Thursday, 27 September 2012

Problem Solving Courts

Last night I had to good fortune of being able to attend an event being ran by my University's Centre for Law Crime and Justice entitled Transforming Justice - Transforming Lives. The event centred around the idea of Problem Solving Courts and how they've been developed and used in certain parts of the USA from the early 1990's. Certain States, in a bid to take a more progressive approach to solving the specific problems caused by repeat offenders who for the most part commit minor offences on a regular basis. 

The American Problem Solving Courts take a variety of forms, from drug courts and domestic violence courts to mental health courts and take a different approach to traditional courts, giving the Judges a slightly different role from the norm. Traditionally in a conservative adversarial system, the Judge can almost be viewed as the umpire or referee, ensuring that the litigants both play fairly and the best man (best lawyer) wins, in problem solving courts the emphasis is on the best outcome and the judge will take a much greater interest in individual cases. Participation is voluntary, so those accused of a crime are given an option, would you like to go through to traditional court system or would you like to try to try the problem solving courts? 

This approach is important, as repeat offenders are often doing so because of specific underlying problems, such as psychosis or drug problems. With this in mind the Judge in a Problem Solving Court will be empowered to use drug rehab or psychological treatments as an alternative or addition to custodial sentences. Rather than seeing an accused once or twice they may see them ten or twenty times, ordering them to return to court regularly to check in. In certain circumstances, upon successful completion of a course of treatment, the person in question will 'graduate' from the program. 

One of the key benefits of this is reduced rates of recidivism, one independent study found that in in two districts with comparable populations and socio-economic demographics the district with the Problem Solving courts had a 42% lower rate of recidivism. 

This more compassionate helpful way of dealing with offenders strikes me as similar to the way that we in Scotland deal with child offenders via our Children's Panel system. Here children who have committed crimes are dealt with by the same system that deals with children who are victims of neglect and abuse, recognising that their problems often stem from similar root causes. This progressive approach to using the Judicial branch of the State to deal with the underlying causes and problems associated with crime, drug abuse and other social ills strikes me as the very much the way forward in terms of how we should think and act as a society when trying to deal with our collective problems and is a much more constructive approach than that of punishment alone. 

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Why Study Law?

 So, after a hectic Uni year, with a ton of changes in my personal life alongside the academic challenge, working full time and fighting my way through my law school mooting competition, a good friend suggested a wee trip. The wee trip she suggested was walking the West Highland way. If you've not heard of the West Highland way, it's a 96 mile hike through the countryside of Scotland. The proposed schedule for the trip had us walking an average of 20 miles a day over a period of five days with the joy of camping by Loch Lomond for the first two days. It sounded to me like a great plan, so on the 3rd of June, 7 of us set of on our wee adventure. 

As a poor student of limited means, this was my first holiday for years, it was also the longest period of time I've spent away from Glasgow for a quite some time time. The contrast between being on a lonely track in the middle of nowhere and city life really struck a chord with me. On the second day of the trip I fell into a conversation with one of my friends who works as an insurance underwriter and deals with large commercial projects. What we talked about was simple, the fiction of city life and modern society. 

It's very hard to take an objective look at something while you're on the inside looking out, and I think this applies quite well to city living. Being away from the city, surrounded by nature, with no use for a car or cash for a few days really made me think about how we live today and the significance of both money and law. It strikes me that both money and law are convenient fictions, they are no more than tools to help society stay together. 

I'm not an anarchist, I don't think we need to smash the system, nor do I think that capitalism is evil. What I do think however is that living in a city, we can't help but invest a great deal of time, effort and thought in dealing with moth money and the law (in our system the two are inseparably linked, just look at tax, insurance, shipping, commercial contracts, inheritance etc. etc.). I've come round to thinking that these things are no more than the tools we use for social cohesion, they exist to serve us and allow us to be safe and expect a certain standard of life and a certain standard of behaviour from one another. 

Following this I can't help but think that law, from both a substantive and theoretical point of view, is one of the most interesting things I could have chosen to study. Law represents the rules and regulations by which society functions, as defined by society, what's more these rules and standards continue to develop and evolve. How exciting, with this in mind I can't help but end with a wee quote . . . 

To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We're all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there is a problem the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box. - Jerry Seinfeld

Monday, 28 May 2012

Told you I'd be back . . .

So, In an earlier post, probably about 14 months ago, I shared with the world the torment, pain and suffering that stems from being knocked out of my Uni mooting competition at the quarter final stage. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I'm proud to announce that you are now reading the words of the 2011-12, Strathclyde university mooting Champion. Whoop Whoop!

The whole experience has been great and I can highly recommend it to anyone studying law. I could probably come up with hundreds of reasons to get involved in mooting, but here are my top 5, in no particular order. 

1. You'll learn how to do legal research much more quickly and effectively
2. You'll meet and get  to know other bright hard working law students
3. If you do well you'll put yourself on the radar of the senior lectures at your school
4. Your public speaking skills and confidence will grow
5. Your group work skill will come on in leaps and bounds

I signed up for mooting off my own back, without a partner in mind. So both years where I've competed I've been assigned one by the mooting society. The partners I've had could not have been more different. In my first year my partner was in her early twenty's highly academic, quiet and extremely hard working. My partner this year was a larger than life, mature student with bags of life experience but very little experience of law from an academic point of view, (when we met at first she was only 3 weeks into her LL.B). 

In the first competition I learned a lot about court etiquette, legal research, public speaking and presentation  skills. The biggest thing I've learned this time around has been how to be a better partner. My relationship with my partner this year was pretty tumultuous, we've worked really well at times, we've also came close to falling out at times and been at each others throats. I have learned that when you're working in a close relationship with someone it's extremely important that you learn to trust and rely on each other. You have to be flexible and reliable in equal measure, but most of all, the big thing, the key, the holy grail of good teamwork is, probably has always been and always will be . . . communication. I must admit that this hasn't always been my strong suit. There have been times where I've been guilty of being slow to reply to emails, answer calls and text messages. It's no coincidence that at these times, the tensions have mounted and things have gotten a little less productive. In preparation for the mooting final, I made a point of speaking to my partner everyday and letting her know what I was thinking, where I was at and where I thought she should be. As a consequence, the final of the competition, in the High Court in Glasgow, where we were being judged by Lord MacKay, in front of all the senior lectures from the law school, somehow felt a great deal LESS stressful than some of the moots we did in earlier rounds of the competition. 

Anyhoo, this is my wee celebratory post, I couldn't be happier about winning, for any number of reasons, not least of which being that Prof. Poustie, the head of my law School asked me represent the Uni in external competitions next year. Watch this space . . . 

Friday, 20 April 2012

If you're going through hell . . . keep going!

There's no mistake, I smell that smell, it's that time of year again . . .  What time of year is that I hear you say? Why it's exam time of course! So here we are, 3 weeks from the day when exams start, throw into the mix the fact that I've made it into the final of the mooting competition, and am going to be working 40 hrs per week between now and then. I'm thinking that smell I can smell is the smell of fear! 

How do I, In 3 short weeks, do the reading for the moot, put together my submissions, construct a coherent framework for my subjects in my head to give me enough ammunition to pass, while working a full time job? The thing is, after 3 years of doing this, while the fear has kicked in, it's became a familiar sensation! 

When I was an energetic first year student, really up for the challenge of learning as much as I could and cramming every possible case into my head, I had a chat with a friend who had also went back to Uni as an adult learner. He looked at me with a smile saying 'I remember feeling like that' and told me about how it had all became a process for him. I vowed never to get that way, to maintain my enthusiasm, it hasn't gone down that way! 

I've now got to a point where I'm almost comfortable, I know that I can squash a fair amount of information into my head in a relatively short period of time. I know that I've got a pretty solid framework in my head of legal concepts and principles on which to hang the different ideas, I also know a few memory techniques that allow me to memorise case names and details relatively quickly. So I must reluctantly admit that it's became a bit of a process, but maybe that's a part of what law schools are designed to teach us. I'm thinking a big part of the law school, or even the general university experience is about learning more than just the 'black and white' aspects of your subject.

I now feel like I've learned some real skills, how to use my mind, commit things to memory with relative ease, to process information quite quickly and manipulate ideas and concepts, maybe that's what the eduction's all about. Learning skills and developing your mind seems to me to be every bit as important as learning the substantive elements of my course. Now I can absolutely see where my friend was coming from when he was talking about studying and learning, it is a process, a series of techniques, a skill-set, and far from being a bad thing I embrace it. Without that process and skill set, I wouldn't stand a chance of passing my upcoming exams or getting through my next moot, which I'm excited to say is the final of the my university's competition, held at the High Court in Glasgow. 

I'd ask you to wish me luck but I think luck's got precious little to do with it . . . .

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The paper free project: How'd it go??

So, here I am, 3 weeks away from my exams, just won the semi-final of the internal mooting competition and as yet I haven't printed a single piece of paper for Uni, (the only exception being the bundles of authorities which I've had to submit to my judges in a moot). The question is, would I consider my paper-free semester as having been a success? will I be doing it again? and was it difficult to maintain the commitment to being paper-free. 

Well, first comes the confession . . . . I broke one of my rules . . . . I deserve a slap on the wrists. A change in personal circumstances has saw me in a position where I now have to spend a lot more of my life commuting, which in turn means I've not been spending all the quality time that I had planned in the library. I'm sad to say, I folded, I bought some books, which made it a lot easier to study from home. Aside from that I've been paper free, I've not printed off any class handbooks, not written anything on paper and not printed anything  out. My wee net-book has followed me to every class, tutorial, moot and study session and has been more than enough, not to mention much less cumbersome than paper.  

I've used a few fantastic programs which have helped me out massively:

1. Evernote - a brilliant cloud based piece of note-taking software

2. Sugarsync -another cloud service which synchronises folders form my netbook with folders on my home pc, my android phone and on-line account. 

Combined with my wee netbook, android phone and home pc, Evernote and Sugarsync have been perfect. One of the big bonuses about using evenrote is that it allows me to make audio recordings of my lectures using my phone and save the audio files into the typed notes I've taken, great for revision. Also if like me you don't mind sharing, you can email a copy of your lecture notes to anyone from within evernote, dynamite for the times when your study buddy misses a class.  

So, has it been a success? yes definitely!
Would I do it again? absolutely! 
Was it difficult to maintain the paper-free commitment? Not at all, after the first few weeks it became second nature. 

I'd highly recommend that anyone interested in grossly simplifying their lives, take the time to learn how to properly use a few cloud based systems like evernote and sugarsync, learn to type and get over the fear of reading from a screen. I've found the whole process quite liberating and am highly unlikely to ever go back!