Our 2020 conference was long in the planning, and we were devastated in the spring of 2020 when it became obvious that a face to face event was not going to be possible. By then, however, we had gathered together a fascinating group of papers and participants from around the world. So, with the support of the school and our supporters, we reconvened on a more intimate basis, with papers delivered in shorter morning and afternoon sessions across the week of 22nd to 26th June 2020. Despite the challenges, discussion was vigorous and ongoing links have been made.
Opening and closing remarks were given by Associate Professor Graham Ferris and Associate Professor Jane Jarman, and an inspiring keynote on Measuring Impact through Research into Access to Justice Service Delivery and Legal Education Initiatives was delivered by Dr Liz Curran of Australian National University.
UK participants came from Nottingham Law School and from NTU’s School of Social Sciences as well as Birmingham, Hertfordshire, Leeds, OU and Sheffield. International participants – often braving differences in time zones to join us – represented Australia, Egypt, Hungary, India, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the USA. Our group included people at all stages of their careers, and with interests in both academic and vocational education.
It was clear that both impact and wellbeing are concerns across the globe in legal education, and that people are pushing forward in their practice in both making and measuring impact and in incorporating wellbeing into the curriculum and communal life of law schools. The challenges vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the drive to improve is shared, as is an urgent concern with the consequences of heavier reliance upon information technology for educational delivery.
Impact is of course a quality assessed in the UK’s REF, but as was clear from Liz Curran’s keynote that it is far more. It is an aspiration, and can best be both achieved and measured if research is collaborative, engaging with community research partners from the stage of design, through the research investigation and beyond into the qualitative and quantitative assessment of the effects of the research. There is impact inside and outside the academy and impact through research and through legal education.
The impact of legal education is where the role of impact and the role of welling connect. Incorporating a concern with wellbeing in the curriculum, whether through attention to “soft skills” or collaborative inquiry, or experiential learning, or through building relationships was one theme. A second was incorporation of what is known about activities and attitudes and wellbeing into legal education which has sometimes been characterised by an unhealthy individual competitiveness and instrumentalism. However, it was recognised that many of the pressures facing our students are generated outside the academy.
Thus, the concern with wellbeing joined once more the concern with impact both inside and, crucially, outside the academy. As legal educators we are preparing our students for a life beyond the university. As legal researchers, we are trying to make sure that world is one that is fit to receive them.