Introducing the M-law to those who may not have heard of it before
At present, brand-new courses are a hot topic in the legal sphere. The SQE has been making waves for a while now, and is due to appear on the horizon in 2021. Also defying tradition and offering a new way of assessment is the M-law. Now being offered at a number of universities across the country, this new integrated undergraduate and postgraduate degree in law brings students right up to the training contract. M-Law graduates will have fulfilled their LPC requirement as part of their degree, so can make a start on training straightaway.
“The whole objective of the M-law was to see if we could get a qualification that included both the academic stage of training (the LLB programme) as well as the vocational stage of training (the LPC),” explains John Clifford, head of Law at Pearson College London. “Right the way through the course, students do one semester on knowledge, followed by one on skills, trying to intertwine the two wherever we can.” Clifford notes that this intertwined method of learning is distinctively different from the block-by-block approach of completing the LLB in three years, followed by one year of intensively studying the LPC at a different provider. “Students see it as one continuum rather than two separate blocks.”
By the end of their M-law, students will have a Masters degree in law, be exempt from the LPC and will have completed a guaranteed internship.
Covering the benefits
The obvious difference between the M-law and more traditional methods is the integration of the academic with the practical. “Right the way through the course, students do one semester on knowledge—the usual legal requirements for academic attainment of law—followed by one semester on skills, trying to intertwine the two always wherever we can,” says Clifford. “This is very distinctive from the normal approach of doing the academic stage separately from the vocational stage.”
It’s not just the legal profession for which this method of learning is new: many other disciplines are taught with an initial block of academic study, followed by practical application only later on. Clifford admits that the new approach can take some getting used to: “We take this quite slowly at first in order to introduce students to it, so that by Level Six (the M-law’s third year) it’s second nature.” In practice, this means having a seminar on criminal law, then moving straight into a criminal-litigation class—all in the same day. For the professional-skills course (PSC), all of the tutors are law practitioners, with real insight into the legal sphere students are aiming to enter.
Alongside these reforms to how law is taught, another benefit to M-law students is that they will not have to do the LPC after graduation; they will graduate with a masters degree in professional legal practice included in their undergraduate degree, along with the LPC. “The students see it as one continuum rather than two separate blocks. They also like the idea that it’s done in one institution.”
Not only does this provide a practical bonus—students need not apply for the LPC after graduation—it also comes with the potential to save money. At present, the Students Loan Company doesn’t issue loans to LPC students. As Clifford explains, the M-law situation is slightly different: “Loans are available for integrated degrees, which means that students can get a loan for all four years, and don’t have to acquire another set of funding for the LPC,” says Clifford.
“By doing this the way that we are, we hope that we will allow a more diverse group of students to do the LPC, offering a practical solution to those with financial disadvantages. It’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all solution, but in offering a means of qualification that is on the loan scheme, it’s preferable to getting the loan for the LPC.”
Cohesion with the SQE
In the present legal market, the M-law does appear revolutionary—but how does Clifford envision it fitting into the training framework once the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) comes into play in 2021?
“In a way we’re very lucky, because we’ve only recently started the course and we knew at that time that SQE was being discussed as an option. So we’ve made sure to incorporate all of the information we had at that time into what we offer in the M-law. Therefore, any changes we do when SQE comes into play won’t be too large.
“One of the aims of the SQE is to integrate the professional legal skills and academic training. We feel as though we’re doing that on the M-law, and in addition we feel that the M-law already meets those core components of SQE Stage 1 and SQE Stage 2.
“For us, change is not in any way threatening—it’s what we do every day here.”
The SQE isn’t the only future trend that the M-law anticipates. In recognition that top firms look for work experience and commercial awareness now in addition to academics, an internship is guaranteed with the M-law, subject to academic attainment. “For law students, this internship will be geared towards the legal profession, but many who want to work in-house have utilised Pearson International’s own legal department. A number of students have also requested to go into other areas, including some public sector and some within firms.”
Commercial awareness and the crossovers between the law and business world are also addressed. M-law students can do business and finance modules at the business school at every stage of their degree, providing another dimension to their understanding of commercial law. The nature of studying at Pearson also means absorbing the culture of business from an early point. “Law students mingle with business students, and the school itself is highly intertwined with the world of business; Pearson has a lot of contacts. We have regular industry days in which representatives from a specific industry come in.”
Looking to the future
Just as students today are starting their legal career at a time of flux—not just within the profession, but also outside of it—the wider legal profession looks set to change. Clifford, who has worked in higher education for more than 25 years in a variety of law-related roles, thinks that the biggest disruption will “not be a human, but automation”.
“Algorithms are becoming more and more sensitive to legal issues, meaning that the administrative part of the job will diminish. Conveyancing and drafting of wills, commercial agreements… these will all be done by computers.
“Therefore, lawyers need to move into areas that computers can’t do. Clients will still want the personal touch, and the idea that someone is empathising with them, listening to them and rationalising them. The role of a solicitor will move towards the more client-focused, leaving the day-to-day roles to computers. This is something that we’re already seeing; due to outsourcing, a lot of the drudgery is being taken away by AI.”
With this in mind, a course in which students are constantly practising the academic alongside the practical, as well as networking and existing in workplaces on internships, seems ideal.