Home -Longitudinal - School of Law - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Longitudinal Study: Developing a Law Student Profile

A project of the Socio-Legal Studies Research Group


Project Overview

The aim of the project is to inform the development of a student profile which ensures that teaching and learning occurring during law degrees produces graduates who have the skills and knowledge for the careers they wish to pursue. The reciprocal aim is to produce law graduates who are work-ready for employers, whether in legal practice, or in government, the private sector or NGO positions. The project is funded by AKO Aotearoa Southern Regional Hub Project funding.

Phase One:

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, 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.


Phase Two:

In 2015 the third capture of data occurred, with the same cohort of students being surveyed again, to see how their answers changed as they progress through the law degree. Additionally, a pilot survey of employers was conducted in order to understand which skills they feel are important for employability of law students.

Phase Three:

The third capture of data from students occurred in 2016. As well as exploring whether identified trends in students’ responses from the first two phases continued, detailed information was collected on students’ views on assessment and factors having an impact on their feelings of wellbeing.

Phase Four:

The fourth phase of the project is now underway. The student cohort participating in the study will be surveyed in the second half of 2017. A key aim of this phases is to collect information on students’ intended future careers now that they are in the fourth year of their legal studies. Also, in early 2017 an online survey of New Zealand employers of law graduates was conducted.

What have we learnt so far?

The surveys conducted so far have provided some very interesting insights. The full reports of the first , second and third phases are now available, but here are some interesting results from the 2015 survey:

  • 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.

Initiatives based on previous phases of the study

Project findings have formed or informed the basis for a number of 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 outocmes 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.

Project goals

  1. To provide information which 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

Research Team

    'Project Leaders Ursula Cheer and Lynne Taylor'

    Project Leaders: Professor Ursula Cheer and Lynne Taylor