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Immersive theatre meets Goldsmiths Law: The Justice Syndicate

Goldsmiths Law students, Fabian Higgins (left) and Olivia Burns (rights) playing the role of jurors in fanSHEN's immersive 'jury trial' theatre.

Goldsmiths Law Year 1 students, Fabian Higgins (left) and Olivia Burns (right), playing the role of jurors in fanSHEN’s immersive ‘jury trial’ theatre (at the Council Chamber, Deptford Town Hall)

Goldsmiths Law students were given a unique opportunity to take part in an immersive jury trial theatre.

The Law department, in collaboration with the MA/MFA in Computational Arts, were delighted to bring to Goldsmiths the pioneering Justice Syndicate production.

The Justice Syndicate is a piece of playable theatre drawing on a jury format. It explores how we fill in the gaps to make decisions.

The experience is a collaboration between recovering theatre company fanSHEN, computational artist Joe McAlister and neuroscientist Dr Kris De Meyer. The Law department would like to express its thanks to fanSHEN’s Rachel Briscoe and Dan Briscoe for the outstanding collaboration.

The experience was delivered in the context of the ‘English Legal System in a Global Context’ LLB Law module.

The Justice Syndicate play was recently reviewed by the Irish Times: “As details and testimony are rationed out through iPads, and group discussions take place against a countdown, the only thing beyond reasonable doubt in UK company Fanshen’s absorbing piece of interactive theatre are the quirks of human psychology.”

A review has also appeared in the Evening Standard, which noted: “Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch showed viewers that, given enough power and detachment, they could calmly make decisions that destroy someone’s life. But what about when the situation and its consequences seem real?”

Immersive jury trial theatreIn the three separate sessions that took place at Goldsmiths on October 9th, we had the following verdicts:

In the first ‘trial’, the jury delivered a majority verdict of Not guilty (11 jurors voted Not guilty – no juror voted Guilty). In the second ‘trial’, the ‘same defendant’, tried for the ‘same offence’, in the exact ‘same circumstances’, was found Guilty (1 juror voted Not guilty – 11 voted Guilty). In the third ‘trial’, the jury failed to reach a majority verdict (2 jurors voted Not Guilty  – 9 voted Guilty).
It is intriguing that groups so demographically similar reached such differing verdicts having seen the exact same evidence!
The activity became an immediate favourite for Goldsmiths Law students. Fabian Higgins said that “the dichotomy of a serious accusation in the face of evidence (or lack thereof) balanced with ideas of justice, empathy and compassion became manifest; the activity drew into question the ‘fairness’ of our justice system and the human desire to ‘do the right thing’. A really fantastic opportunity.” Larah Otoo focussed on how the setting allowed the students to immerse into the experience: “From the moment I entered the room there was a court-like atmosphere with a formal set up of a table in the centre with juror numbers displayed and notebooks which added to the immersive experience. All the evidence – character statements, knowledge from experts in the particular field of crime, information regarding whereabouts of the defendant’s phone, internet search history and online messaging conversations that the defendant had – was presented to us was via iPads. Shahaf Farooq said she was “totally immersed in the trial”. “It was an exceptionally eye-opening and amusing piece of the world of courtroom and Law that highlights the effect of taking a different approach to teaching Law.” Finally, Dominica Henriques noted she had been “impressed by the set up of the experience, how the location along with the combination of technology managed to create such an immersive environment. It felt quite real.” She added: “I’ve hugely benefited from the experience because it is unique, it is thought provoking and it is a practical way of learning.”
On January 29th, Goldsmiths Law and the MA/MFA in Computational Arts will host another three sessions of the Justice Syndicate, and our students are already looking forward to acting out again the crucial role of members of the jury.

 

Law firms require proactivity as a key legal skill when they are recruiting

Lawyers in negotiations mode (Photo by Tim Gouw)

Craig Sharpe, Marketing manager at Darlingtons Solicitors LLP, spoke to our LLB Law Year 1 students (14 October 2019) reflecting on his many years of experience in legal practice, focusing on what has changed in legal practice in the last 20 years and how students should prepare if they want to go into practicing as a solicitor, including advice on applications to law firms.

The seminar was integrated in the LLB Law Year 1 module ’21st Century Legal Skills’.

Craig emphasised that proactivity is now a key legal skill required by law firms when recruiting trainees.

Craig Sharpe, Marketing manager, Darlingtons solicitors

He explained that ‘in a world where brands and branding gain ever more importance and where powerful brands are entering into the legal marketplace, smaller law firms should be prepared to compete and respond’.

‘Lawyers are trained to be cautious and risk averse’, Craig noted. ‘This creates a dilemma and an irony in competing in today’s market. Law firms that don’t take some strategic risks and that don’t have a clear idea of who they are and what makes them attractive may pay a heavy price. Being “vanilla” is a risky strategy in itself’.

Craig invited the students to think of a firm’s website as a key marketing tool, taking examples from a small selection of websites and highlighting the following features of their marketing approach:

‘The best example of market position and a modern approach is perhaps Mishcon de Reya, explained Craig: ‘The firm embraces video which is a key asset still not utilised widely in the market. Above all, the website shows the firm has a very clear identity and is looking to attract clients looking for very dynamic lawyers who embrace change’.

He pointed to Pinsent Masons’ website for high quality, in-depth content, which is attracting potential clients looking for very specific expertise, especially in IP, technology law and associated areas.

An interesting example of a firm with clear and bold vision is central London based firm Gannons, Craig told the students; the firm’s website describes very clearly the areas of practice it covers and types of clients it would appeal to, relying on useful insights and case studies.

He then took Streathers Solicitors as an example of a firm that connects very well with people.

Finally, Craig referred to Darlingtons Solicitors as a firm that is highly visible online, with visibility equating to recognition and trusting the firm’s brand.

Following the lecture, our LLB students were invited to take part in a 500 word writing competition – on how solicitors in small and medium firms need to adapt to modern legal practice  – leading to the offer of two one-week placements with Darlingtons.

Here are some excerpts from their contributions:

Larah Otoo wrote:

“Adapting to a modern legal practice is comparable to the scientific concept of natural selection from the Darwinian evolutionary theory, more commonly known as ‘survival of the fittest’. Those that are able to adapt, thrive and continue to be successful; those that are unable to, will struggle to keep up and be omitted.”

Henry Norman observed that:

‘The internet has completely and ultimately transformed the way we look for and identify the services we need. With online services being provided after a few keystrokes, it is difficult to understand why sixty percent of SME law firms are not capitalising on this, with nearly three-thousand firms not having any online presence at all (Global Banking and Financial Review, 2018)’.

Alex Choi commented that:

‘Contrary to public perception, the SRA reports that over 90% of legal practitioners belong to small and medium firms. With almost 200,000 solicitors on the Roll in 2019, the legal market is more competitive and saturated than ever before. Against this background, solicitors from small and medium firms must develop a competitive edge through developing the firm’s strengths both externally and internally.’

Finally, Cléo Gasquet noted :

‘Smaller and independent law firms need to adopt less complacent attitudes and a more growth-mindset in order to adapt to modern legal practices. The Bellweather Report 2018: The Culture Clash – solicitor confidence vs client confidence, by Lexis Nexis UK, raises concerns over the complacency of smaller and more independent law firms. Research also shows that three-quarters (75%) of professionals from across the independent legal market believe that the legal landscape is changing at a faster pace than ever, yet only one-in-five acknowledge that significant change is needed within their own firm, in order to keep pace with industry’.

The LLB Law programme at Goldsmiths places significant emphasis on exposing students to the different career paths available to them when they study Law here, and connecting them with potential employers from the moment they become our students.

Read here in more detail how Goldsmiths Law prepares its students for the future.

 

 

 

Goldsmiths LLB Law students put on a mock murder trial at the Royal Courts of Justice

Goldsmiths LLB Law students at the Royal Courts of Justice, holding written guidance about their role as defence and prosecution counsel, judge, member of the jury, defendant and other parties in the criminal trial.

Goldsmiths LLB Law students at the Royal Courts of Justice, holding written guidance about their role as defence and prosecution counsel, judge, member of the jury, defendant and other parties in the criminal trial.

As part of the English Legal System in a Global Context module, LLB students recently got a chance to participate in a professional activity by acting out a criminal trial for ‘murder’, in a real court room at the Royal Courts of Justice.

As part of this constructive and fun day, the students, with their lecturer, Dr Dagmar Myslinska, got a glimpse of the history and function of the impressive RCJ building, which houses the High Court and the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Opened by Queen Victoria in 1882, it is one of the largest court buildings in Europe. On their way into the building, students were also fortunate to unexpectedly witness a procession of newly-appointed judges and court officials, in their finest regalia.

Students learned first-hand about observing protocol in a court house, which unfortunately includes a no-pictures policy. They were introduced to court room decorum and to the intricacies of the English court system by a representative of the National Justice Museum, the award-winning museum and education provider on law and justice topics.

LLB Law student Alex

Students then took on various roles in a mock criminal trial, which was inspired by real events. In their roles as a judge, jurors, barristers, solicitors, witnesses, and an usher, students were faced with the task of deciphering complex facts and challenging legal issues and to ultimately decide a defendant’s fate. Depending on their roles, students practiced public speaking, deliberation, organisational, and analytical skills. Having prepared their strategies beforehand with the support of their solicitors, defence and prosecution barristers debated with confidence, drawing on evidence to highlight weaknesses in their opponents’ arguments. As witnesses, students presented relevant facts objectively and were also tasked with improvising on the spot as needed. The judge impartially presided over the proceedings and kept order, with the usher’s assistance. All of this hard work paid off as the mock trial was conducted professionally and smoothly, and the jurors reached a verdict.

Conducting the mock trial in a real court room at the RCJ inspired the students’ enthusiasm and confidence, and made textbook learning of criminal law come to life. As part of our pioneering module design, more professional activities are to follow throughout the year, aimed at immersing the students in the practice of law.

Welcome week: new LLB cohort settles in and immediately gets to work

Last week saw the arrival of our LLB Law cohort 2019-20. A wonderful group of very dynamic, highly enthusiastic, students joined us for a range of ‘welcome week’ activities, including induction lectures from our academic and administrative team.

Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, on the values central to studying Law at Goldsmiths

The Head of Department, Prof Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, warmly welcomed the students, congratulating them for entering Goldsmiths Law, giving them an overview of the programme and speaking to them about the Goldsmiths values intrinsic in our pioneering LLB Law degree.

Students were introduced to all their Year 1 modules – Contract Law, Public law and the Human Rights Act, Criminal Law, English System in a Global Legal Context and 21st Century Legal Skills – by our academics teaching in Year 1, Dr Virginie

Dr Dagmar Myslinska introducing Contract

Barral, Dr Alex Dymock and Dr Dagmar Myslinska, our law librarian Greg Bennett and Lecturer in English for academic purposes Sara Ewing.

Our senior administrator in law, Jean-Michel Villot, then spoke to students about all the key administrative processes and student support systems, in relation to learning, teaching and assessment, and the day-to-day life as a law student at Goldsmiths. The students learnt about our personal tutoring systems from the senior tutor, Dr Dagmar Myslinska, before being welcomed to Goldsmiths by the president of the Student Union and members of the Student Union team, representatives of the ‘student ambassador’ scheme and members of the careers service.

Dr Alex Dymock introducing Criminal Law: Theory and Practice

But ‘welcome week’ was not simply about introductions; students have immediately got down to work, taking part in a debating exercise, where they were confronted with a host of challenging questions: whether there exists a democratic or constitutional justification for a second referendum, whether the UK could follow the example of European countries where tuition at public Universities is free (or where there exist low tuition fees) and whether the use of torture to prevent an imminent terrorist attack is incompatible with fundamental human rights. They debated with confidence, paying attention to drawing on evidence and highlighting weaknesses in their ‘opponents’ arguments.

LLB Law students - Debating

LLB Law students ‘debating’. Dr Virginie Barral in the background, offering advice.

Lectures started this week, with students working effectively their way through a very comprehensive set of VLE/online materials and engaging with the academics during lectures.

In a briefing session with the Head of School, students were also presented with an exciting placement/Pro Bono opportunity, which gives them access to legal advice work in Law Centres, Advice Agencies, CABs or charities, for a period between 3 to 6 months, on a 1-day per week basis, with a focus on ‘social welfare’ law (we’ll be publishing more information about this opportunity here; watch this space!).

The ‘Justice Syndicate’ immersive (jury trial) experience

Students are now preparing for their first encounter next week with two of the ‘professional activities’ incorporated in our pioneering ’21st Century Legal Skills’ module: an immersive ‘jury trial’ experience, with theatre company fanShen, and a visit to the Royal Courts of Justice, for a mock criminal law trial for ‘murder’, coordinated by the National Justice Museum.

 

4 October 2019