Downsizing Teaching: The Case for Seminars as the Backbone of Law Degrees

Date01 January 2022
Published date01 January 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Downsizing Teaching: The Case for
Seminars as the Backbone of Law
Paolo Vargiu1
This article is aimed at contributing to the ongoing debate on the purpose of law school and the work
of law teachers, calling for a scholarship-based approach to teaching, centred on culture, research
and method and advocating for seminars to replace lectures as the core method of teaching delivery
in law schools. The article addresses, under this perspective, the salient elements of legal education:
the philosophy of a teacher, the function of lectures and seminars, the problem of the time necessary
to gain the required preparation, the importance of reading and the role played by assessment in the
economy of a law degree. It is argued that teaching delivery methods should be the subject of constant
reflection, and that the drafting of law school curricula should aim at cultivating the intellectual abilities
and curiosity of law students, focussing on their education rather than their mere instruction.
In his introduction to the rst edition of Come si fa una tesi di laurea,2 Umberto Eco described the state
of Italian universities prior to the reforms that, from 1969 onwards, progressively abolished the various
limitations in place to access to higher education:
Only the children of university graduates attended, and with rare exceptions, students had all the time they
needed at their disposal. The university allowed students to proceed slowly, with time allotted for study, for
‘healthy’ fraternal pastimes, or for the activities of student government. Classes took the form of prestigious
lectures, after which the most interested students would convene with professors and their teaching assistants in
unhurried seminars, consisting of 10 or 15 people at the most.3
Not many of the academics currently teaching law have personally witnessed this elitist (although
perhaps effective, for reasons that will be explained in the remainder of this article) version of higher
education. In many countries, the rst lecture a law student ever attends takes place in a lecture theatre
1 Lecturer, Leicester Law School, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK.
2 Umberto eco, come si fa Una tesi di laUrea (Bompiani, 1977).
3 Supra note 1, at xix.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
9(1) 114–123, 2022
© 2021 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23220058211068442
Corresponding author:
Paolo Vargiu, Lecturer, Leicester Law School, University of Leicester, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK.

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