How we interpret and understand the historical contexts of legal education has profoundly affected how we understand contemporary educational cultures and practices. This book, the result of a Modern Law Review seminar, both celebrates and critiques the lasting impact of Peter Birks’ influential edited collection, Pressing Problems in the Law: Volume 2: What is the Law School for? Published in 1996, his book addresses many critical issues that are hauntingly present in the 21st century, amongst them the impact of globalisation; technological disruption; and the tension inherent in law schools as they seek to balance the competing interest of teaching, research and administration. Yet Birks’ collection misses key issues, too. The role of wellbeing, of emotion or affect, the relation of legal education to education, the status of legal education in what, since his volume, have become the devolved jurisdictions of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland – these and others are absent from the research agenda of the book.
Today, legal educators face new challenges. We are still recovering from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our universities. In 1996 Birks was keen to stress the importance of comparative research within Europe. Today, legal researchers are dismayed at the possibility of losing valuable EU research funding when the UK leaves the EU, and at the many other negative effects of Brexit on legal education. The proposed Solicitors Qualifying Examination takes legal education regulation and professional learning into uncharted waters. This book discusses these and related impacts on our legal educations.
As law schools approach an existential crossroads post-Covid-19, it seems timely to revisit Birks’ fundamental question: what are law schools for?