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Celebrity law course more about marketing than best education

7 June 2011

The next generation of lawyers are the top target for the elite new £18,000 per year private university set up by a professorial supergroup.

New College of the Humanities (NChum), will run a law degree costing £54,000 which boasts Ronald Dworkin QC and Oxford’s Adrian Zuckerman as its professors.

College founder and best-selling philosophy professor AC Grayling (pictured) said: “If we are to discover and inspire the next generation of lawyers, journalists, financiers, politicians, civil servants, writers, artists and teachers, we need to educate to the highest standards and with imagination, breadth and depth.”

But questions have been raised over the extent to which the line up will be involved in the daily running of the course.

Cardiff University’s Richard Moorhead, a leading commentator on the future of the legal profession, fears the London-based law course may not be as highbrow as Grayling hopes: “A lecture-based course suggests the college does not have its eye on best educational practice,” said Moorhead.

“The teaching style is more about marketing than what really works. Most of the teaching will not be by the ‘stars’. They’ll struggle to get genuinely inspirational law stars that can also teach. But law firms will like it.”

Moorhead estimates up to 80 per cent of students will be paying full fees for the course, despite comments from Grayling that the ‘right candidates’ will get in regardless of their financial means.

Zuckerman, who will retain his current jobs and will not be employed by the New College, said he was attracted to the post for its broad syllabus. “I believe that a good legal education requires not just mastery of technical detail but also the development of independent and critical thought needed for solving difficult legal problems,” said Zuckerman, who has volunteered to design the course requirements. “Such thought processes are best nurtured in small group teaching. I see no reason why this should not be available beyond the confines of Oxford and Cambridge.”

The private London institution, not to be confused with New College, Swindon, from which BPP is launching its private LLB, opened for applications this week and will begin teaching its first classes in 2012.

Judith Perkins, chair of the Law Society’s junior lawyer’s division, has urged firms not to be star struck by graduates of the bespoke degree. “There is the potential that the new penchant for private institutions will create a two-tier graduate system, and this is not something to be encouraged,” said Perkins, adding: “I would like to think that today’s recruiters recognise the value of a well-rounded and well-informed candidate, regardless of whether they paid £1,800 or £18,000 a year for their education.”

The two law professors currently now hold five professorships between them. Dworkin is already professor of law and philosophy at University College London and professor of law at New York University. Zuckerman is professor of civil procedure at the University of Oxford, and also runs an LLM course at University College London. Other teaching staff for the LLB are yet to be announced.

Zuckerman added: “I am looking forward to designing an undergraduate course which will teach students the basic principles of civil procedure and criminal justice. English law schools are alone in the world not to include these subjects in the undergraduate programme, with the result our law graduates end up knowing a lot about substantial rights but nothing about their enforcement, despite the fact that rights are only as good as the procedures for enforcing them.”

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Procedures Education Courts & Judiciary