Nov 9, 2017

Law School Addresses Concerns for Law and French

Students from the course have raised concerns about the teaching on the course and the built-in year abroad, with many opting to transfer to law.

Eleanor O'MahonyDeputy Editor
Róisín Power for The University Times

Trinity Law School is working to address problems faced by students studying law and French, after initial complaints brought concerns to light about the state of the course.

Speaking to The University Times, students detailed their concerns, highlighting the flaws in the language teaching on the course and how it left them feeling unprepared for their Erasmus exchange.

The Law School recently arranged, alongside the French department, for law and French students to have their own language classes in first and second year, after students raised concerns about the teaching of French. Speaking to The University Times, second-year law student Louise McCormack, who transferred from law and French, commended the Law School for changing these classes: “They realised the problems that were there and they fixed them.”


In previous years, students studying law and French did not have French language classes specifically for them and instead took a module on French Language and Civilisation with a one-hour lecture per week. This class included students from BESS, sociology and social policy, and students taking it as a broad-curriculum elective module. The size of the class and the nature of the content was deemed unsuitable by law and French students, who felt that they needed smaller class sizes and more focus on language, rather than French culture, history and civilisation.

In an email statement to The University Times, third-year law student Ceara Tonna-Barthet said that the real “point of contention” was the fact that students doing the other law dual course with a language, law and German, were given a lot of support and many language classes. McCormack said that law and German students received a “ridiculous amount of language support”.

In an email statement to The University Times about the old French classes, Arlene Walsh-Wallace, a third-year law and French student currently on her Erasmus exchange in Strasbourg, stated that these were “clearly not sufficient in order to improve our language skills” and caused “great anxiety before heading on Erasmus”.

Tonna-Barthet, who is on her Erasmus in Toulouse, stated: “Some of us paid for independent language classes last year and I think that that’s terrible.”

Erasmus in France is mandatory for every law and French student and counts for 35 per cent of their degree. There are three options of universities available for them: Sciences Po Paris, Université Toulouse 1 Capitole and Université de Paris II Panthón-Asass.

Walsh-Wallace said that the fact that the year counts towards their degree means that it “greatly reduces our ability to choose modules which interest us, and also adds an extra layer of stress to what should be one of the best experiences of our lives”.

Tonna-Barthet said that students faced difficulties in their transition to education in France: “We were not provided with module outlines despite repeated meetings between our class rep and the law school.”

In an email statement to The University Times, Dr Oran Doyle, the Head of the Law School, said that the school “always takes student concerns very seriously”.

Doyle emphasised the need to plan for the future of the course so that it “fits well into” the Trinity Education Project (TEP) two-subject architecture. These changes, which will streamline how many credits would be required of students undertaking joint degrees, will apply to students coming to Trinity in 2019/20.

Students expressed concern over the relationship between the Law School and the Department of French in the delivery of the course, with Tonna-Barthet characterising it as “poor”.

In his email statement, Doyle said that “the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultural Studies and the Law School are working very closely together” in the design of the future of the course. McCormack said of the relationship between the two schools: “I don’t think that has an ill effect on the course.”

Assessment for the course has changed in recent years. Two years ago, 50 per cent of students’ grades was based on class participation and 50 per cent on examination. Tonna-Barthet stated: “We were told we would be assessed on class participation almost half way into our first semester. And to this day I have no idea how our class participation marks were calculated.”

The following year, this assessment was changed to 90 per cent exam-based assessment and 10 per cent based on class participation, according to McCormack. This, she said, was supposed to bring the assessment more in line with other Law School courses. McCormack stated: “The very fact that it’s a different language makes it difficult to give the same weight for participation for French and for English law lectures.”

Law students who are aspiring barristers or solicitors need to take certain modules to meet the requirements for those exams. Walsh-Wallace highlighted the “added stress” the year abroad causes for this, stating that “it has proven difficult at times to seek confirmation from the Law School about whether the modules we take during our year in France will be recognised by Trinity”.

While the Law School is working to improve the course and has taken steps towards addressing students’ complaints, students have felt “neglected or forgotten about by the Law school”, according to Walsh-Wallace. McCormack contrasted the demand for the course with the high dropout rate: “The points are really high. People go in having worked really hard for it.”

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