A student enrolled on a university law degree programme today can expect to receive much more than the lectures, seminars and workshop sessions necessary to support his/her learning of compulsory subjects of which approximately two-thirds of a qualifying law degree programme is comprised. It is hard to find a law programme which does not offer to students a simulated experience of the court room through internal mooting training sessions and external mooting competitions. Many law programmes have integrated Law Clinics in which members of the public living within the locality of the Law School are given legal advice and assistance through the collaborative efforts of students, academics, solicitors and barristers. A less wide-spread but urgently needed development is to be found in the various Litigant in Person projects which are cropping up around the country. These projects enable students to assist unrepresented litigants in many ways, such as by taking notes in court and preparing legal bundles.
Add a little extra?
Additions to the Law School curriculum which are designed to enhance a student’s legal skills, and to provide a valuable service to the public, might be thought of in terms of Law School Extra Tesco style. In this sense, the pro bono programme represents an expansion of Law School activities beyond the core areas of teaching and research – a development which brings the student closer to the field of legal practice and to an understanding of the widening gulf between need for legal services and availability of legal expertise. But there is another way, not currently at the forefront of management agendas, in which the Law School can add a little extra to its learning environment. Almost entirely lacking from the law student’s experience is a sense of the history of his/her law school, and the opportunity for him/her to be engaged – ideally with members of the public – in developing and disseminating that history. This form of Law School extra is best represented in the BBC model, especially through its digital radio station originally launched in 2008 as Radio 7, and then re-named BBC Radio 4 Extra in 2011. Central to BBC Radio 4 Extra is its 50 year archive of programmes, a portion of which are replayed to a rapidly expanding pool of new and old audiences.
The Birkbeck experiment
The School of Law at Birkbeck, University of London, offers the beginnings of a new model of engagement between law schools, their students and the local community- based upon the BBC model. As part of its revised academic structures in 2016, it launched School of Law Extra (SOLE). According to the School’s website description, the unit (aptly subtitled: our community between past and present) aims (among other things) to “enable staff, students and the public to be involved in documenting the history of one of the foremost centres of critical legal studies”. The community archive is a low cost activity which can bring enormous benefits. The School of Law at Birkbeck is just short of 25 years old, but, despite its relative youth, retains records of significant milestones hidden away in its archive. One such milestone was the 2013 annual Law lecture delivered to an audience in excess of 1,000 by American political activist and academic, Angela Davis. Her inspiring lecture, together with other notable events in the Birkbeck Law School archive, need no longer be thought of as once in a life-time experiences.