Dissertations: Schedule

Good luck with your upcoming assessments!

In the mean time (over the summer term), don’t forget to think about your dissertations!

It is a good idea to also stay in communication with your supervisors, so you can develop your own ideas and so that they know how you’re getting on!

Remember: it’s your responsibility to stay in contact and do the necessary work! Although 15,000 words sounds like a daunting task, splitting it up into manageable chunks is a good way of approaching dissertations. This is where your dissertation plans/outlines come in handy!

It is also a good idea to think about a schedule/timetable of deadlines/targets. Draw up a table that divides the month into weeks and what you aim to accomplish by the end of each week.

1. Targets and deadlines

I like to think of some deadlines as ‘soft’ targets. For my own purposes, I set deadlines for completion of chapters. If I hypothetically set my target for the 26th April for completion of one chapter, I also allow myself 4-5 days flexibility because we all know life can become busy! Therefore, if I don’t finish the chapter exactly on the 26th April, I still don’t feel too demotivated, as I still have a goal in sight.

Of course, these ‘soft’ targets are set within the boundaries of ‘finite’ deadlines. For example, the deadline for submission of the dissertation. I try to aim for completion 4-5 days before submission so I can edit my footnotes, bibliography, text and central argument and the possibility of something bad happening!

2. Reading and note-taking

Factor in time to read and take notes. Your brain needs time to process the information, so give yourself time to read when you draw up your schedule!

3. Time for editing and refreshing your footnotes

OSCOLA referencing is a difficult thing to master; it takes time and practise! Give yourself time to put in cross-referencing (if using it) and making sure you have the right citations and footnotes when using work that you need to correctly attribute.

4. Time to write

I hate writing but love to read! Starting to write from scratch is really difficult for me, especially when I’m starting at a blank page but once I start, then the process becomes much easier. If that’s the case for you, then factor that in! Give yourself time to write and away from distractions!

Yes, no distractions! You’ll find you write better and more effectively when you don’t have zombie sounds from the latest episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ on!

5. Take a break!

Take a break from researching and writing. You’ll find that writing is more enjoyable and less stressful when you give yourself time to! Go have some leisure time with friends, as long as you remember to come back to the dissertation with a clear and fresh head – it’s probably not a good idea to do it after too many drinks the night before!

And finally, enjoy! It’s not everyday that you get to study such interesting topics at the postgraduate level!

Written assessments: Marking criteria

In the run up to assessments, I’m running two workshops in the coming weeks:

  • Essay Structure and Assessment Criteria (02/03/2017)
  • Presentations and Poster/Pitch (30/03/2017)

As examiners, members of staff will be marking your essays and presentations based on objective criteria.

Note: If you want to access the marking sheet in the LLM Programme Handbook, which can be accessed online via Blackboard. The LLM Handbook is a handy reference point because it gives you examples of dissertation title pages, permission form for the dissertation, and deadlines.

For written assessments, examiners are looking for 5 main elements, which you should bear in mind as a ‘checklist’ to see whether you are meeting all of the following criteria.

  1. Identification of the principal legal concepts and issues – i.e. what are the main legal problems or relevant laws?
  2. Understanding of the law – your ability to apply the law to the question/issue you’re examining.
  3. Critical analysis – Synthesis of the legal arguments, law, theories, ideas for reform and the wider context, as well as engaging with academic literature.
  4. Originality and creativity – Are you adopting an interesting stance or arguing in a persuasive way that reflects solutions/challenges with regards to the law?
  5. Research process and presentation – Spelling/grammar, use of OSCOLA, bibliography, structure of your essay, use of subtitles and clarity of your work.

Of course, the above is just a short summary of the marking criteria and feedback sheet, which is more detailed (see: LLM Programme Handbook). But it gives you a quick introduction as a starting point.

 

 

Research Methods: Socio-Legal Methodology

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Remember: Your methodology is your overall approach or your strategy that you will adopt throughout your research project or dissertation. It forms your ‘toolbox’ and your methods form your ‘tools’ i.e. specifically how you will undertake your research. Normally you choose one methodology and stick to it rather than ‘I’m adopting a part-doctrinal, part-socio-legal, AND comparative methodology’. Otherwise, this becomes too ‘messy’!

Socio-Legal Methodology

This post focuses on the socio-legal methodology. A socio-legal methodology is quite different to the doctrinal methodology that was examined in last week’s blog post. It is different because the socio-legal approach moves away from solely  looking at legal instruments to build a more contextual analysis.

There is a lot of academic debate as to ‘what is a socio-legal methodology is’ because there is no single standard definition.[1] In that regard, I would recommend reading different sources to how scholars use this particular methodology.

A good place to start is:

Michael Salter, Julie Mason, Writing Law Dissertations: An Introduction and Guide to the Conduct of Legal Research (Pearson Education 2007), Chapter 5.

Socio-legal scholars argue that law does not operate in vacuum.[2] There are wider considerations which need to be taken into account. Therefore, it is important to go beyond the traditional black-letter approach.[3]

There are some common features within the socio-legal methodology. It generally involves:

  • A contextual analysis of the law – how does it operate in society? What are the implications?
    • Goes beyond legal texts.
    • Supplements legal analysis.
  • Is either multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary in nature. If using a socio-legal methodology, you will need to substantiate which aspect you have chosen and why.
    • And yes, there is a distinction between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary[4]

Strengths

  • Broader, more enriched analysis of the law.
    • Therefore consideration of wider issues.
  • Allows for alternative theoretical and different perspectives on legal issues.
  • Incorporates non-legal issues into the context of law, which would be traditionally outside the scope of legal studies.
  • Derive new ideas, perspectives or insights.

Challenges

  • Insufficient analysis of the law or legal doctrines.
  • Insufficient focus on the law – supplementary material is important, but not at the expense of ignoring the law or legal context.
  • Lack of identity – Is it law, is it economics, is it politics, is it sociology?
  • Critical analysis is not well-developed – Do you understand the wider theories outside of law? Do you fully understand the underpinning arguments?
  • Conceptual theories are not well developed – projects can appear ‘disjointed’ or ‘fragmented’ when being read.
  • Weak understanding of the issues that need to be reformed or the challenges in relation to the law, as well as other issues.

Methods

Note: A socio-legal approach does NOT mean you ignore the law. It is still important and you will still undertake doctrinal analysis but that forms part of your METHODS. Analysis of the traditional sources/primary sources of law are still highly relevant e.g. statutes, case law etc.

The additional methods that you need to think about is the contextual analysis – is it non-legal? If so, is it from a reputable source? What additional perspective does it add to your research? Is it relevant?

Further reading:

  • Cotterrell R, ‘Why Must Legal Ideas Be Interpreted Sociologically?’ (1998) 25(2) J. of Law & Society 171-192.
  • Feenan D, Exploring the ‘Socio’ of Socio-Legal Studies (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).
  • Harris D, ‘The Development of Socio-Legal Studies in the United Kingdom’ (1983) 2 Legal Studies 315-333.
  • Perry-Kessaris A (ed), Socio-Legal Approaches to International Economic Law (Routledge 2013).
  • Salter M, Mason J, Writing Law Dissertations: An Introduction and Guide to the Conduct of Legal Research (Pearson Education 2007).

To find out more and access further materials:

—–

[1] For example, see: Michael Salter, Julie Mason, Writing Law Dissertations: An Introduction and Guide to the Conduct of Legal Research (Pearson Education 2007); Roger Cotterrell, ‘Why Must Legal Ideas Be Interpreted Sociologically?’ (1998) 25(2) J. of Law & Society 171-192; Don Harris, ‘The Development of Socio-Legal Studies in the United Kingdom’ (1983) 2 Legal Studies 315-333; Dermot Feenan, Exploring the ‘Socio’ of Socio-Legal Studies (Palgrave Macmillan 2013).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Roger Cotterrell, Law’s Community (OUP 1995) 296.

[4] For example, see: Michael Salter, Julie Mason, Writing Law Dissertations: An Introduction and Guide to the Conduct of Legal Research (Pearson Education 2007) 133-134.

 

Research Methods: Doctrinal Methodology

Doctrinal (or “black letter”) methodology refers to a way of conducting research which is usually thought of as “typical legal research”. A doctrinal approach to research will focus on case-law, statutes and other legal sources. It differs from other methodologies in that it looks at the law within itself; a pure doctrinal approach makes no attempt to look at the effect of the law or how it is applied, but instead examines law as a written body of principles which can be discerned and analysed using only legal sources.

Strengths

A strong doctrinal analysis will be the starting point for much legal research. The doctrinal methodology can encompass any form of purely legal analysis, including the history of law (e.g. Roman law), what the law was previously, what the law is now and whether there are indications as to how the law might be evolving or developing. It is often associated with positivist legal research – the law is what the law says it is, rather than examining the morality or effectiveness of the law – and this is both a strength and a weakness. In legal research, a doctrinal focus is often a good starting point, but a lot of legal research will need to take analysis further than a purely doctrinal approach.

Challenges

The doctrinal methodology is often criticised for being disconnected with reality – by focussing on legal sources it often doesn’t question or challenge the application of the law, but instead analyses the law only in terms of internal consistency. Nevertheless, doctrinal analysis should underpin most legal research, as a strong doctrinal analysis to establish what the law is is often a necessary precursor to researching other legal questions – particularly in areas where the law is uncertain or evolving.

Method

Undertaking doctrinal research typically involves source-based research and it would be unusual to undertake qualitative or quantitative research under the doctrinal methodology. Doctrinal analysis will focus on traditional legal sources, such as case law. Despite this, it is not impossible to exclude doctrinal analysis from other methods. For example, the Big Data for Law project used qualitative methods to analyse the language and language use of statutes. (Whilst the project had other, non-doctrinal goals, the aim to analyse statute language use is a function of doctrinal research).

Overview

Doctrinal research is one of the fundamental methodologies of legal research, but increasingly research looks beyond pure doctrinal analysis. A familiarity with conducting doctrinal analysis therefore remains fundamental to any legal research project, but most projects will require moving beyond doctrinal analysis to utilise other methodologies. A review of some of these methodologies will follow in the coming weeks.

Quick Tip #1 – Westlaw searches

Quick Tip: –

If you are struggling to find information on Westlaw because your search is turning up too many results, try using the Westlaw subject hierarchy. This allows you to search journal articles, cases, legislation etc using the subjects which the document has been tagged with. It’s a considerably more exact way of searching than, for example, a keyword search.

It’s also very simple to use:

westlaw1

westlaw2

westlaw3

westlaw4

westlaw5

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