BA Law with Information Technology - The First Graduates
Christopher J S Gale
Principal Lecturer in Law
Leeds Law School
Leeds Metropolitan University
This commentary reflects on the process by which Leeds Law School produced its first graduates in the BA Law with Information Technology course in the summer of 2001. It builds from an initial commentary published in this Journal in February 1999, after the first semester of the first year of the course and charts the progress of the first cohort of students, as well as examining how the course as a whole has developed over the last three years.
Keywords: Information Technology, Law, Graduate, Course, Employability, Teaching and Learning.
This is a commentary published on 22 March 2002.
Citation: Gale C, 'BA Law with Information Technology - The First Graduates', Commentary, The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT), 2002 (1), <http://elj.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/02-1/gale.html>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/law/elj/jilt/2002_1/gale/>.
The BA Law with Information Technology degree was launched in full time mode at Leeds Metropolitan University in academic year 1998/9 following a short but successful gestation period and validation process the previous academic year. The part time (4 year) degree began in 1999/2000 and an HND in Law with Information Technology was introduced in 2001/2. The degree is a Qualifying Law Degree for the purposes of qualifying as a barrister or solicitor and students who successfully complete the HND will be able to seek admission to level 3 of the degree. The degree was the first degree in the UK with a specific designated award of 'Law with Information Technology' although degrees in which both disciplines may be studied had existed previously. It is understood that other Universities are developing their own degrees along the lines of the LMU award.
2. Development from Semester 2 1998/9 to Summer 2001
2.1 The End of Year 1
25 students embarked on the course in September 1998, all having been recruited through clearing as the degree had not been validated until July 1998. At the end of the first year, students had studied double modules of Obligations 1 and Obligations 2 (alongside LLB full time students), a double module of Law and IT Skills (being the Law and Legal Skills course undertaken on LLB with additional 'IT specific' sessions added on), and single modules in Information and Organisations as well as IT Solutions. By the end of Summer 1999, 19 students progressed to Level 2. Of the six students who did not progress, four are 'still in the system', one left immediately and one left after being unsuccessful in a second attempt at Level 1 in summer 2000. Notwithstanding University and government demands on 'retention figures' and the like, these figures seemed perfectly acceptable bearing all the circumstances in mind and also considering that only three students had sufficient A-level points to have merited a place on LLB.
2.2 Year 2
In this year, the students took a double module of Criminal Law and of European Law alongside LLB students, took a double module of Public Law 'beefed up' from the Level 1 version studied the previous year by LLB students, and single modules entitled 'Networked Information Resources' and one entitled 'IT Law'. At the end of this year, 16 students progressed to Level 3 with two of the remaining 19 retaking Level 2 (successfully in 2000/1) and one leaving the University for personal reasons.
2.3 Year 3
In their final year, students took a double module of Property Law and of Equity and Trusts (both taken by LLB students at Level 2), a double module entitled 'Strategic Information and Knowledge Management' and had a free choice for the other double (or two single ) module. Over half of the students opted to take two single modules of 'Intellectiual Property Law' and most of the rest opted for a double module weighted Dissertation where the subject matter was almost exclusively about the legal application or implications of IT. Twelve of the cohort received Upper Second Class awards and the remainder Lower Seconds. This was considered to be a very good set of results and drew favourable comment from External Examiners. The proportion of students gaining a 2:1 was higher than on LLB so, bearing in mind the qualification of students on enrolment, there seemed to have been some real 'value added'.
2.4 Numbers and Further Courses
Due to the late validation of the degree in summer 1998, the University prospectus for 1999 entry still had the course marked as 'subject to validation'. Despite this, applications were received from over 150 potential students and numbers on the course were increased from the 'about 20' of summer 1998 to 40 for 1999 and 2000 and 50 for 2001. All targets were met and although the entry requirement in currently 240 points (in Curriculum 2000 speak) including at least two Grade C passes at A2 as opposed to 280 points (including at least BC at A2) for LLB, there seems little reason for differentiating between students on entry and this is being addressed in the current academic year when both courses are due for revalidation.
The part time degree which did not have quite enough support to get off the ground in 1998 launched in 1999 and is currently in Year 3 of a four year course.
An HND, which is effectively the first two years of the degree but with additional Skill support for students entering with lower qualification, was requested by the university, validated and added to the portfolio in summer 2001, and recruited to its target of 20 students through clearing for a September 2001 start.
3.1 Student Perception
An early view that students were 'second class' compared with LLB students was difficult to dispel. They knew that most of them had inferior previous qualifications and saw themselves as a 'bolt' on group of about 20 joining 250 plus LLB students. The fact that staff took a little time to remember to put relevant notices on both LLB and LAWIT noticeboards and lack of dedicated administrative support did not help. As time progressed, however, the practical 'notice board' type issues were overcome, more LAWIT students joined the School (now there are approximately 120 full time BA Law with Information Technology students and approximately 270 LLB), and the awareness of internal and external interest in the course allowed students to continue thinking they were 'special' but now in a very positive way. No longer did students want to leave LAWIT for LLB - in fact, the opposite was true! A clear bond formed between students in the first cohort and their final results seem to show a responsible, hard working and intelligent approach to degree study. As the best recommendations come from happy customers, the School and the university is delighted with this outcome!
3.2 Internal Interest
Both Faculty and university have watched the degree develop with interest. It seems to be one of the first to be offered additional places if and when they become available, which helps the degree become a 'major player' in the School and Faculty's portfolio, although it causes its own tensions.
3.3 External Interest
Both the professional bodies and local businesses - both the 'legal type' and others - have shown interest in the course. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fact that local businesses have sponsored prizes for successful students on the course and shown considerable interest in sending employees on the part time course and in the possibility of employing graduates.
It had originally been hoped that this degree may give its graduates a 'unique selling point' in the job market, but this was no more than a hope in 1998. It still is early to evaluate with any certainly but there was surprise in fining that twelve of the first graduates wanted to qualify as solicitors. All have successfully obtained places on LPC and a number have training contracts - proportionately more than for our LLB students. Of those not wishing to go into the legal profession, three obtained management traineeships with companies in the IT field and the final one obtained a traineeship in a non-related area but considered his IT experience at degree level had helped his application.
3.5 The Course
The 'law' elements of the course are to a great extent prescribed if a student is to get a QLD and were usually well received by students according to module questionnaires. Surprisingly, the IT modules did not receive such approval. Information and Organisations was seen as being 'irrelevant to lawyers' and, seeing the direction in which most of the students were going, this had to be conceded and the module has been replaced with one which has more (but not exclusive) legal focus. IT Solutions has been updated to include more use of the Internet and web page design and is better liked for it. Networked information Resources has been given a 'law firm' slant as has Strategic Knowledge and Information Management. All these issues will be addressed again in the revalidation process already referred to this academic year.
The course has been more successful than was ever dreamed of. Recruitment is strong and student satisfaction high and getting better when the points made above are taken into consideration. Employability for graduates seems high. Adjustments to the course were inevitable given how it was put together on a 'best guess' basis as to what would be the most relevant courses to include, but the fact that changes have been 'tinkering' rather than wholesale seems to suggest that the initial model was not too far wide of the mark. The School, Faculty and University have received good publicity because of the course. And so is everything in the garden rosy? Oddly, there are signs of the course being a victim of its own success. Additional numbers have added pressures to academic staff and to timetables. The IT modules, delivered by the School of Information Management were originally part of their generic portfolio and, as such, taught across numbers of degree courses. The above adjustments have meant specific modules being developed for the BA Law with Information Technology course and the burgeoning numbers have meant that computer hardware facilities in that School have to be rationed to LAWIT students to allow their own students sufficient access. These are relatively minor points and surmountable if there is a will and if it is funded adequately. There is such a will amongst students and staff from both disciplines - we wait in the hope that the University and Government will not allow a good, innovative course that addresses many of their demands on higher education to be damaged.