London Connection Q&A: Simon Askey

The newly appointed Director of the Undergraduate Laws Programme talks about the uniqueness of the University of London LLB
Simon Askey, Head, Undergraduate Laws Programme
"Our LLB gives you much more variety of opportunity": Simon Askey
Right from the start the University of London LLB aims to get you to take things apart, problem solve and construct a reasoned argument

What key practical skills does the University of London LLB develop which are essential for working in the legal profession?
The key skill our LLB provides is to help you think like a lawyer. This isn’t a single skill but a combination of a number of skills. One of the most important skills that you need as a lawyer is to be able to get to the point. Often this involves sifting through a lot of material and casting a lot of it aside. This skill of analysis – being able to break material into bits and then using some of the bits (the relevant ones) to create an argument or opinion – is what lawyers engage in every day. Right from the start the University of London LLB aims to develop these skills; to get you to take things apart, problem solve and to construct a reasoned argument.

In what ways does the LLB enable students to develop those skills?
The modules are structured using a variety of exercises and learning approaches. Using 'Common law reasoning and institutions' as an example, we get you to engage with legal sources from the outset. We give you a case to read and an excerpt from an Act of Parliament and in the examination we test your understanding of that case and your approach to interpreting the Act of Parliament. You develop skills as you progress using exercises in the module guides, so that by the end of the programme you know how to find the law, what the law is and – more importantly – how to use it. A lot of this is through problem solving and while at the start of your studies these will be fairly straightforward, by the end you will be able to make a creative legal response to complex problems. People go to lawyers to get a legal solution to a problem – this might be a serious problem such as an accusation of murder or something rather more mundane, such as a land dispute with their neighbours or an employment dispute. Knowing the law is one thing but using the law to solve a problem is a whole different matter.

"A lot of LLB graduates go into commerce, management and business, but law is useful in any job where you need an organised, logical approach to problem solving that respects the rights of others."

Simon Askey in Dubai

If you don’t want to become a legal practitioner, in what other ways can a law degree help you?
I think it can help you in lots of ways. Lots of politicians are lawyers but perhaps we’d best steer clear of them! A lot of LLB graduates go into commerce, management and business, but law is useful in any job where you need an organised, logical approach to problem solving that respects the rights of others.

So the LLB is beneficial as a general degree?
Yes. A lot of people nowadays almost see an LLB as an alternative to an MBA. Often they're working in accountancy, or finance, or other areas where there's a bit of law. And they like to get a familiarity with that law but they don't want to be a lawyer. They want to see the bigger picture of how law impinges on what they do. 

Why is a common law degree so valuable around the world?
The common law degree is perhaps most useful because Anglo-American law of contract still plays an important role in international trade law, hence its global appeal. Another reason is that the common law is a worldwide legal system and around one third of the world’s population live in countries where the legal system is common law or common law mixed with another legal system. 

The LLB is developed by academics at the six University of London Law Schools – Birkbeck, King’s, LSE, Queen Mary, SOAS and UCL. Does this make it a unique offering?
I can't think of another law degree that draws on six highly rated Law Schools, some in the top universities in the world. So, yes, if you've got an LLB with academic participation from six leading Law Schools then you've got a unique academic offering.

What are the opportunities to network with other students on the degree?
Many students network with others within the teaching institutions they attend and enjoy a real experience of being a student in a campus setting. There are also discussion boards on the VLE, but there is also student initiated networking, most notably on Facebook. About four years ago some students set up some year groups for the Intermediate and Finals subjects. I think that's created quite a network through their own Facebook pages. A few academics who contribute to the LLB do go on, do say things, and do contribute, but we're not the drivers behind it. We're very much extra contributors. Face-to-face, there are limited opportunities for students to meet other students at the regional revision courses the Laws Programme runs each year. This year we had students from Australia attending our Malaysian revision classes.

"The real focus is on allowing people to study at their own pace."

Are there any recent developments that you can share?
There have been a few changes to the programme in terms of its flexibility: the fact that you can do one module only, and up to four modules in a year; resit opportunities have also increased as you can now resit two modules; and we'll be making some of the modules Level 5 rather than Level 6, so that we can articulate the progression more clearly. The real focus is on allowing people to study at their own pace. 

Simon Askey on camelHow important are teaching institutions in terms of delivering the programme?
Teaching institutions vary from enormous public universities to much smaller institutions, so what they offer varies accordingly. Likewise, in terms of their teaching – some will offer part-time, full-time or weekend courses, others may only offer one possibility. About two-thirds of our students attend a teaching institution, so the teaching institutions are clearly important from a student perspective. Our relationship with institutions is quite structured these days, through the Teaching Institutions Recognition Framework, and through our regular visits. 

What marks out the University of London LLB compared with other UK LLB degrees that are available to study overseas?
I think it's a unique product. It's easy to overuse that word, but it's different in terms of its size. Nothing else comes anywhere near having the number of students that we have, not even a quarter of the size of our student cohort. It's also unique in the sense that it offers so many different approaches: you can study some modules independently, you can register with an institution to take some modules, you can attend a regional revision or a weekend course. You can do lots of different things, whereas what you're signing up to somewhere else is something much more constrained. Our LLB gives you much more variety of opportunity. The other thing is that it's been around longer, so it's unique because it's developed incrementally. Although it's tailored to today's market, its foundations are deep and its history impressive. 

There are many distinguished lawyers, solicitors, barristers and judges around the world who have obtained their law degree through the University of London. Are there any that particularly stand out for you?
It's difficult, because there are so many. There's Tan Sri James Foong Cheng Yuen, a former Judge of the Federal Court of Malaysia. He graduated with a London LLB in 1969 and still keeps close connections with the London LLB today. And it's interesting to see how the recent honorary graduate Aare Afe Babalola, who started out doing two of our degrees – one of them a law degree – has linked successful legal practice with the furtherance of education, to the extent that he has a university named after him. Not many of our alumni have that! 

"If you talk about being truly global and you can study wherever you want, whenever you want, it's important to make the celebrations of student achievement truly global."

You have attended numerous alumni events around the world. What would you say are the key benefits of these events?
They're very important in terms of bringing students together, and bringing together quite recent graduates with older graduates. It then creates a useful network for alumni. But I think they're also useful in terms of making them aware of new programmes, and showing them where the University is today. So they have many facets to them, I think: profile raising, engagement, networking and making people feel that they belong to something. 

You have also attended overseas graduation ceremonies. Do you feel it is important to connect with teaching institutions around the world?
Yes. I’ve been to Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh so far and Ghana completes this year’s round in July. In past years I’ve been to Hong Kong, Trinidad, Jamaica and Mauritius. Some of these are organised by the teaching institutions but others are organised by Undergraduate Laws. The first overseas graduation Laws organised was in 2010 in Bangladesh. I think they're good because not many students can come to the graduation ceremony in London, and there's nothing people like more than their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, members of their families being able to celebrate with them. It's an opportunity to rejoice with their family members. And if you talk about being truly global and you can study wherever you want, whenever you want, it's important to make the celebrations of student achievement truly global.