LAW8090 : Legal Research Skills and Methods

Semester 1 Credit Value: 5
Semester 2 Credit Value: 5
ECTS Credits: 5.0


This module complements the actual dissertation writing component of all postgraduate taught degree programmes where a dissertation focusing on law or regulation will be required. In such a dissertation, students are expected to acquire knowledge on a specialised topic, possibly outside of the scope of the taught modules on the degrees, and are expected to carry out an advanced piece of independent legal research. This module prepares students for this task by introducing the students to a variety of legal-specific research skills, and assisting the students in arriving at an appropriate dissertation topic and methodology.

Student aims: to acquire the relevant research and study skills to successfully complete their postgraduate taught degree and particularly the dissertation requirement of their degrees.

Outline Of Syllabus

Induction Week: Module introductions, basic library skills relevant to law, basic study skills relevant to
the LLM degree, and content-specific introductory seminars to introduce specific knowledge skills necessary for their chosen specialist degree.

Semester 1: Additional library skill training for research purposes, training on essay writing and
assessment, legal writing and reasoning, and sources/referencing and plagiarism; Choosing a dissertation topic, managing a dissertation project, research methodologies, ethics and legal research, dissertation topic clinics, and dissertation topic presentations

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture72:0014:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching21:002:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery41:004:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study801:0080:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The module will be taught using interactive lectures. The sessions at the start of the year are there to provide core information about the module, degree, and dissertation process to the students, and these are best delivered in a lecture. However, the lectures all include interactive components that require the students to engage in practical exercises and discuss the outcomes of those exercises with each other. As the module progresses into the second semester, students will be benefitting from small group presentation workshops, where they will deliver presentations on their dissertation topics and be given feedback by a designated member of staff who is an expert in the area in which they hope to write a dissertation. This will enable targeted responses by staff, as well as key learning between students who plan to write dissertations in similar areas.

The 4 hours of drop-in time scheduled reflect on the fact that students may have questions about formulating their dissertation proposals that cannot be catered to in group teaching. Drop-in time will thus enable students to have an opportunity to discuss their research proposals outside of the group context, with more confidentiality and more focus on their specific topical questions.

Assessment Methods

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

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Oral Presentation151M2010 minute presentation on research proposal with 5 minutes of feedback
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Research proposal1M40Max. 1500 words dissertation proposal
Research paper2M40Max. 3000 words literature review
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The above model of assessment was chosen in specific response to the skills that we expect students to be able to demonstrate during the course. All assessment takes place in the second semester, so as to afford students ample time to think about their topic before being made to present it formally.

It was chosen to assess research presentations so as to motivate students to produce a high-quality presentation, as they would have done at an academic conference, so as to ensure that in preparing their presentation they are already working towards a clearly structured proposal. This will also recognize students who are very strong at pitching their proposal in speech, but perhaps less adept at pitching the same proposal in writing.

The limited marks assigned to the presentation reflect the fact that the presentations represent a “first draft” and oral feedback will follow from those marking the presentations on how the research proposal can be improved.

After having received marks on the presentation, the student will have approximately 1 month to submit their final dissertation proposal. Approval of this proposal is required for them advancing toward the dissertation-writing stage in Semester 3 and this is why 40% of assessment has been set to the proposal. A strong proposal will enable students to write a better presentation and by assigning a mark to this degree-mandatory step, we will again encourage students to produce as clear and coherent and feasible a research project as possible.

Finally, prior to the summer, the student will submit a literature review, to represent a background chapter on the specific topic the student has chosen. This allows us to examine their legal research skills after a year of being introduced to and familiarized with new legal materials and approaches to doing research. The shorter length of the dissertation proposal, despite equal weighting with the literature review, reflects on the identical importance of both exercises but relative differential quantity of words needed to produce proper outputs for these assignments.

All the assessment on the course was specifically set as outlined to ensure that students start on their dissertation writing with as much preparation as possible.

Reading Lists