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To consider law lecturing

67 replies

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 08:53

I am a solicitor currently working in private practice part time, looking for a change. If I am honest, I do not enjoy giving advice (lack of confidence ; fear of getting it wrong), client demands etc.

Any university lecturers out there teaching the LLb who can comment on working hours, demands, best / worst parts of the job etc (I've avoided looking at tutoring on the legal practice course because it looks as though that course will be scrapped in the near future).

It would be a pay cut and an extra working day - do I take the plunge!


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fatdogs · 09/06/2017 10:29

I am a legal academic. Moat universities would want at least a PhD and evidence of research track record or research potential (REF standard) for lecturing position. Increasingly universities are also recruiting for teaching focused lecturers. However these positions tend to be teaching intensive and very demanding. Students demand a high quality of teaching (read spoonfeeding them information) and you need to constantly develop new and engaging teaching methods. Universities with teaching focused positions may also very likely require you to have a PGCE or membership of the HEA

SoxonFeet · 09/06/2017 10:34

Have you thought about teaching CILEx level 6? they are topic lead and are taught by part time/ex solicitors who really know their area and arent coasting into other areas. There are law units and litigation units which you could probably teach both, and often the tutors are able to write/have a hand in their course materials (obviously they have to be exam compliant). I have no idea about the pay grades though.

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 10:35

Thanks Fatdogs - what are the positives and negatives? ie what is your typical day like? What do you do during student holidays?

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Dixiechickonhols · 09/06/2017 10:36

My SIL did commercial property magic circle high value so PSL role linked to that. I'm opposite end of spectrum small firm small northern town.
Are you commercial?

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 10:41

Yeah specialist commercial area (psl roles are rare)

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fatdogs · 09/06/2017 10:52

My position is teaching focussed so term time is intense with classes. I work a lot of extra hours preparing for lectures and marking formative assessments and just generally handling student administration. There's usually a fair bit of administration in lecturing positions as well which they never mention or gloss over in interviews. Outside of term time is usually spent on marking student exams and research. The research focussed lecturers do much less teaching but they are expected to churn out REF quality 4 star research and chase grant funding which is very demanding.
There is also a fair bit of extra curricular activities which may eat into your time.
The plus side is I enjoy a lot of work independence. I have a lot of flexibility subject to timetable of course. If I am not scheduled to teach on a certain day I can choose to work from home. In fact as I am currently marking student assessments, I am working from home the whole of this week. I have the freedom to plan and structure the modules I teach although if you are not module leader then you may not enjoy this freedom but generally even if you teach on someone else module, you have carte Blanche during your individual classes as long as you are within the lesson parameters. It's true you don't have holidays when the students do, but you do enjoy periods of downtime where the work is less intense. I spend summer's doing research and module maintainence But at least I often get to work from home or come in to office flexibly. I love my job but in terms of pay academics are not minting it. I am comfortable but by no means wealthy.

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 10:58

Fatdogs - thank you! How do you find marking, is it difficult? Do you worry about complaints over grading? Are your lectures in big halls?

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fatdogs · 09/06/2017 11:07

Marking is tedious. I tend to take a short break after marking about 10 submissions/exams at a go in order to avoid saturation and to ensure that my standards do not start slipping. Sometimes they all start blending into each other. Lecture sizes vary. Core subjects would have very large numbers. At my uni a contract law lecture would be about 200 students. Big lectures take plac in lecture theatres with tiered seating. Can be quite intimidating if you are not used to public speaking. Optional subjects have varying lecture sizes depending on the popularity of the option. Things like company law and medical are traditionally popular options and have large numbers. Tutorials or seminar sessions consist of groups of about 8 and are a lot more interactive.
I do get at least one complaint on grading every year. Usually some student who thinks they should have scored much higher than they did. This is usually resolved quite easily with an informal meeting where I go over with them their exam or coursework submission and show them where they have gone wrong and explain my marking criteria and justification. Only once have I had a student file an appeal over marking and in those cases all universities I know support the lecture in terms of academic judgement and will only take action if there is evidence of misconduct in marking.

TalbotAMan · 09/06/2017 11:11

I've spent a long time as a legal academic but on the professional side - GDL, LPC, BPTC. I currently work in a department that has both LLB and professional courses in a -former polytechnic- post-1992 university.

There is a hierarchy of institutions and what they do. A Russell Group law department is unlikely to have much interest in professional areas. Most of the staff will never have practised. They will, though, have had an academic career, doing LLM and PhD. They will be very research focused - the classic complaint from students in such places is that the staff are more interested in their research than in them. That may start to change as the Teaching Excellence Framework comes in over the next few years. On the other hand, the students tend to be very able. The challenges of teaching do depend on the quality of the students; there is a great difference between working with someone who can spot the flaws in a Supreme Court judgment on a first reading and someone who has difficulty grasping the concept of offer+acceptance+consideration+intention. Some people prefer one sort and some the other. Getting into such an institution from a professional career is likely to be difficult, unless, perhaps, you have outstanding LLB qualifications such as an Oxbridge First.

Below them in the hierarchy are the universities that were polytechnics and had established law schools prior to the 1992 upgrade. Many, though not all, offer professional courses, and it is sometimes possible to teach cross-programme; I know people who have started on professional courses and then leveraged themselves over to LLB ones. The students are likely to be those who couldn't make the grade for more prestigious institutions or whose university choice is constrained because they are unable to move away from home. The focus is on teaching and research takes a back seat; many of the staff will only be nominally research-active. These institutions may be more amenable to someone from a professional background and may be prepared to put you through a PhD. (Compared with other disciplines, PhDs have been relatively rare in law but the universities are now trying to bring law into line on this.)

At the bottom are the universities that gained status after 1992 - these are a mixed bag. They tend to have the least able students and again concentrate on teaching them rather than research.

The wild card is the private sector universities; BPP and the University of Law. They have a limited presence in the LLB market and are aiming their courses as, as far as I can see, feeders for their professional courses.

Workload is pretty high on professional courses but maybe a bit more forgiving on LLB ones. In a classic university there are no fixed hours as such - you simply have to be there when needed - so at the moment, for example, I am nominally working at home on material for next year pending the arrival of the final marking for the year on Monday. However, some departments do part-time courses which require evening or weekend work. There is quite a lot of scope for ducking and diving and dodging and weaving. As in any career, it sometimes seems that the best way to avoid real work is to get some management responsibilities . . .

Compared to practice pay is capped. The career grade is generally Senior Lecturer, which maxes out at about £47k full-time. There are posts beyond that but they are relatively scarce. Pay has been held back for 8 years now - universities are currently far keener on paying builders than they are on academic staff.

As others have suggested, one of the best ways in is to wangle your way onto sessional work if your existing job will allow this. This allows you to mix metaphors and get a toe in the water and a foot in the door. One downside is that a lot of people move from one institution to another to climb the career ladder, which is fine if you are mobile but less so if you aren't.

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 11:20

Thank you Talbt and Fatdogs for your very helpful posts and taking time to reply.

What are the biggest stresses in your role?

I am nervous about the large lectures - but who wouldn't be? I suppose you need to know your stuff and confidence will come the more you do it.

Can you see the law degree disappearing (as with the LPC)?

Typical hours 9-5 in the university? Thinking of childcare. I work 3 days. 2 of those days I am here late ie 730 pm on average. I pick stuff up and monitor my blackberry on my days off. It is not so much the hours I do but the worry over the work. How would 4 days as a lecturer compare?

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fatdogs · 09/06/2017 11:40

I don't think the law degree will disappear but it may change in terms of teaching pedagogy. Teaching hours at my Uni are between 9am to 6pm. I request to pack my classes into 3 days which leaves me 2 teaching free days. I use my teaching free days to do lecture prep, admin, schdule student pastoral care meeting if needed etc. Just find it easier to work on chunks of time uninterrupted by having to go into class. During my teaching days I just tend to focus on the teaching and do simple admin between classes.
Yes @talboaman is absolutely right that most lecturers in Russel group Unis would have never practised even if they have professional qualification. My uni is non Russel group and only 3 members of staff have ever practised professionally and even that only briefly before they left to focus on academia. I have never practised professionally and do not hold professional qualifications but I have post graduate research degrees and PhD which as @Talbot said are getting more in demand now. Students at non Russel group Unis tend to be a mixed bag and it can be challenging trying to develop teaching strategies to reach a group of students with very diverse abilities.
University of Law and BPP recruit very frequently for practitioners to teach on their LPC courses but having had colleagues who have worked there, I have heard some off putting stories about their management style. Very corporate type organisation and work culture. And staff a those places certainly do not enjoy half the amount of freedom lecturers like me enjoy at a "traditional" uni

TalbotAMan · 09/06/2017 11:43

Biggest stresses: workload and deadlines -- but as I said I am on the professional side, and I have been at it long enough that I have a relatively large subject portfolio and some other roles on the side. It is the kind of thing that builds up over time. Also, I have effectively sole responsibility for certain modules so there is no-one to assist with them.

In fact, compared with practice, you would be very much flying solo. There are no secretaries (except for the really important professors and heads of department) and no second-level staff on the academic side, so you and your equivalent colleagues end up doing almost everything.

I also get bored stiff by marking.

Large lectures - I suppose that I had a few nerves to start with but they have never really bothered me. Even though I have tended to be quite shy and introverted on a one-to-one basis, I never really found the big room much of a challenge.

I can't see the law degree disappearing. In England the law degree is generally taught as a liberal arts degree rather than as a specific preparation for practice, and most academics don't have either professional qualifications or experience. Most LLB graduates these days don't go into the legal profession.

9-5? Unless you are timetabled to teach outside those hours, which varies between institutions, there should be little difficulty confining your time in the university to those hours most of the time -- occasionally people schedule late meetings or marketing events or outside speakers. 7.30 pm on average would be purely a matter of personal choice. You might, though, have to take some work home at busy times. As in any job, the email never stops, and I have some colleagues who appear never to sleep, but there generally isn't the same pressure for an instant response out-of-hours. Students are becoming more demanding now they are self-funding but even so they are probably not up there with commercial clients.

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 12:10

Your insight has been very helpful, thank you. In terms of teaching pedagogy - no more standing at the front and reading off slides? What are lecturers doing these days?

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NImbleJumper · 09/06/2017 12:39

Not a legal academic, but senior humanities, so cognate. Do you have a specialism? Are you well-known in the practitioner field for it? Would you bring a specific area of hard-to-teach practice with you? Have you published anything in a legal or professional practice journal, newsletter or other authoritative public forum?

Are you prepared to be judged all.the.time by students and those senior to you?

Are you prepared to work 6 days a week?

Are you prepared to engage with huge enthusiasm in areas you don't understand, or don't like practising in?

I'm not sure you quite understand what is involved in teaching in HE ....

NImbleJumper · 09/06/2017 12:43

The career grade is generally Senior Lecturer, which maxes out at about £47k full-time

But you'd generally start as an entry-level (or just above Lecturer) where salaries tend to be low to mid-£30k. Unless you had something very special (eg ShitHotLawyer from Clifford Chance!). And increasingly anyone teaching in HE is expected to have some sort of postgraduate qualification - if not a PhD, then a good Masters degree.

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 12:50

Nlmble you are quite right, I don't understand the ins and outs hence the questions. I do know that there are vacancies at universities local to me for ex solicitors to come and lecture.

Are you really judged all the time? That worries me.

Why do you work 6 days a week? Is it the marking/preparation or the research?

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NImbleJumper · 09/06/2017 12:51

It is difficult because my role is great in many ways and flexible but I don't want to continue giving advice/dealing with clients (confidence issues over getting it wrong and my heart isn't in it

Really sorry to say tis, but you really sound temperamentally unsuited to teaching. Teaching in HE nowadays is a lot about advising and facilitating students' learning, not just standing up in front of people & telling them stuff. You guide & cajole, to get them to become self-directed learners. So you actually have to have a lot of confidence and heart!

And there are NOT "long holidays" - we get 4 weeks, like everyone else. If you worked 4 days, you'd be on an 08.FTE contract, so a further pay cut.

There is some flexibility and autonomy in the job, but it workS differently than other jobs' flexibility. Without a PhD or equivalent publication, or a really recognisable area of specialisation/excellence in practice, you'd not be in a research post. So you would "Teach as directed by the Head of Department" (standard clause in an academic job description & contract), and there's no flexibility about teaching. If you're timetabled 9am on Monday, or 5pm on Friday (ad I have taught at both those times!) you have to be there. There's very little flexibility to switch teaching timetables around, so doctor's appointments, deliveries etc have to be arranged around that. I have found that sometimes, the demands on my time are such that ordinary life things are very much constrained.

So I think you need to stop thinking that academia is somehow "work-lite" in terms of time, stress, performance anxiety, advising etc. There are no sherry parties in dons' rooms any more (or if they are I never get invited!)

NImbleJumper · 09/06/2017 12:58

Why do you work 6 days a week? Is it the marking/preparation or the research?

Because universities are under-funded, and there are not enough people to do the work required.

Good research takes a long time, and any good teacher is also a researcher - you need to give the students stuff that is cutting edge.

Because if a colleague goes sick, there is no cover but the work must be done.

Good marking is time-consuming.

We are judged all the time: read the Times Higher for information about the TEF, the REF. Look at universities' internal student evaluations of teaching.

If you want a less stressful and anxiety-producing job than being a solicitor, I would not recommend teaching in a university. We need academics prepared to be at the top of the game, not running away from it - our young people deserve that.

I love it, and live with the stresses because I know I'm very good at what I do - if you're not sure, and are looking at HE teaching to get away from other things, then I think the job would eat you up. You need to love it - and the rewards are immense - to see really bright young people learn & change literally in front of your eyes is a gift to treasure, but it doesn't come without knowledge & hard work from the lecturer as well as the student! Even me in my jaded old mindset still finds teaching my subject exciting - both my subject and the teaching. You really need that.

fatdogs · 09/06/2017 13:07

Standing in front of a room and reading off slides?? I wish. These days it's all about a teaching and learning strategy and getting students engaged and taking ownership of their learning. The traditional lecture has been acknowledged to be one of the moat ineffective forms of teaching and learning. Slides are simply there to provide a bare minimum framework to prompt the narrative of the lecture.
Lecture preparation is very time consuming although I have been teaching my subjects for a number of years so basic prep has been done and I just need to constantly update and tweak my material to incorporate new ideas. But if you are teaching a module for the first time, the prep is immense. If someone asked me to teach say contract now, I would almost have to learn it all over again and learn it in a way that will enable me to break it down and teach it. Not easy and not something you can do on the fly the night before. Leading a module not only means you prepare the lectures but you also design the tutorial activities and plan the learning outcomes of each topic. There constant research to put together a package of assorted reading material for each topic within a module. Marking is a time-consuming boring tedious pain in the arse. Some of my colleagues do it very quickly but I do think that to be fair to the students it needs to be done by more than just skim reading. As with any job that has good flexibility and freedom, you do find yourself working outside of designated "notmal" working hours but the overall benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
You do work alone most of the time bar collaboration on applying for research grants and working on research clusters. But the life of an academic is generally an independent solitary one. Suits me just fine and that was one of the attractions to the job for me. You do end up institutionalised to some extent. I think I would struggle very much to work in a regular office type job. At work I have my own private office, full freedom to determine the direction and content of the subjects I teach and discretion to design my assessment outcomes and criteria. Students tend to judged but I think a lot of students can get a feel for good teaching and if so they respect you. Some of my colleagues are brilliant academics with outstanding research and get slaughtered on student feedback as their disdain for teaching is evident in class and they tend to do the Barre minimum of repeating information. Students can see through that quite easily.

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 13:11

So I am concluding that it is not a good move to make at this stage in life with 2 very young children in terms of all the investment that it will require in preparing for lectures etc?

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fatdogs · 09/06/2017 13:17

Frankly I think it would be a struggle. As some previous posters have suggested, try becoming a session lecturer first. At my uni and I think most others as Well, we do employ a crop of sessionals every academic year. They are paid hourly and are on contract. They mostly teach one hour tutorials and the prep is generally less intense for that but I am speaking in very general terms. The downside is the work is very unstable (teaching needs change form year to year) so there is no guarantee you will be contracted again the next academic year and you don't get paid when there is no teaching so June to September can be a real struggle if you have no other form of income.

corythatwas · 09/06/2017 13:20

Even if you are not expected to be research active- and that is a BIG if- the non-teaching part of the year will not be holidays.

It will be time when you desperately try to catch up with your paperwork, writing new modules or rewriting old ones, being responsible for supervising dissertations (which students write in the summer), attending or organising conferences, organising teaching and developing new teaching material, helping out with recruitment, evaluating your own teaching (on which you get graded by the students) and organising resits and/or support for any student who may be struggling.

Anything you do, from research to writing a new textbook, will have to be funded externally and it is your job to find sources of funding and writing the applications.

If you want a job that is only teaching and marking, then you will probably only get short-term contracts with no security and poor pay.

Unless you have very specific needs, or very understanding colleagues, you may well be expected to teach in the evenings and sometimes be available at weekends for Open Days and similar. And even with regular hours, teaching until 6 on a Friday is not at all unusual.

I love love LOVE my job as a lecturer in humanities. It's all I ever wanted to do. I love young people (mostly), I love my subject, I love the atmosphere of a university. But I am working a full week on a 0.5 contract, and the only reason I was able to secure that was because I wrote a book (unpaid, in my spare time) while working on temporary teaching contracts.

And though I have always done well in student evaluations, I still have that moment of panic when I collect the questionnaires at the end of every module- because I know that I will have absolutely no redress if a group of students decide to take against me: these, and the reviews of my next book, are what my career hangs on.

Rossigigi · 09/06/2017 13:22

If you struggle with nerves I suggest this is the route you do not take

ApplesOranges · 09/06/2017 13:27

All - thank you for your opinions. Very kind of you to contribute.

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Mulledwine1 · 09/06/2017 13:29

Just to say that both PLC and Lexis offer home-working options. Don't rule them out because you don't live near London. They have people working all over the place including in Northern Ireland.

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