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Opposite Slaughter and May and round the corner from Linklaters on a smart, quiet street, the College of Law’s Moorgate centre blends into its London surroundings. The lobby looks and feels much more like the reception area of one of the nearby law firms than that of a place of study. Everyone is dressed for the office – not a scruffy student in sight.
A surprising feature is the view from the windows of a six-acre playing field at the back, not for aspiring lawyers to play football, but the Artillery Garden, used for parades and the occasional military helicopter landing.
Moorgate is one of eight centres that make up the UK college, along with another one in London and one each in Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Chester, Guildford and York. The design of programmes is centralised, though, meaning the content and quality are consistent. But for those following the College of Law’s Master of Laws (LLM) in international legal practice, run in partnership with the International Bar Association, location is not an issue. The programme, launched in 2008, is delivered entirely online – or as the college describes it, in “S-Mode”.
Each student is assigned a superviser and takes six modules, formed of eight or nine practical tasks and an assessment, followed by a dissertation. Students use online resources: more than 400 “i-Tutorials” (online presentations), precedents, practical materials and demonstrations.
The “S” is for supervision and comes into play with tutor feedback, which is returned to the LLM participant within five days.
The “i-Tutorials”, created by the college, are not what you might expect from online learning. They are highly produced, and incorporate a talk by a professional presenter and qualified solicitor, as well as images, graphics and exercises.
Scott Slorach, board member, innovation, design and production at the college, is keen to distance the LLM from the reductive “e-learning” label. “We don’t call it ‘online’ or ‘distance learning’, which tends to be ‘do the reading and send an essay in, and then I’ll mark it and you take an exam’,” he says.
The flexibility of studying from anywhere with internet access is attractive to students. The fact that participants do not need to attend one of the college’s centres also makes the LLM far more accessible to international students, which was the IBA’s motivation for involvement. “The partnership developed from our desire to make education in cross-border law more accessible to young lawyers in developing countries,” says Tim Hughes, deputy executive director of the IBA.
The ethos of the school is very much on “real-life” practice, as opposed to theory. “It is the most practical course of its competitors,” says Peter Kasanda, who graduated from the LLM with a distinction this year. “I am a finance lawyer and we were provided with live transactional documents, such as term sheets and draft loans, to mark up, making it useful for day-to-day work.”
From September next year, the college will offer an undergraduate degree, the LLB. Unusually for a bachelor’s degree, it will be completed over two years, rather than three. The college will also offer a face-to-face LLM in London, spurred by the success of the S-Mode course. One addition will be the introduction of an element called “Life in the City”, where practitioners will visit to talk about their experiences of working, be it at the firm opposite or that round the corner.