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The Socio-Legal Studies Research Group

06 January 2024

Socio-Legal studies examine legal ideas, practices, and institutions in their social and historical contexts. Its methodology is mainly empirical rather than doctrinal and it's often interdisciplinary. UC's Socio-Legal Studies Research Group comprises academics interested in collaborative research in Socio-Legal issues. Learn more about this group.


Socio-legal studies is the study of legal ideas, practices and institutions in their social and historical contexts.

Its methodology is primarily empirical, rather than doctrinal, and is often interdisciplinary.

It seeks to understand law in the context of its relationship to an ever-changing society.

The Socio-Legal Studies Research Group is a group of academics interested in collaborative research into Socio-Legal issues.

The members are:

The project aims to inform the development of a student profile that ensures that law degree teaching and learning produces graduates with the skills and knowledge for their careers.

The reciprocal aim is to produce law graduates who are 'work-ready' for employers whether in legal practice, government, the private sector or NGO positions.

The project is funded by AKO Aotearoa Southern Regional Hub Project funding.

In 2014, first-year law students at UC (and also at the University of Auckland and University of Waikato) were surveyed at the beginning and end of year. These surveys provided demographic data as well as information on student wellbeing and reasons for studying law.

It also asked students which skills students felt were important for their future careers, and which skills students felt they would be taught throughout their law degree.

In 2015, we surveyed the same student cohort for the third data capture to see how their answers changed as they progressed through the law degree.

Additionally,  we conducted a pilot survey of employers to understand which skills they feel are important for law student employability.

The third capture of data from students occurred in 2016.

As well as exploring if identified trends in students’ responses from the first two phases continued, we collected detailed information on students’ views on assessment and factors that impavted their feelings of wellbeing.

As well as exploring whether identified trends in students’ responses from the earlier phases continued in 2017, the fourth phase collected information on how prepared for the workforce students felt.

In early 2017, we also conducted an online survey of New Zealand employers of law graduates.

For the fifth phase we will survey the student cohort participating in the study in the second half of 2018.

A key aim of this phase is to collect information on how the LLB degree is working for the students in the study who have left law school and joined the workforce.

The surveys conducted so far have provided some very interesting insights. The full reports of the first, second, third and fourth phases are now available:

Trends identified in students' responses include:

  • many students did not feel prepared by their high school experience for studying law at university
  • many students choose to study law for altruistic and idealistic reasons and this, to a large degree, is reflected in their intended career destinations and paths
  • many students report high class attendance rates, but also report quite different learning and teaching experiences in large and small classes
  • many students report spending less time of self-study than the universities at which they are enrolled would expect
  • particular groups of students within the wider cohort have experiences that are more positive or negative than the overall majority experience
  • many students report low levels of likely psychological wellbeing.

Project findings have formed or informed the basis for several initiatives at the School of Law, including:

  • a focus on improving students’ transition to law school and from first to second-year
  • the review of degree and course learning outcomes to reflect a wider range of academic and self-management skills
  • academic staff development in the areas of student engagement, wellbeing and assessment.
  • adoption and implementation of a student wellbeing plan.

  1. To provide information that will result in developers of student profiles having available to them a set of data that reflects the wishes and desires of law students, law graduates and law graduate employers (whether law firms, government departments, businesses or community organisations).
  2. To subsequently use this information to inform curriculum design and teaching experience.

Associate investigators

Improving the effectiveness of large class teaching in law degrees (2011-2012)

In mid 2010, a group of University of Canterbury School of Law teachers resolved to investigate current methods of teaching large compulsory law classes. As teachers, group members had debated over the years whether the current predominant model of teaching large law classes, the lecture and tutorial model, is best suited to achieve key learning outcomes for students.

While lectures are a common and accepted method of conveying large amounts of information, they appear to give little opportunity to students to learn and practice the skills of analysis, synthesis, critique and evaluation that are so important for law students and, ultimately, lawyers.

In 2011 the group undertook a study of appropriate methods for teaching these skills to large classes.

The results of the study have led to notable changes at three levels:


The teaching staff involved in this study have made changes to their teaching of large classes. 

These include: 

  • Being increasingly aware of the amount of time that students spend in class listening and practising skills. 
  • Increasing the amount of time that students spend in class on skills. 
  • Including a range of active learning activities in all classes, such as small group discussions, role plays, and individual problem-solving exercises.
  • Using technology to provide students with more opportunities to engage with the skills in a directed way outside of class time.

School of Law 

The results of the study have been shared with the Law School through teaching seminars and reports to the Faculty and the School of Law Teaching and Learning Committee. Other members of staff not involved in the initial project report thinking more about teaching methods, and implementing some of the project’s best practice guidelines.

National and international 

The results have been shared with other academics, both at a national and international level. It is hoped that other universities can learn from this research.


This project was funded by Ako Aotearoa.

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