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Jon Harman and Scott Slorach: learning in the new digital age, lessons from @CollegeofLaw


An e-book is not an electronic form of a book.

I first encountered the iTutorial when I was a LLM student by distance learning by the College of Law. They are professionally presented, but I suppose that is neither here nor there. I like television news generally. The reason they work is that it’s possible to replay parts you don’t understand, and the ‘quizzes’ are very helpful to check progress.

That Jon Harman, Director of Learning at the College of Law, is interested in gaming is of no surprise. Jon is remarkably astute at environment sensing, which is the hallmark of all exceptional innovators. And “gaming”, and the approaches exemplified through the TED demonstrates, is what innovation is actually about. The success of any innovation is ultimately determined by its ease of use, how easily it can be explained, and how much people enjoying the innovation. It’s ideally meant to be an ‘easier’ way of doing thing, and the ultimate nirvana in education is for students to feel as if they’re learning for themselves in a relatively effortless manner.

This is where I feel gaming should perhaps come in, and Jon and Scott may in fact be ahead of their time. My own training was at Cambridge in neuroscience, and for a brief period in academic neurology, before I took a brief necessary detour in legal and business legal education. I am therefore concerned about how the brain works in practice. We have 1000 billion neurones, many of which make connections to one another, some functional, some not. The brain, in a way that a supercomputer might hope to be, probably has exploded in size in evolution due to the way in which combines information through ‘oscillations’ of neural activity. It’s long been of interest to Prof Horace Barlow at Cambridge, now retired but indeed Prof Colin Blakemore’s supervisor (Prof Blakemore has now head of the physiology department at Oxford for a long time), why the human brain often does functions which are subserved much ‘lower down’ in the animal kingdom, such as the fly’s eye.

The clue to this, I believe, comes from the design of the brain. The brain has rather specialised areas involved in planning, working memory, different types of factual memory, all the five senses (including especially vision), and of course movement. But sitting under the brain is of course the brainstem, and this has a fundamental role in motivation and arousal. And somewhere in the brain, probably near the front, is the part most connected with emotion (though it’s probably fair to say that the emotional state is spread quite widely throughout the entire body).

Learning is not just about learning a series of facts (or cases). Your state of mind, and indeed your mood or alertness, can both have significant effects on ‘how much you take in’, how much you are able to think on the spot, how much you are able to filter appropriate and inappropriate information, and how appropriate your solutions are. I think it is utterly reasonable for Jon and Scott to take this approach to how students can benefit from a learning process, and to think about how their learning materials can bring out the best in their students. That they have effectively come from the starting point of how the human brain actually works is of course a big honour to my own particular origin of my own learning, which are the fields of neuroscience and neurology.



Assessment on the Legal Practice Course (LPC)


Whenever I think of the phrase ‘fit-for-purpose’, I remember Rebecca Huxley-Binn’s advice ‘fit for whose purpose?’

So that’s how I’m going to approach this one. Running exams is an operational nightmare, and the mechanics of them always arouse emotions for all involved. The legal education providers would like ideally to award as many passes, commendations and distinctions as possible, and the students wish to do as well as they can. And the Solicitors Regulation Authority need evidence that trainees commencing training contracts have the necessary knowledge or know-how, behaviour and skills to succeed.

Ultimately how well a trainee performs is best assessed with a workplace assessment, and legal recruiters can take one of two approaches in selecting suitable candidates for training contracts. They can decide to seek out actively competences of a ‘good and proper trainee’, a pro-active approach, or they can select the least worst trainees, a reactive approach. The latter lends itself to a safe II.1 candidate, however bland he or she may be; and City firms, despite their gloatings about innovation, tend to be conservative with a large and/or small ‘c’.  Bland is probably best in selecting trainees who are the safest and able to generate as many billable hours for the firm as possible. Intelligence is not required, and in fact may slow down productivity.

Assessment on the LPC has its primary goal safety of trainees and safety of their clients. The assessment procedures have to be consistent and reliable, and whatever method used, the learning objectives need to be matched to the assessment methods. That means in principle it doesn’t matter what mode of assessment is used, although I happen to feel that a piece of project work where a student can have access to real-life precedents in drafting makes more sense than an artificial scenario involving 10 marks in civil litigation, business or property. The College of Law has open book exams, as opposed to BPP where only permitted materials (mainly statutes) are allowed. The ethic of the exam serves two functions – as an exit from the course, and as an entry for completion of training to be admitted to the Roll of Solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

I personally would like to see a time where electronic resources are allowed in the exam, but the advantage of the way in which exams are conducted presently is that students are most likely forced to look at material they otherwise would not bother looking at. Also, it depends on what you think the purpose of assessment actually is. Some people believe that assessment is a valid learning exercise itself, and the separation of assessment and learning is an artificial one. At best, it probably is at best a rough-and-ready tool, and should be, like with other components such as verbal reasoning test performance, used with caution by selectors. The best way students can prepare is through looking at the relative weightings of subjects in past papers, and making sure that they know everything reasonable well. After all, you wouldn’t wish to pay for a lawyer ‘who’d binned corporate insolvency’, would you?



Her voice is the harmony of the world

Baron Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who indeed went to my school, gave a very deep message after receiving his Honorary Doctor of Law. Despite an upbeat approach, which mirrored that of Prof. Richard de-Friend, who taught me the LLM Business, Finance and Legal Services module, both Baron Neuberger, the current Master of Rolls, and Prof de-Friend described how graduates of law were hitting the law during an unfortunate confluence of different issues, such as the implementation of alternative business structures and economic challenges. Baron Neuberger nonetheless quoted, in truncated form, the words of Robert Hooker, “the seat of law is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world“. Baron Neuberger explained that the biography delivered by Prof de-Friend might have been somewhat sanitised, in that he has had experienced tough times whereby he felt that he nearly never made it to the Bar; Baron Neuberger spoke honestly about his time in the financial industry, and said affectionately at the end how he ‘envied’ us starting our journeys in the law (even if some of us would leave.)

We were given a reminder today the law is the “learned profession”. I received this morning officially my Master of Law with commendation from the College of Law, and this LLM in international legal practice has enriched my legal education massively, I feel. After specialist modules lasting several months each in international commercial legal practice, international public companies and loans practice, international mergers and acquisitions practice, business, finance and legal services, international arbitration practice, and internal capital markets and loans practice, I did my practice-focussed dissertation on the international commercial legal principles in the formation of a cloud computing agreement (or even contract). My next-door neighbour this morning, Alex, wishes to be a barrister in criminal law, and had done his dissertation on insanity. We had a frank discussion about whether the McNaghten’s Rules were ‘fit for purpose’ in the light of contemporary neuroscience, not of course disclosing that I had nearly wished to study the subject for a second Ph.D. of mine.

Here are some photos of the event, which my friend took with his wife. It was held this morning at the Central Hall at Storey’s Gate, Westminster, just a stone’s throw from where Baron Neuberger, Dominic Grieve and I were at school (in very different years, I hasten to add.) I am very sorry my late Father was unable to attend; he would have loved it, and the course was only possible through the deposit which he paid one afternoon in a bank here in Camden Town as a present to me. I would like to give special mention to Jon Harman, Farhat Mahmood, Tricia Chatt, Alexis Longshaw, and Prof Richard de-Friend, all of whom are the College of Law for me, and have supported me in various contexts.


A legal #tweetup goes badly wrong for @BPPLawSchool and the @CollegeofLaw

Occasionally – but rarely – I am inspired to write a post based on what is going on around me in my Twittersphere. My twitter handle is @legalaware, and the account is here. Richard Moorhead, whose observations are always sophisticated, erudite and well-explained, posted something recently from the Economist on game theory (here’s a similar article).

Game theory is something known to us in #MBA land. The reason is mathematical models can be applied with success to some situations easily, such a perfect competition or monopoly. One of the compulsory modules in our BPP #MBA is markets and marketing. However, it does become an issue how two or few big players in a market, with little effective competition elsewhere, should approach the marketplace. Hence my joke to Richard – shouldn’t somebody run the Prisoner’s Dilemma with BPP Law School and the College of Law, who are ‘in the market’ in supplying legal education to non-law graduates who wish to study the GDL, to pursue a career, for example, as a barrister, solicitor, paralegal, academic, or otherwise?







The Prisoner’s Dilemma, is an aspect of game theory that shows why two individuals might not agree, even if appears that it is best to do so. A classic example of the prisoner’s dilemma is presented as follows. Here is then the version of the Prisoners’ Dilemma I had in mind.

Two men from the College of Law and BPP Law School are invited to a legal #tweetup, but the organiser does not possess enough information for an a blog post. Following the separation of the two men, the organiser offers both a similar deal- if one testifies against his competitor (defects), and the other stays quiet (cooperates), the betrayer goes free and the cooperator receives the full one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one hour lock-in. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each will be subject to a three hour lockin. Each of two participants, who’d innocently gone to the tweetup for a good time, must choose to either betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept quiet. What should they do?
You are of course free to look up the suggested answers through game theory. If you get bored, you might wish to watch ‘A Beautiful Mind’ which tells the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who was outstanding in this field.

@legalaware's experience of the #twegals #legaltweetup 2011 organised by @azrights











Important retraction: In the article below, Legal Bizzle should like to point out that the height stated is incorrect. It is – in fact – 6’7″. I deeply apologise for any offence caused therein.

TwegalsTweetUp may become a regular event for lawyers both in London and elsewhere. Anyone interested in law who tweets was welcome. The invite stated that, “if you are a Twegal, a Tweagle or haven’t got round to tweeting yet but would like to, you should join the conversation please come along.”

I must say that I had a really wonderful time.

It was a really nice group of people – that’s why I have tweeted this morning:

Sorry not to have seen @LegalBizzle there. Tbe place was awash with rumours about the Bizzle including how Bizzle was in fact ‘massive’ at 6′ 5”. It is in a fact thought that Bizzle’s boiler has only just been fixed and that Bizzle has had a heavy time in the law of commercial contracts.

Also, @CharonQC whose reputation in the world of legal Twitter is, quite rightly, enormous, couldn’t make it. However, I had a very encouraging conversation with those in the know about how Charonqc has contributed a great deal to legal education. On that note, I’d strongly recommend a follow to @colmmu (Jon Harman) a specialist in education at the College of Law.!/colmmu

I should like to add that I had memorable, fascinating conversations with the College of Law media contingent and Netlaw media about the role of the media in education; very inspiring, innovative approaches.

The College of Law and Netlaw websites are linked to within this sentence. Much of the work of NetLaw media will help graduates including those of BPP in law. Their website provides that,

“Netlaw Media specialises in producing highly informative law related programs specifically tailored to deliver cutting edge presentations by renowned UK, European and Internationally acclaimed speakers and industry professionals. Our events integrate a formulated blend of strategies, case studies and interactive discussions and workshops to enable legal professionals to gain a leading edge in a constantly evolving and demanding marketplace.

The event had some really high quality people there. Emily Goodhand is clearly very passionate about the law generally, but fielded apparently some interesting inquiries about the principles of copyright during the course of the evening. Ajeet Minhas was really buzzing about his business activities, and clearly has the energy of a young entrepreneur. Brian Inkster (and his legal practice) intrigues me because Brian has moved from being a faithful junior to setting up his own very successful professional legal services firm in Scotland. He has an interest especially in how specialist law firms are using Twitter (and the social media) to their business advantage. I further enjoyed talking with Emily aka @lawbore who was nothing like a bore, but very easy and helpful to talk with. Emily has created a very successful blog for law students, and one which I have referred to in fact in the course of my legal studies at a different law school (BPP Law School); it’s always interesting for me to appreciate what I get about the act of going to a legal library such as our one in Waterloo at BPP which is superb, additional to surfing the internet for contemporaneous legal services. The bottom line is, in fact, you can’t do everything online, and, at the very least, what legal research you decide to do online has to be effective!

Paul Gilbert, aka the @LBCWiseCounsel, was extremely easy to talk with, and a perfect communicator as his name might suggest! Daniel Hoadley, a law reporter for the Weekly Law Reports, Times Law Reports and Road Traffic Reports amongst others, caught my attention as someone clearly very sharp, but very modest; not much surprise he is a Barrister by training. I took it easy on the comfy sofa watching people have a good time – consequently, there were a few people I didn’t meet like @cyberpixie, but whose ‘reports’ were very positive. It was a thrill for me to meet in person David Allen Green, whose thoughtful contributions on Twitter I have been watching for a long time. David is a genuinely interesting person, who tires endlessly to further general legal awareness. I know many law students at undergraduate level, who learn from his informative, educational and entertaining blog, Jack of Kent. As it happens, I reckon I share David’s political ideology which is not so clear-cut, but the tagline of his blog as being ‘liberal and critical’ is possibly fair. People who know me on Twitter will know roughly where my interests lie, and it’s thus no accident I enjoy David’s writings in the New Statesman, whether writing on the practicality of enforcement of superinjunctions in the social media or the commodification of higher education.

The evening was organised by Shireen Smith, of Azrights Recently, Shireen produced a very thought provoking article on etiquette on Twitter, which needless to say some senior tweeters agreed with, but others didn’t. It’s a wonderful article though, whether you agree with it or not, and I recommend it. If you don’t happen to agree with it, it’s obviously interesting to have good reasons why, and some people have well-reasoned ideas. And, last but not leaat, Gavin Ward with whom I had developed my thoughts during my LLM research thesis on cloud computing, was a sheer joy to meet in person. Gavin and I share much common ground in terms of law interests in technology, and it is for this reason I would like to publish with him my research findings on the legal advice given to SME directors, from a sample I surveyed who are like me Associates of the Institute of Directors, and the precise rationale for this in national and international law. His blog has developed, rightly, with time much interest internationally; whilst it has exploded because of the launch of the iCloud, until relatively recently it had been a niche field which people were aware of but hadn’t quite grasped. His first rate blog is here.

My twitter handle is @legalaware ; please follow me on Twitter!

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