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LAW8091 : Legal Research: Theory and Method

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Darren McCauley
  • Owning School: Newcastle Law School
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


The aim of this module is to provide incoming LLM students with an understanding of the different
theoretical and methodological choices that can be made in legal study, as a means of providing
students with the skills necessary to undertake a Masters-level dissertation. While the first part of
the module will be led by Dr McCauley to encompass skills-based learning, the later classes will be
given by a range of colleagues in the Law School in which they provide insight into their area of
research expertise, the substantive content they deal with in their work, and the particular
theoretical and/or methodological approaches that they use to conduct research. This serves two
main objectives: the first is to make students aware of the different ways that they can conduct
legal research, and an understanding of ensuring that the theories and methods are appropriate to
the research questions they are asking; the second is to make students more familiar with the
different scholars working in the Law School, so that they may tailor dissertation topics accordingly.
The key objectives of this module are as follows: -

1) To familiarise students with some different theories and methodologies for conducting legal

2) To make students aware of the different colleagues working in the Law School and their research

3) To facilitate a critical reflection on the relation between research question, theory and method in
such a way as to ensure that dissertation proposals are appropriately structured, coherent and

4) To develop skills in identifying research topics, and explain them to an audience in written and oral

5) To prepare students for writing their final LLM dissertation.

Outline Of Syllabus

The proposed outline of the syllabus is as follows, with the proviso that case studies will change each
year dependent upon available staff.

1) Legal research – what is it, how do we do it, and why do we make the choices we make?

2) Proposal writing – what does a dissertation proposal look like, and what information should it

3) Epistemology and ontology – ensuring that your theory and methods are appropriate

4) Case study: doctrinal legal research

5) Case study: comparative legal research

6) Case study: socio-legal research

7) Case study: critical legal studies research

8) Case study: legal history research

9) Case study: conducting interdisciplinary research

10) Summing up and proposal drafting

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion150:0050:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading120:0020:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities101:0010:00Activities based around weekly workshops
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops102:0020:00Online workshops
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery31:003:00Online drop-in sessions
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study197:0097:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

This module has been designed to be carried out entirely online, so that it is available to both our attending in-person LLM students, as well as the distance-learning students on the LLM in Mediation and International Commercial Dispute Resolution, which has now received Business Case Approval to run as an entirely online programme. The additional benefit of running this module online is that the experience of the 2020-2021 academic year was that students were much more participative in the existing Legal Research module than is the case in person, and the ability to be able to ask questions in the chat box in Zoom, as well as directly check understanding with the module facilitator was also sincerely appreciated by students. This is an example of good practice from the period of remote learning that we would like to continue to implement in this module.

In terms of the specific teaching methods, workshops have been chosen as the most suitable method of teaching for this content, in which a Law School colleague provides an overview of the main points of the session, familiarises students with their approach to legal research, and then invites students to engage in a dialogue over their choice of approach, its uses (as well as where it may not be appropriate), and what other types of research the theories/methods could be applied to. This is facilitated by the structured research and reading activities, where in advance of classes, students read materials provided before each session by the colleague giving that class, which will include a piece that they have written and a short publication that relates to the theory or methods used. Students will then reflect on the research choices made, and will then undertake legal research to find another article on that area of law or using that theoretical/methodological approach, either on legal databases or other available resources, which they can then include in their discussions in the workshops. In addition to these formal classes, there will be a number of drop-in/surgery hours, where students can ask questions regarding course content, specific readings, or to prepare for the assessment for the module. Directed research and reading will be prepared for each session, which allows students to develop greater insight into the areas of legal research discussed in each activity, with an additional reading list provided on Canvas as further readings or a library list, which can then be used by students drafting their research proposal during their assessment preparation and completion.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Research proposal1M100Research proposal serves as basis for dissertation (3,000 words)
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Research proposal1MResearch Proposal Poster. Research design exercise used as basis for writing research proposal (max 1000 words)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The assessment for this module comprises two elements: one formative research proposal poster of 1,000 word, and
one 3,000 word dissertation proposal. The formative assessment requires students to reflect on the first topics of this module, and then compose a poster about the importance of ensuring clarity and rigour in research design in order to demonstrate their understanding of the relevance of epistemological and ontological coherence when developing a research project. It will also require students to reflect on possible areas of interest (and to engage with relevant staff members) they may have in legal research, and how the first three sessions will inform their proposal writing. The 3,000 word dissertation proposal builds upon the poster and the feedback provided upon it, allowing for students to identify a subject area, an explicit research question within that area, and the theories and/or methods they will use in order to address that research question. This document will also be required to demonstrate the relevance of their chosen topic, and place it in the relevant body of academic literature (albeit in less detail than a formal literature review)

Reading Lists