Teaching and Learning

The School of Law is committed to excellence and innovation in teaching, and to ensuring that law students’ learning experiences are both stimulating and challenging. To find out more:


Aims and standards

The School of Law is committed to excellence and innovation in teaching, and to ensuring that law students’ learning experiences are both stimulating and challenging. In recognition of these high standards, the School of Law was awarded a rating of ‘Excellent’ in its most recent Teaching Quality Assessment.

Our objective in the School of Law is to enable students to develop their knowledge of law in its social, political, moral and economic contexts. Through this process, there is the opportunity to acquire a variety of key and transferable skills, also known as benchmark skills. In this way students leave, not only academically qualified to become a practising lawyer, if that is their wish, but also well qualified to pursue a variety of other careers.

The School of Law’s commitment to high teaching standards is reflected in the existence of a number of internal quality assurance mechanisms. An Annual Programme Review is conducted each September to assess how the delivery of units and degree programmes can be improved. This process requires the collation of reports from all degree directors, as well as those members of staff acting in key administrative roles. It is also aided by the results of annual student questionnaires and the comments of external examiners. All staff then attend a meeting to discuss the collated reports and establish a plan of action for the coming year. In this way, we seek continuously to improve our teaching and student learning. A Teaching and Learning Director supervises this review process, and keeps the School advised of good practice, recent developments, and the scope for further training. The Staff-Student Forum also meets 5 times a year, so that concerns raised by student representatives can be addressed swiftly during the academic year.

All new lecturers have to undertake a substantial training course in teaching and learning provided by the University’s Staff Development team, while part-time tutors are provided with training within the School of Law. Additionally, there is peer review of the delivery of teaching by established teaching staff. The School of Law also holds Away Days attended by all members of the academic staff, which are devoted to the discussion of teaching matters, often with input from outside educational experts.

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Forms of teaching

The study of law is a new and challenging experience for most of our students. For this reason, the School of Law provides an induction programme for all new undergraduates in the first ‘introductory week’ of the academic year. Students will be given advice on the ways in which teaching is provided, what is expected from them, and how they can learn from the experience. Students will also be given training on how to use the library, which will be crucial to their studies, and given access to and guidance on the use of computers.

Each law unit covers a different subject and a variety of topics within that subject. The core compulsory units are designed to ensure that the degree students receive upon graduation meets the requirements of a ‘qualifying law degree’ set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the Bar Standards Board. A wide range of optional units are also available on a variety of subjects. Usually, these are designed and delivered by members of staff actively researching in the field, and who have particular expertise from which students are able to benefit.

All law units are taught across the whole academic year. Teaching in the School of Law is conducted through lectures, tutorials and seminars.

Lectures usually last for 50 minutes, and involve an exposition of a particular topic by the lecturer, supported by references to legal materials and academic writing. The main aim of a lecture course is to provide students with an overview or map of the subject in question, and to highlight what the lecturer regards as the most interesting or important issues. Students are expected to supplement lectures with extra reading from both primary materials (e.g. cases and statutes) and secondary sources (e.g. textbooks and journal articles). In any event, students have to investigate particular topics in more detail for the purpose of tutorials or seminars.

Tutorials also last for 50 minutes, but involve small groups of around eight students, all of whom are expected to participate in discussion of the relevant topic – asking and responding to questions, debating with fellow students and perhaps even giving a short presentation or delivering a prepared speech for a moot or formal debate.

Seminars are similar to tutorials, also involving small-group discussion of set topics. They tend, however, to involve a larger group (usually no more than 16) and last for 100 minutes rather than 50. Particularly in optional units studied in the second and final year, seminars may constitute the only formal teaching contact between staff and students.

The topics for discussion in tutorials and seminars are set in advance, along with required and/or recommended reading. Nevertheless, students are encouraged to raise any issues related to the topic being discussed or even the unit more generally. The more initiative that is taken by students, the more their studies are likely to prove profitable for their future career development.

Students can expect to have approximately 10-12 contact hours with staff per week in lectures, tutorials and seminars. However, they should be reading and preparing outside classes, so that in total they spend at least 40 hours per week on their studies.

Our aim as staff in the School of Law is to assist students as much as possible, but we also seek to promote independent learning, because this is the skill that is required of any lawyer in practice. Students are encouraged to seek answers, not only from their tutors, but by independent reading and working together in preparation for tutorials and seminars. This focus on student-centred learning means that students may also be expected to explore parts of the syllabus on their own without the benefit of lectures or discussion in tutorials or seminars. For example, most final year students are required to complete a research project, with limited guidance from a member of the academic staff, on a legal topic of their choice from a selection approved by the School of Law.

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Benchmark skills

An important element of the School of Law's undergraduate courses is the teaching, practice and evaluation of certain intellectual and practical skills not specifically related to the study and practice of law, but which are common to many academic disciplines and occupations. These skills are often called transferable, generic or key skills, although in the School of Law we also refer to them as benchmark skills.

The skills developed over a student’s time at Bristol fall into two broad groups. On the one hand, there are the intellectual skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. These are closely related to the thinking process. On the other hand, there are the relatively practical skills of written and oral communication, the use of computers and information technology, research techniques, problem-solving and teamwork.

All core units have at least two of the benchmark skills formally built into the syllabus, although students are likely to gain practice in a wide variety of skills in all units. For example, all intellectual disciplines involve analysis, synthesis and evaluation of information, and communication of knowledge through writing examination papers and essays. Similarly, participation in tutorials and seminars necessarily involves students in oral communication and many also require group work, even when teamwork is not a specified benchmark skill. Practice in these skills not only makes students more attractive to prospective employers, but also makes the learning process in all units more varied and interesting.

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Assessment

The School of Law uses a variety of assessment methods to test students’ ability and knowledge, and to grade their performance for progression and degree purposes. The traditional method is an unseen, closed-book examination (i.e., students do not see the questions before the examination and cannot take any materials into the examination room, apart from authorised statute books and/or foreign language dictionaries). Such examinations usually involve a mixture of traditional essay-type questions and legal problems. Other types of examination may, for example, involve answering questions on a set legal text or may permit students to take into the examination room any materials they wish. In addition to or instead of an examination, students may be required to write an essay or essays involving original research. An example is the final year research project which has to be completed by almost every final year LLB student.

20 credit point units are assessed either by one 3 hour examination, or two pieces of coursework (each max. 2,500 words). Each piece of coursework is equally weighted. 40 credit point units will be assessed by one piece of coursework (max. 3,500 words) and a 3 hour examination. The coursework in 40 credit point units is weighted at 33%.

Progression is inherent in our curriculum. As students work their way through the curriculum, their legal and other transferable skills improve. While students do, of course, need to pass all their first year units in order to progress, performance in the first year does not count towards final degree classification.

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