Paradigm shift: motivations for qualified legal professionals to undertake academic study

Gabriel Brennan, Rory O'Boyle, Jan Cookson, Mark Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This paper considers the factors that motivate qualified legal professionals to undertake a further legal academic programme of study. The paper analyses the findings of a recent study concerning a post-graduate research degree collaboration between Northumbria University (NU) and the Law Society of Ireland (LSI) whereby NU’s longstanding LLM Advanced Legal Practice (LLM ALP) has been offered in Ireland through the LSI (LLM ALP (Ire)). The initial offering of the LLM ALP (Ire) has attracted a significant amount of interest from the profession, prompting the authors to consider (i) the factors that motivate ‘time-poor’ professionals to pursue the academic study of law at the post-professional level and (ii) the potential that such a course of study might have to inform and enrich the students’ practice of law. Across all Higher Education Authority funded institution in Ireland, as at March 2015 there were 563 students enrolled in masters in law programmes, comprising full-time, part-time and research based offerings (Higher Education Authority, 2015). Fifty students were accepted onto the two initial intakes into the LLM ALP (Ire), the first intake occurring in September 2015 and because of demand a supplementary intake was provided in January 2016. This therefore represents almost an immediate 10% share of the entire masters in law ‘market’ in Ireland. In of itself this would be a somewhat noteworthy figure, but is even more so when it is considered that the student population on the LLM ALP (Ire) is drawn exclusively from the solicitor profession, with only approximately 10,000 practising solicitors in the jurisdiction.

The paper initially sets out the general background to the collaboration between NU and LSI. The paper then examines the particular profile of the students that have registered for the LLM ALP (Ire), as the student profile would appear to differ considerably from the standard profile of students enrolling for the course in England. The LLM ALP (Ire) has attracted a significant amount of more established practitioners, whereas those who generally enrol on the LLM ALP in England are at the early stages of their careers, either enrolled on the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or having only recently qualified Hence this research is focused against a backdrop of a particular student profile as post-professionals with established careers in legal practice.

The paper reviews existing literature that considers the manner in which continuing professional education might inform and enhance legal practice. The paper draws comparisons between the expected outcomes from standard continuing professional development educational requirements as against potential outcomes arising from a more academic study of a chosen legal discipline. Of further interest is a comparative review of literature from other professions, focusing in particular on the medical profession, concerning how academic study at the post-professional level might enrich practice in those disciplines and whether or not there are different motivations at play between the professions that induce individuals in those disciplines to engage in academic study.

The authors invited students enrolled on the LLM ALP (Ire) to complete a questionnaire focusing on the motivations of such ‘time-poor’ professionals to register for an academic course of study. The respondents to the questionnaire were also asked to share their perceptions of how they expected that the masters would impact or inform their practice of law. The paper will attempt to link the findings from the questionnaire to the literature review, using comments from students to frame issues, in order to reflect further on the general motivations for qualified legal professionals to undertake academic study. The authors also ask if academic institutions and representative bodies are doing enough to fully meet the needs of more established practitioners who, once they have mastered their own practice of the law, are keen to develop a more academic understanding of their chosen area and possibly also interested in satisfying their intellectual curiosity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)70-89
Number of pages20
JournalThe Law Teacher
Issue number1
Early online date17 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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