New school of law at UCD reflects shift in legal teaching

New school includes a 320-seat lecture theatre that doubles as a moot court

Colin Scott, dean of the UCD Sutherland Law School, says UCD is leading the way in new methods to teach law. Photograph: David Sleator

Colin Scott, dean of the UCD Sutherland Law School, says UCD is leading the way in new methods to teach law. Photograph: David Sleator

Mon, Feb 3, 2014, 01:05

UCD’s school of law has come a long way since the first students graduated in 1911. For one thing, the School has stopped publishing the exam results of students alongside their names in The Irish Times, a practice that went on for decades.

Dean of law Prof Colin Scott says the legal profession may be steeped in tradition but the teaching of law is changing – and UCD is leading the way.

The university’s new €25 million Sutherland School of Law is pushing the boundaries of legal education by implementing an increasingly interdisciplinary and practical approach that combines classroom teaching with clinical and experiential learning.

The move is proving to be a success, with the school recently named in the Financial Times list of innovative law schools. It was the only Irish institution to make the list. In 2011, the school was identified by the authoritative QS World University Rankings among the top hundred law schools globally.

Scott says legal education hasn’t been immune from the global economic crisis, adding that it’s important for law schools to face up to the challenges of the 21st century. The economic downturn has led to a more competitive job market, with employers demanding a greater array of skills and competencies .

Being able to “think like a lawyer” is still important, but not enough. As well as legal reasoning and writing skills, law firms, and businesses in general, want graduates with leadership and negotiation skills, the ability to understand client needs and teamwork experience.

“Our graduates don’t just go into law,” he says. “They also end up working in the media, business and government. Preparation now needs to be a bit more general. We need to prepare people for a wide range of careers.

“Employers seem to want a broader range of skills rather than specialised knowledge. They want people with skills that aren’t just gotten in the classroom.”

The origins of UCD’s school of law date back to 1908. In its first 60 years, the lecturers and professors all worked part time. They would do their day jobs in politics, law and the likes and then teach in their spare time.

This was the case with JG Swift MacNeill, who was an MP in Westminster and a law professor at the school. When parliament was in session, his practice was to give his lectures in UCD on Saturdays and Mondays and to spend the remainder of the week in London.

However it became clear in the 1960s that a mainly full-time faculty was needed. Despite the shift between the mid-1960s and 1970s, from a part-time to a largely full-time academic staff, the school has maintained close links between the judiciary and legal professionals.

The plan for the new school dates back to 2006 when businessman and former attorney general Peter Sutherland offered a gift of €4 million conditional upon support of the government and university.

A multidisciplinary team, led by Moloney O’Beirne Architects, was appointed. Two of the university’s law academics – Imelda Maher and John O’Dowd – were also on the team.

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