to get to know their students. Emma described many instances when our staff had gone well ‘above and beyond’…. really heartwarming comments. Of course, she also highlighted some shortcomings – these largely corresponded with the elements being eroded through corporatisation – already mentioned above.

conference panel

This was a truly illuminating conference – going beyond mere pedagogy. A general agreement, cemented by the comments of the student panel, illustrated the importance attached to warmth and rapport in the student/tutor relationship. Other key messages were the importance of using experiential learning and flipped learning in small groups to improve engagement (and therefore ‘employability’ – although that term was universally decried).

A good conference means you don’t consider leaving at lunchtime, and a sprint for the train at tea-time underlines our enjoyment. Chatting, reflecting, in rhythm with the tracks, we agreed it was a good chance to share ideas – however humble.

 

In Prof Hudson’s words “We can’t all do great things, but we can do small things with great love”.

♥ Viv Ivins

♥ Fiona Bledge

♥ Susan Fletcher

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LLS Students compete on the UK’s biggest legal “stage”!

4 Lancashire Law School students headed down to London in April for this year’s William Bramwell Mooting Competition, held for the first time ever at the Supreme Court and judged by none other than President of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger!

The teams comprised of Josiah Raphael and Sophie Piper against Alkesh Pratap Singh and Ben Whittingham and were required to present submissions on a fictional criminal scenario based on the defences of duress and automatism.

Sophie, who was declared the winner alongside teammate Josiah, said that mooting in front of Lord Neuberger was an incredible opportunity. For her, the final is one of the most significant memories of her UCLan experience: “I think we were all nervous when we first arrived, however as soon as we got to work finalising our bundles, my nerves disappeared… until I was on my feet about to address the President of the Supreme Court.

Lord Neuberger, was extremely personable to us and was nice enough to give us all individual and team feedback. This was the most memorable part of the day. It was such an invaluable experience, to have a constructive conversation with the highest judge in the U.K. Whom was commenting on our submissions, strengths and giving one to one advice.”

Josiah adds that as a law student you know that you are about to enter arguably the most competitive profession in the country, aware that you need more than just good grades to stand out. He comments: “It was amazing to be able to go out and prove ourselves on the biggest stage in the UK legal system. It is not every day you are dubbed ‘charming’ by the President of the Supreme Court! I absolutely loved the opportunity … I was privileged to be working with an extremely talented partner and the chemistry lined up perfectly. I feel like we demonstrated the importance of embracing your personal strengths and how you can emphasise them even further by working together in the right team; it’s a learning curve for sure…”

A number of Lancashire Law School students were able to watch this exciting moot and cheer on the competitors following a fascinating guided tour of the Supreme Court. Very many congratulations to all of the students who participated in the competition and were able to benefit from this unique experience.

competitors in the mooting competition

 

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Insolvency Lawyers Association Academic Forum – competition winner 2017 – Dr John Wood

As an academic who specialises in corporate insolvency, I was thrilled to be selected as the winner of the 2017 Insolvency Lawyers Association (ILA) prize. As such, I was invited to present my paper at the Academic Forum, as the early academic competition winner for 2017. This was for the prestigious ILA Academic Forum and Annual Conference in London, which took place at the Royal College of Physicians, on the 31st March 2017. See: http://www.ilauk.org/.

The ILA which was founded in 1989, provides a forum for lawyers and academics practicing in the fields of insolvency law and restructuring practice to co-operate on matters of professional interest, to network, to share know-how, and to represent the ILA’s view to Government and to other professional bodies having an interest in insolvency law and restructuring practice. Through its objectives, it is considered one of the leading professional bodies in insolvency law.

The paper I delivered was titled, ‘Painting over the cracks: is the UK’s regulatory framework efficient in identifying and deterring opportunistic behaviour within administration?’

The paper explored how the UK, in recent years, has sought to significantly revise its approach to how Insolvency Practitioners (“IPs”) are regulated by the Recognised Professional Bodies (“RPBs”). Specifically, it examined whether the recent legislative measures are effective in dealing with the concerns regarding high professional fees and whether the existing regulatory powers are adequate to ensure that IPs act within the remit of the Insolvency Acts, SIPs, and in the spirit of the Code of Ethics. Ultimately, it questioned whether the existing regulatory framework is efficient in its purpose to identify and deter opportunistic behaviour within administration.

The ILA forum was an excellent opportunity to discuss research and to enhance my own knowledge within the field. I have since written an article based on the presentation which I hope to have published soon.

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Tuition fee deja vu?

On hearing the latest Labour pledge to end tuition fees I couldn’t help thinking both “What perfect timing, but also haven’t we been here before?” Guardian http://bit.ly/2pbN2D5

The effect of invoking this particular ‘vote catcher’ can be a double-edged sword: Nick Clegg’s 2012 confession pops into mind.  Not raising fees was “a promise we were not absolutely sure we could deliver… and ‘the pledge of abolishing tuition fees overnight was not affordable’ (He felt it would take two parliaments). The subsequent negative effect on his popularity would be hard to understate. Could this be Labour’s debacle?

Equally, despite all the Labour proclamations of helping the poor, and the young, self-interest cannot be ruled out – ‘… an incentive for the young to register to vote?’ ITV News  http://bit.ly/2rSAult

The Tories said more poorer students than ever were (already) going to university. (UCAS states that in 2015 application rates for 18-year-olds living in disadvantaged areas in all countries of the UK actually “increased to the highest levels recorded.”) UCAS http://bit.ly/2s3406G

The Lib Dems said better-off students would gain most from ending fees (as has been evidenced in Scotland) Guardian http://bit.ly/2raL0ld

Call me cynical if you wish, but the more politicians evoke change, the more things stay the same. (Except the number of voters).

Dr.Kim McGuire, Senior Lecturer in Law, (and previously researcher and lecturer in Politics and Social History.) kmcguire3@uclan.ac.uk

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Lancashire Law School success at SJ Awards! 🏆

Lancashire Law School wins highly commended prize at prestigious industry awards ceremony

SJ Awards Commended

The University of Central Lancashire’s (UCLan) Law School is celebrating after winning a highly commended prize at a prestigious industry awards ceremony.

The School beat off stiff competition from a host of UK universities to receive the highly commended trophy for the Solicitors Journal Legal Education Provider of the Year.

Jane Anthony, Head of the Lancashire Law School, attended the black tie ceremony, in London, with academics from the University’s undergraduate and postgraduate law courses. She said: “I felt completely delighted, thrilled and incredibly proud when our name was read out. It was a great achievement to make the shortlist of five and so to receive the highly commended award is absolutely wonderful.

“What makes this even better is the external recognition it brings. The sector leading Solicitors Journal is the biggest journal for solicitors in the country so for the University to be winning an award on this professional platform is marvellous.”

She added: “We spend a lot of time asking how can we improve what we offer to our students but this is an award which says we’re doing a fabulous job. It’s just fantastic.”

The criteria for the awards were:

  • Innovated in ‘real time’ and significantly diversified its selection of courses to meet the needs of students and legal businesses following substantial change to routes of entry into the profession;
  • Founded excellent working relationships with legal businesses and enabled vital access to the profession for students;
  • Championed and furthered social mobility/diversity efforts for aspiring lawyers;
  • Facilitated industry-leading vocational-based projects, such as law centres, charities, or pro bono work, which have made improvements to local communities;
  • Offered bespoke legal education services;
  • Shown innovation with pricing of courses.

I felt completely delighted, thrilled and incredibly proud when our name was read out.

The judging panel said: “A clear focus on alternative dispute resolution and mediation demonstrates the School’s understanding of changes within the profession and its gradual shift away from litigation. Its work trying to increase diversity and social mobility was highlighted by the judges, who also commended the launch of its pop-up advice shop and pro bono work programmes.”

The Solicitors Journal Awards are designed to highlight and celebrate solicitors, law firms, barristers, and other legal professionals who are making significant contributions to the legal services’ sector.

It was not the only recognition for the University’s Law School this year. It was recently shortlisted for the Attorney General Student Pro Bono Awards ‘Best Contribution by a Law School’ and Phoebe Dearden, a third year law student, scooped the Best Student Mediator prize at the International Mediation Competition.

SJ Awards

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REACT Conference – Tina McKee

 

It was a great opportunity for me to attend the REACT conference on student engagement at Winchester University earlier in May.  The conference was stimulating and Winchester University was an unexpected pleasure, nestled just up the hill from the beautiful historic city of Winchester.

REACT is a multi-University collaboration working on innovative projects to promote student engagement across the Higher Education sector. There was excellent representation from Universities across Great Britain, with plenty of opportunities to share information and ideas. Many Universities struggle with student engagement, particularly with respect to ‘hard-to-reach’ students (with much debate focussed on what ‘hard-to-reach’ actually means!).  The picture that emerged was that different institutions face different challenges and that student engagement is a very complex and nuanced issue.  However, a core theme was on building capacity within the current student body to support other students and to improve the learning environment.

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