Sarah-Jane McCormick has been a Legal Services Lecturer at Fife College for 6 years. She previously taught Law at the University of Stirling and also practised as a solicitor in Edinburgh and Central Scotland
I have been a lecturer at Fife College for nearly 6 years now. I came initially to cover my now colleague’s maternity leave and I enjoyed it so much I never left! I wasn’t new to teaching Law as I had previously taught at Stirling University and had also been employed as a training consultant for a private practice. Why then, did I decide that teaching at a college was where I wanted to remain? As cliched as it may sound it was where I felt I could make the biggest difference!
Our students come from very diverse backgrounds and represent a wide range of ages - they may come straight from school, where perhaps they didn’t quite manage to attain sufficient qualifications or hadn’t decided what their next career move will be. In addition, we have mature students who are looking to change career or their children are older and they are looking to further their careers and do something for themselves.
Why then should you consider studying an HNC or HND in Legal Services? The first reason would be that it can be an articulation route into studying Law at University. If you pass your HNC or HND with a good grade it may allow you access to study an LLB at universities around Scotland. The majority of our students, who go onto study an LLB, enrol at the University of Dundee or Abertay University. This is simply due to geographical location as most of our students live in Fife and will commute to Dundee. However, we also have had students enrol in other universities including Stirling, Napier, RGU, Strathclyde and Edinburgh.
The HNC is a one-year course, whereas the HND is a two year course and universities may accept either an HNC or an HND. Some students prefer to stay at college for two years as they feel they don’t have the confidence after one year to go onto university or sometimes they hadn’t considered university as an option until they are very pleasantly surprised at how well they do in the HNC.
The feedback we have received from our students who have gone onto study the LLB is that they felt that studying the HNC/D really helped with their transition onto the degree. The college qualification gave them an excellent grounding of the knowledge and understanding of all the core subjects on the LLB curriculum and they also felt they had developed their analytical and critical skills which allowed them to study and succeed at a higher level. Perhaps most importantly, it gave them the confidence to believe in themselves and that yes, they could attain an LLB and go onto to be a successful lawyer.
The two units which students mention as being extremely helpful are Mooting and Graded Unit 3. Most LLB courses require their students to participate in a Moot early on in their studies - which for most students is a terrifying experience. Although still a daunting thought, our students felt that having already participated in one, they had an advantage over those with no experience of mooting. Graded Unit 3 is an essay-based unit, where students have to submit a 3000 word critical essay on an area of law. This helps students develop skills in critical writing and referencing, which really prepares them for the plethora of essays ahead of them required for the LLB.
If our students decide that the LLB is not for them, our qualification can be used as a gateway to other university courses. For example, we have had students go onto study Law and Management, Criminology, Business Law, Marketing, History- the list goes on and even if they choose not to partake in any further legal studies the qualification develops many transferable skills useful in future studies and careers.
The other main career destination for our students is a Paralegal, whether that be specialising in court, conveyancing, debt recovery or another speciality. The first year of our HNC covers more academic legal subjects such as Contract, Delict, Family and Property Law, whereas in the second year there is a mixture of both academic and practical units e.g. in addition to studying criminal and company law, our students will also study conveyancing, court procedure and executry law equipping them with practical skills making them useful and invaluable employees in a legal office, right from day one. Other possible career destinations are enrolling into the police, the court service, banks and building societies, local authorities, charities and Citizens Advice Bureau.
The learning environment at the college is a friendly and supportive one. We are a small legal services team - there are just 3 of us and we are all approachable. You will study in small classes of 20-25 students approximately which means that by the end of the course we have built up a great rapport with our students and we get to know them quite well. We do try and make the course as enjoyable as possible, despite being hard work.
To sum up, Scottish colleges are playing an integral part in widening the access agenda to higher education and this is also true in our department. The legal profession is often thought to be an elite one but by providing courses like ours, it allows individuals from all areas of society a chance to have a successful career in the legal profession. As my colleague once remarked: “we are the legal fairy godmothers - our students shall work within the legal profession!”
Finally, it was with immense pride when we heard that last year, that three of our former students graduated from the LLB with 1st class honours and even now it brings a tear to my eye that we played a part in this fantastic achievement!