Teaching Matters

Professor Graeme Laurie at Edinburgh Law School

Professor Graeme Laurie on embedding practical teaching into the Law curriculum.

Professor Graeme Laurie

Professor Graeme Laurie on embedding practical teaching into the Law curriculum.


Professor Graeme Laurie – Chair of Medical Jurisprudence

“One of the main things we're trying to achieve with this course is actually to encourage the students to take responsibility for their own learning.

And I think one of the key factors in that is actually the fear factor-- the fact that they know they're going to have to get up in front of their peers and present on the topic; they're going to have to work with each other; they need to make sure they don't let each other down and they don't let themselves down.

So we found over the last few years when we've been offering this course that really does inspire them to take the subject seriously to make sure that they do understand the ins and outs of it and also that they have to anticipate some of the questions that might come up in the class.

Not just enough to tell people that this we'll call facts, but they actually have to imagine themselves in a teaching role and respond to what that might bring up. And I think that really does encourage deep learning.”

Christine Watson – 3rd Year Law

“I think it really pushes you to want to know everything about the topic because you want to be able to answer questions that might come up. And making you explain it to other people means that you have to understand it yourself.”

Professor Graeme Laurie – Chair of Medical Jurisprudence

“There were lots more options available-- the students were coming in--they were increasingly passive in their experience. The staff were taking a lot of responsibility for teaching rather than promoting learning.

And that was one of the things we wanted to change by developing this course, was to sort of say, well, how can we promote that learning when we're still there in a teaching capacity, but just shifting the dynamics?

And we wanted to make sure that the students didn't get into some sort of passive rut, particularly honours level where it's really about sort of showing the culmination of their learning across three of four years of work.”

Isa Sher – 4th Year Law

“I think it's really interesting because we didn't just learn about a specific medical topic; we learnt so many skills about how to plan and prepare a seminar, how to set required readings, how to kind of narrow down and find essential things we thought students needed to know and maybe didn't need to know quite as well.

We had to learn how to facilitate a conversation, how to lead a discussion. It wasn't just getting up and talking for 15 minutes, it was really, having a point in your head and getting a classroom to get to it just by asking the right questions.

So it was very much like working backwards, so you had to find a conclusion that you meant to reach almost.

So it was really interesting, it's not like something I've done before, so I find it really cool, and it's a good way to learn as well.”

Professor Graeme Laurie – Chair of Medical Jurisprudence

“Before we got to the stage of the students presenting in their groups we had had four weeks that were led by myself and my colleague Sharon Cowan, which prepared them for what was coming up-- how to think about teaching a class.

We actually walked them through a class. We teach it, and then we almost comment on our own teaching, about what we're doing, how we think about our objectives, how do we respond to questions, how do we keep the momentum going, etc. So we demonstrate that to them.”

Ross Grimley – Final Year Law Student

“Realizing how much work goes into actually just presenting a seminar-- we're as students being like, we're the ones doing all the reading and we're the ones doing the hard work, but there's a lot of hard work that goes into the seminars.

And I was so grateful that the other students had prepared for it so we didn't have to just present and talk them through it.

It was nice that it was like a discussion made it less nerve-racking, rather than in uni before we've done a presentation and you just, you know, present, and you're just telling the class things.

It was really nice where you didn't really feel like you could be right or wrong because you just had to talk to the class about it, which was really nice.”

Professor Graeme Laurie – Chair of Medical Jurisprudence

“I think there's a number of different factors that are in play for this particular course. The course is Contemporary Issues in Medical Jurisprudence, which simply means, medical jurisprudence is medical law and ethics. It's an area that is very, very fast-moving.

From one year to the next, we were sort of seeing always something coming up, whether you're talking about, should there be assisted dying legislation in Scotland; should we be editing people's genetic information; what sort of research can we do in embryos?

There's all these sorts of issues, so we wanted to make sure that the students were at the forefront of what was happening, but also engage with how law responds to these social developments.

And that's one of the big challenges for this area of law because science and medicine are almost always out in front, and the law is bringing up the rear. So how do lawyers respond to that? Those are the sorts of the issues that we were trying to sort of encourage the students to engage with.

Most students, and certainly students who go to good universities like the University of Edinburgh, end up with a 2:1, so how do you differentiate between that raft of students who have performed academically at that level when you're deciding in a law office to give them a job?

You need to be looking for other skills. You need people who are confident, who are able to present in front of others, who are able to work on a team, who are able to think on their feet, who are able to be responsive to developments. We think all of those skills are being developed by this course, as well as a very, very deep understanding of given legal issues.”

Clare Stevenson – 3rd Year Law

“I'm really glad that I had to do it. I picked this course with trepidation because I'm not the kind of person who is confident speaking out loud. I get quite nervous. But I think it's a really new way to learn.

I've learnt a lot from this, especially working with other people. Academia can be so lonely sometimes. I spend most of my time in books by myself, and having the opportunity to interact with people day-in day-out, it was actually really enjoyable.

And though there are challenges working with people as opposed to working by yourself, the workplace, I'm not going to be working by myself, I'll be working with other people in a team.

So I guess that was one of the big things that I learned because I feel I haven't learned much of that until this point in law school. It's more been training me to write and to study, but not to speak and interact.”

Professor Graeme Laurie – Chair of Medical Jurisprudence

“A key role for us in terms of us always being the teachers as it were, is to make sure that if anything is said that is incorrect, we will come in and correct it gently, but we will always correct it and help to steer the group back onto an appropriate course. So a success measure for us is if we never have to do that in a seminar.”