Anglia Ruskin University welcomes students to new LLM with SQE Prep

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Director of University Partnerships Chris Howard caught up with Sohini Alg, SQE Course Director and Senior Lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and an experienced immigration law practitioner, about the university’s new one-year LLM programme that includes SQE1 Prep, designed to set up their students for their future.

Chris Howard: Sohini, what was your background coming into the teaching of law, and what was it about Anglia Ruskin University that you found was such a good fit for you?

Sohini Alg: I come from a practitioner background. I qualified as a solicitor in England and Wales in 2009, having studied a non-law degree and going the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) route. I’ve been practising in public law and immigration law since then.

I was doing some pro bono work with the wonderful ARU Law Clinic and it’s through that that I came into education and teaching. I’m still working with the clinic and I give immigration law advice to the local people, it’s an excellent facility. I came in as an associate lecturer and am now a senior lecturer in different areas, family law is one of them, and I’m module leader on civil litigation on the undergrad programme.

What is it about Anglia Ruskin that makes it such a great place to teach?

To be honest, teaching definitely wasn’t something I intended to go into, but my experience with Anglia Ruskin University has been absolutely amazing and I am now focused on the development of our legal professionals, albeit in the legal sphere or outside the legal realm, and the development of our students in general.

The atmosphere here is amazing. It’s so diverse, very inclusive. I felt very welcomed straight away, from my interactions with the director at the Law Clinic to being introduced to the rest of the team – they’re an absolutely fantastic, down-to-earth team, really easy to get on with. And they’re very diverse and from different backgrounds: we’ve got a lot of practitioners and also researchers, and we all work collaboratively and share our teaching and our tips on development. So it’s been a really exciting, innovative environment to work in.

The university also draws a lot of international students from all around the world. So the buzz around the place, the atmosphere, the environment, it is just fantastic.

Which leads us nicely onto the LLM Advanced Professional Legal Practise with SQE Preparation. You were part of the design team and now course leader for that programme. What was ARU trying to achieve with that new programme?

Since the SRA brought in the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), it’s been in the pipeline for us but then COVID hit and it took a little bit of time to get there. But we are now starting the new LLM from September. We’re working alongside BARBRI, which isn’t just a leading provider in legal education, but also a leader specifically in this style of education, which is so different from what we’ve ever encountered in law – certainly very different from when I was studying all those years ago. It’s going to be fantastic.

We have incorporated the SQE1 prep within an LLM course so we can provide our students with an internationally recognised qualification at the end of the programme. Whether our students go into practice later on is up to them, but they will have this qualification at the end of it.

They’ll be able to choose three elective subjects to specialise in. We’ve got a whole diverse range of subjects (which you can find on our website), including international, business and finance topics as well as many others – whatever the students might be interested in, there will be a subject for them. They will get to do a major project at the end to secure an LLM and they’ll get some prep for the SQE all within a year. So it’s going to be quite an intense course, but at the end of it, it will be amazing to see what they’ll be able to achieve.

We wanted to provide a comprehensive legal education, like we always did with the LPC and we didn’t want there to be a gap in that. So we run from an undergraduate programme through to solicitors qualification exams, a one-stop shop for any aspiring lawyers who want to study with us.

And who would you be aiming this particular LLM at? Who would be right for this programme?

For now, we have targeted students who are LLB graduates or UK law graduates with at least a 2:1 qualification. We’re doing that because we understand how intense the SQE preparation and the actual SQE exams are.

After this year we will see how we can develop and change that, looking at different ways of diversifying our course so we can possibly incorporate a wider range of students, including those who don’t have a UK LLB degree. But for now, that is the specification.

What do you think is the key to success for students on practice-orientated programmes like this LLM?

One thing which I have really loved since coming to ARU is that we incorporate active collaborative learning in our whole set-up, whether it’s professional or undergrad degrees or qualifications. The environment for the students is very dynamic, very practical, and that keeps them engaged.

For this LLM we’ve partnered with BARBRI, which is fantastic, and our students will have their own personal study plan (PSP), and they’ve got all the materials available, but they can also come onto campus and be with us at least two days a week and engage with us. Both me and my colleague are practitioners, so we are able to give them that practical understanding as well, it’s not just them reading from a textbook or listening to a lecture, we will make that environment much more interesting and engaging for them.

Congratulations by the way on your recent award for student engagement, which is fantastic – at BARBRI, we recognise that engagement is key to SQE success. So why did you choose BARBRI as the SQE prep provider to bake into this programme?

Well, they are a leading legal provider and their SQE Prep system is similar to their US Bar Prep system and it’s very successful, so it was a no-brainer for us, really, BARBRI was our first port of call.

The different flexible programmes they provide are fantastic. It’s worked so well with us being able to slip it into our own programme so easily. Engaging with BARBRI has been absolutely seamless too. It’s all been, yes, we can make this happen, we can develop it like that. It’s just been a brilliant partnership. It actually feels as though they are part of our university, not a separate entity. We are so much looking forward to the course launching in September. And I think our students are quite excited by the prospect too, having heard of BARBRI, a lot of them from Suits originally!

And I can say as a representative BARBRI, it’s been great working with ARU as well and you’ve made us feel at home! What’s your advice to students about how they can develop their careers in legal practise after they complete the programme?

Law is a very fast developing industry, so I think keeping on top of legal news, industry changes and developments is key. People talk about commercial awareness a lot – being commercially aware for graduates is to understand the industry they’re in, the developments that are taking place and how it might impact them and businesses. They can subscribe to the Law Gazette, for example, LexisNexis has their own blog. There are various forums they can engage with online. Attend open days that firms offer as well. It’s all doable.

Networking is fantastic, and that’s definitely got me to where I am – a lot of networking. You never know that one conversation you might have with somebody, who’s perhaps not in the specific area you’re hoping to qualify into, but they might know somebody else who puts you in touch, etc. So don’t underestimate the potential of networking. Attend as many legal events as you can, get your face known. LinkedIn is brilliant for professionals or graduates who are looking to link up or trying to get their name out there.

Use your career service. So, for example at ARU, we have a fantastic career service and we have a lot of drop-in sessions within our law faculty where we discuss your CV, covering letters, etc. You’re not alone so make sure you do reach out and get the support you need. Also, working with the ARU Law Clinic will expose you to those local firms and lawyers we’re closely working with and you’ll gain those skills for your CV and covering letter.

At the same time, don’t underestimate the power of non-legal work experience as well. If students are working in any other industry, for example, in a restaurant, you’re still having that client contact, you’re learning how to manage expectations, you’re learning about time management. All these qualities are essential in law as well. Know how to make it relevant to the legal industry, understand the skills you need.

We went to the Legal Cheek event recently and a lot of the industry professionals talked about the fact that graduates lack the soft skills, and that doesn’t come from books or lectures. It comes from actually engaging with people, with any experience you can get – legal or non-legal.

I’d certainly vouch for everything you’ve said about the soft skills. And as you said, commercial awareness has also been identified as a key issue for lawyers, and it cuts across all practice areas, not just corporate law. Tell us about the initiatives at ARU to help students get commercial awareness?

We hold events with industry professionals and our Law Clinic enables students to obtain valuable industry experience and soft skills.  We also collaborate closely with our Careers and Employability service.

We’ve noted however that a lot of our students don’t necessarily want to become practitioners like barristers or solicitors. So we have tried to bring in a lot of experts from other industries to talk about how law might be relevant in other fields too. So being commercially aware, if that is your end goal to be a solicitor or a barrister, then fine. But if it’s not, keep your mind open to everything, attend all the careers events, attend networking events, keep on top of news, keep up LinkedIn and read the latest developments.

Any thoughts on where ARU is going to go next in terms of legal eduction?

We are constantly developing and trying to think of ways in which we can make our offering really comprehensive. It’s not just looking at the full undergrad-to-post grad offering. We’re also looking to see how we can diversify the programme to work with SMEs, for example, to provide short courses or potential summer schools for our students.

We’re also looking at diversifying and opening up our undergrad degree, for example to offer law with different areas like criminology, to make it much more appealing to students with other interests. We are trying to show students that law is such a fantastic grounding to have, even if you don’t want to become a solicitor or a barrister.

In any industry that you end up in, to have law as a background will really fare you well. So we’re looking at incorporating practical learning, active collaborative learning in all our courses, but we’ve also incorporated digital literacy into our undergraduate degree. We’re looking at developing our courses with that foresight that industry is developing, so our students are aware of the latest AI changes, for example, which they might have to face in the coming year or two, so it’s not a shock to them. We’re also trying to teach them about soft skills, behaviours, professional skills.

So it’s not just textbook, it’s trying to create a holistic and well-rounded individual and a lifelong learner, not necessarily with an end goal or profession in mind.

It’s great to hear such a great success story and I’m very much looking forward to working with you going forward. Is there anything finally you’d like to add?

The only thing I would add is that I think we’ve got an excellent LLM course and we are extremely excited to launch in September, and look forward to welcoming as many students as possible onto this. Applications are open and you can choose between our Cambridge and Chelmsford campuses. You’ll find an easy link to make an application right there on our website.

For more information about our LLM, they can visit our website: Advanced Professional Legal Practice: SQE Preparation – LLM – ARU. And if they want to touch base and ask any questions, feel free to reach out directly to me, Sohini – my profile is on the website, and you can send an e-mail. Happy to answer any queries at all.

To see how BARBRI partners with universities, visit our University Partnerships page.
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