Class act

Do you like the law but dont want to be a lawyer? Gemma Charles takes you through the various routes to teaching law at schools, universities and colleges


For those students who have enjoyed their legal studies immensely and who fell in love with academia, lecture halls and learning but find the idea of actually practising as a lawyer less than appealing, teaching law in some capacity might be the answer.

Teaching law at A-level is an option for those who cannot bear to be parted with the theory but are not so keen on the practice. Nearly 14,000 students sat A-levels in law this year. This is only 1.8 per cent of all the A-levels sat, but is nevertheless a growing subject.

To become a qualified teacher, a graduate would normally be required to study for the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at a university or college. The normal duration of a PGCE course is one year. Although teaching is nowhere near as lucrative as most careers in the legal profession, with golden handshakes and the possibility of bursaries available, the financial rewards it now offers have improved greatly in recent years.

Nevertheless, a spokeswoman for the Teacher Training Agency, the government body responsible for the recruitment and training of teachers, says there have been only five recorded cases in the last five years of a law graduate going on to become an A-level law teacher.

This is because in normal circumstances it is not possible to teach law exclusively as, unlike English or Maths, it is not a core subject, meaning that the vast majority of graduates wanting to teach law would need to train in a core subject as well as law.

In the undergraduate and graduate sphere, the majority of law schools want experienced practitioners, while undergraduate law schools, especially the top ones, expect high-calibre individuals hungry to get great works of research published in esteemed journals.
Head of Durham Universitys law department Bob Sullivan supports this view. There are so many people doing law degrees now that the recruitment pool is larger than it ever was, so you do get very bright people applying, he says. The elite law schools like Oxford, Cambridge and Durham are looking for first-class honours, masters degrees, then a PhD. That would set you on your way.

Once the way has been set, as it were, then it would be a further three years before the rookie lecturer is unleashed on students, and that would initially be through small group tutorials as opposed to large-scale lecture theatre activity.

To get your application read, you need to have shown a deep commitment to pumping out academic texts, says Sullivan. Our main concern, apart from their capacity to teach, is whether they can write.

Crucial to gaining a place in Durhams law department is the ability to write first-class research. In the last round of the Research Assessment Exercise in 2001, the law school achieved the maximum rating, as it was able to show that staff had strength in depth when it came to research.

There will be branches of the teaching profession where people could find refuge from working at a City law firm, but not at the top law schools, states Sullivan, adding: We get letters from those people and we dont even interview them.

Sullivan says he would never ask someone to become an academic and that its not the sort of job youd want to offer inducements or persuade people to do. Its one of those jobs where you have to have a vocation.

Mireille Zrinzo, who is profiled for the case study (see box), teaches the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) at BPP Law School. She says there is a vast difference between the undergraduate and the law school scene.

Its very different, says Zrino. I attended a few interviews at BPP for tutors, and some of the people who come from a university background thought wed want them to do a lot of research. But the research here is more about what youre teaching and how to present it in an interesting way rather than general academia like a Masters or a PhD.

But it is not much easier on the vocational side. Those wanting to teach the LPC or BVC will generally find that most institutions only want qualified solicitors or barristers. To teach on the LPC or the BVC, a prospective tutor must be approved by the Law Society or the Bar Council respectively.

Law Society education and training officer Melissa Askew says that most LPC tutors have been solicitors, but she adds: An LPC tutor has got to be properly qualified but does not necessarily have to have practical experience if they can show that theyve got relevant teaching experience.

The Bar Council takes a similar approach.BarCouncilsenior education officer Chris Maguire says his organisation validates BVC providers by setting minimum specifications and giving institutions as much freedom as possible to be creative and tailor their design and resources to their course. The Bar Council then examines the institutions approach as a whole.

Consequently, while it would be expected that tutors on the BVC would be professionally qualified and have appropriate experience of practice, there are exceptions in areas that lend themselves to an academic approach, such as evidence, says Maguire. However, he points out that tutors delivering advocacy must be accredited by one of the Inns of Court.

Nottingham Law School BVC director James Wakefield says he knows of at least one BVC provider that has hired someone to be a tutor straight after completing their BVC.

This is something he is against; all the tutors at Nottingham have practised as barristers. Wakefield recommends that anyone wishing to teach the BVC should go away and get at least two to three years experience. That way youll enjoy the teaching more having done that.

I think that because the course is so much about how to do a job, if youve no experience it would be very difficult to teach it. You might get someone whos very able, but once the students find out that theyve never worked as a barrister then that credibility would go.

Wakefield says that being a barrister does not have to be a job for life. People now jump back and forth between teaching and being a barrister, but recommends getting at least a few years of real experience under the belt.

The law course most accessible to graduates with no practical experience is the GDL. Law school adversaries BPP and the College of Law part company on their employment policies here. While BPP is happy to employ non-solicitors for its GDL, the College of Law has a policy of only taking on those who have been in practice. As the GDL falls in the in the middle of the road to becoming a lawyer, neither the Law Society nor the Bar Council stipulates any guidelines.

BPP chief executive Peter Crisp says the GDL is more akin to a degree, and so its appropriate that its staffed by academics and people who have practised. I think its a good mixture, as it bridges the gap between the academic and the practical course.

BPP has a 50-50 mix and Crisp says the links with the wider academic community give added value to students as they can benefit from being taught by people undertaking research and bursting with new ideas.

But College of Law chief executive Nigel Savage is adamant that the diploma course should be taught by lawyers, as youd only do it if you wanted to go on to become a lawyer.

It cant be right for the next generation of lawyers to be taught by people with no practical experience, Savage unequivocally adds.

Although it is not impossible for a law graduate to make a swift move into teaching law in some capacity, the clear message coming through certainly from the undergraduate and postgraduate institutions is that dedication, commitment and, in many cases, real work experience will enhance your prospects greatly.

Case study: the fast track into legal education

I studied law in Malta originally and also undertook a doctorate there, so I had an interest in academia, but my intention was to become a lawyer, probably commercial law, although I had thought about family.

Then I moved to the UK and had to do my Graduate Diploma in Law and LPC in order to qualify here. I actually was offered two training contracts, one with a small firm that would start immediately after the LPC and one with KLegal that would start a year later. I was more interested in practising commercial law and I accepted the KLegal contract, so I had a gap year between finishing
the LPC and the training contract commencing.

I wasn’t sure what to do that year and I was also having second thoughts about working as a solicitor, as I’d done some vacation placements and didn’t really like them.
The reason I wanted to be a solicitor was because I like the law but wanted a job that involved interaction – I didn’t want an office job. In fact, it turned out that it was very much an office job. Okay, it’s not menial, you’re drafting contracts and things like that, but it was still very much paper-based.

I really enjoyed my time at BPP. I’d spent two years there as a student and I actually liked the way they taught there. The lecturer’s life seemed interesting, and I thought maybe I could teach there, so I spoke to [BPP chairman] Carl Lygo, who said they’d need a new tutor soon, and he asked me to give a lecture in front of my lecturers.
There was a panel of 10 people and I had to give a mini lecture of 15 minutes. Because most of them were the people who taught me it really was quite embarrassing. But it went well – they liked me, they took me on, offered me a post, and I accepted. The following year, when it was time to do my training contract, I was really enjoying myself and decided I’d rather go on being a lecturer than qualifying as a solicitor.

I’d definitely say the best thing is the contact with the students, that you’re constantly working with people. Being a lecturer is very much a people job. You have to really think of how to present the information you’ve got in an interesting way so they don’t get bored or fall asleep. So it’s a constant challenge and every year you get new students and they react differently. I’m also very interested in the law, but that’s secondary.

It’s my fourth year of teaching at BPP and I’ve got no regrets. It was a bit odd in the first year because you see a totally different aspect to the people who taught you. But they were really nice and supportive and offered me great training and I don’t feel that anymore.
The fact that I did the GDL and LPC here does help with the students, as I can really see their point of view and they feel that I understand them more when I tell them that. I’ve gone through exactly what they’ve done.
Mireille Zrinzo, BPP Law School