From Extension to Reinvention? Boundaries of Legal Education in Light of a Double Degree Experience
7 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2009 Last revised: 12 Dec 2012
Date Written: March 28, 2009
As a response to globalisation, double degrees aim at providing students with a complete bi-legal education. From her experience in running, since 2002, the Essex-Paris X four year course, the author wishes to reflect on the changes implemented in one module and how this experience could impact on traditional teaching of other law modules.
Part of the challenge of the double degree scheme is to teach French law, in French, but in an other jurisdiction - England -, and within half the time traditionally allocated in France for the module. To provide a viable learning experience to the students, the assumed boundaries of French legal education had to be extended as there is a different landscape. The teaching of French law takes place in England, not in France, and this background has to be reflected in the building of the curriculum. Comparative law allows delivering an understanding of French law within its new settings. In return, the changing foreground, French law, had to rely more heavily on a multi-disciplinary approach, with the use of history, philosophy and politics, to highlight its main features. Reduced to the core, the subject impacts on the methods of delivery. Given the difference in legal methodologies, the emphasis in tutorials is on the writing skills, rather than knowledge; formative assessment is heavily used. All those changes help extending the boundaries of legal education. Yet one major constraint remains. The learning environment in both countries, France and England, is unchanged. Thus the module faces one barrier: innovation is suitable in so far that the module prepares the students to cope with French legal education once in France. Could the barrier be overcome? The experience shows that extending the boundaries of traditional legal education is possible without the specificities of the subject being lost. Could we stretch the experience so far as to reinvent those boundaries for legal education to face the 21st century?
Take criminal law as a mandatory module. A paradigm of the law emanating from the State, it has been the least responsive to globalisation and new technologies. Yet, international criminal law - with its ultimate step of creating, a few years ago, an international criminal jurisdiction - challenges the very idea of criminal law being the expression of State sovereignty. In addition, cybercrime questions the notion of crime expressed in physical terms, not only because cyberspace is a cross-border space, but also because cyberspace involves virtual communities such as Second Life which have no physical equivalent. A starting point could be to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach. A systematic use of history, sociology, linguistics and economics could put into perspective criminal law, its specificities, its raison d'tre and the challenges it faces with globalisation and the new technologies. Comparative law and international law could only reinforce this new perspective on the subject. With globalisation and new technologies as the scenery, mapping new paths would redefine the boundaries. Without negating the fact that students will practice mainly in one jurisdiction, and must thus master the law linked to that jurisdiction, their awareness of new challenges would help them adapting to an ever changing world. Is it not the role of academia to shape a life-long learning experience rather than a mere preparation for immediate practice?
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