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Thursday, 28 January 2016

Comlaw 101: A Review

Introduction -- Law?

On Overheard there is/was this dude called Carlos Craig who was/is allegedly a sloth. Point is this dude wrote, sometimes funny, diatribes and the like to flesh out (allegedly) overheard conversations. Several of these took pot shots at Comlaw 101 students.

I knew my munchie days were limited after I heard something so foul it made an episode of the kardashians almost watchable
First year hipster girl in a mini skirt and Kathmandu puffer jacket, trying to be the 'it girl' American swag king squad goals ug boots look " daddy says I should apply for law part two after my comlaw 101 mark"
Margainly more intelligent friend "but you don't do law part 1 ? Just commerce I thought "
Girl rolling her eyes "yeah but unlike most others I got an a- in comlaw101 , I would make an excellent lawyer and daddy said hed email the dean "
Friend " you must do law part one thou..."
Girl " look you study arts you don't know much about how these things work"

Firstly, the sloth's distaste is well placed. Comlaw 101 is not a law course. In fact, a straight major in nothing but commercial law is seriously advised against because it leads no-where directly. However, Comlaw is a useful major for budding chartered accountants and complements several of the other BCom majors well (hell, eco 303 even requires Comlaw 101 as a pre-req). Secondly, several people will, each year, start a BCom/LLB in the hope that if they don't make Law Part II they will get their law fix via Comlaw. Thirdly, this post above and the sentiment it represents probably inspired several of my own comments towards comlaw (not least in part because I was talking to actual law students).

Yet, with all that being said, this was probably my favourite of the core courses.

Aim

Comlaw 101 is two things. Firstly, it's a crash course in some basic legal ideas (in particular statutory interpretation and the common law) and New Zealand's constitutional framework. This constitutes the first and less important part of the course. Secondly, it's a quick run through some important legal concepts for business (it is called "Law in a Business Environment"). I say quick because competition law, for semester two 2015, was not a part of the course despite being something obvious to include... and, in any case, it is a stage one course.

Model: What Does Comlaw 101 Look Like?

I'm sure you've heard this story before... three one hour lectures, one tutorial. On the other hand, we had three lecturers and the tutorials were compulsory (marks were attached) so Comlaw 101 is a little bit different to say economics, and Infosys because the tutorials don't peter out part way through. Oh, and there's a workshop... but the tutorials and the workshops are every other week (so, in theory, you have a tutorial and a workshop the next).

In some ways, then, Comlaw 101 is a pretty traditionally minded course, except for the lecturer thing (and as far as I can tell, there are a bunch of them and they take the course in shifts, semester on, semester off or something). Unsurprisingly there is a textbook for the course. However, I do not remember if it was prescribed and, at any rate, it is next to useless. And by "next to useless" what I mean is that I used the old textbook which had pretty detailed notes on the various cases, not that I didn't utilise the textbook. Luckily, this didn't appear to be popular enough as a strategy that the copies found in short loan were exhausted (there is also one in the Davis Law Library).

Now, as you may remember I have several friends who are also doing BComs and they had told me two things. Firstly, that I'd like this course. Secondly, that the workshops are excellent. Now, personally, I think that the workshops were overrated based on this information. That is not to say that they're not useful if you attempt the problems beforehand, because I think they are. Like the tutorials (workshop and tutorial questions are not so different) they are an opportunity to apply the concepts learnt in the lectures and get familiar with the sorts of things that are expected of you (except for the AROPA workshop, which is more the latter). The trouble is that the workshops nearly always ran out of time... and Comlaw 101 doesn't even believe in exemplar answers (let alone model answers). Personally, I found office hours more useful than either tutorials or workshops, but if you go around the test be prepared for the long haul (I waited for over 90 minutes).

As a final note, there is a good rationale behind the answer thing. An LLB can be thought of as laws and logic. In this sense, law is not dissimilar to maths, which is also about a particular form of logical thinking... or so a friend of mine who does maths and law tells me. It follows from this that law is about the argument more than the facts... and it is possible to have several arguments and conclusions from the facts. Thus, the concern is that a model answer would constrain thinking. This, to an extent, is another old-fashioned idea echoing, as it does, the traditional values of what has been called "higher education". And if we think about this previous post, it's the stance the student needs, but not the one they want.

Assessment -- Do I Haave To?

Comlaw 101 is, with respect to its test and exam, a pretty boring stage one BCom core paper. That is MCQs and short answer questions. What makes the test a bit different though is that it tests fundamentally different things. I would compare and contrast the Stats 20x test which is also highly interested in being largely applied (seriously, we needed to know three things: the assumptions, how to read graphs/output and how to write executive summaries in plain English). In this sense, what served us well was understanding how to interpret a statute more than any theoretical knowledge... and the theory stuff that was there related to that first, lesser, aim and was not relevant to the exam at all. The exam required theoretical knowledge, insofar as knowing the relevant legal principles is theory (including important cases, e.g. AG v Geothermal Enterprises which is about negligence... and the cases function a bit like quotes in English) and the ability to use that knowledge to formulate an argument. I would also argue that the exam is noticeably the most difficult piece of assessment (cf Infosys 110, Accounting, either Business, etc).

The other bits of assessment in Comlaw are a bit different. Sure there are the CECIL quizzes (I guess I better call them Canvas quizzes) but those are old hat. A few multichoice questions, several attempts and an open book (I actually did the second half of them several times in order to try and maximise my coursework marks just on a whim... although maybe I should have done this with old B+ accounting). What I am really talking about is AROPA and tutorial participation.

AROPA probably stands for something but that's not really the point. The general idea of AROPA is that it is an opportunity to get used to legal writing: how to answer "law" questions/problems. This is, for the purposes of this course, basically approached through the ILAC framework. That is, issue, law, application, conclusion. So, in other words: define the problem, find the law/legal ideas relevant to that problem, apply them to it and generate a tentative conclusion about what it all means. Do all this within a word limit, submit it to the AROPA website and then wait as it gets peer marked. Oh, and you also peer mark the AROPAs of three other students. All for 0 marks. Fun, eh? That's the thing, though, unless you do AROPA and turn up and "participate" in tutorials, you won't be eligible for plussage. And not doing AROPA, even if it is peer marked, means you get that little bit less familiar with doing the sorts of things that you'll need to do in the test/exam.

Content

For me, the first part of the course didn't really cover anything new. This was because it begins fairly immediately with a constitutional overview and a quick run through the idea of common law (basically similar cases are decided in similar ways through the magic of precedent, which only gets changed at a higher court). These things are fairly familiar to anyone interested the the monarchy/republic debate (me) and those who have looked at the Civil War (i.e. the English one, where Sir Edward Coke and others' dissatisfaction with the ability of common law to protect the freedoms of the English was important). That's not to say that the specific details (which I no lnger recall in any case) weren't new but this isn't done that thoroughly anyway (it isn't Law 121, which I imagine does). The details on how laws are made, in particular, was new to me. Anyway, the nature of this stuff shouldn't surprise because it is taught so that you understand the context of the rest of the course (we also talked about what law is and why it matters to business). The first part of the course concluded with a run through of statutory interpretation (which basically means the purposive approach... "the meaning of an enactment must be ascertained from its text and in light of its purpose" or why the law exists/what it is meant to solve).

The rest of the course dealt with important aspects of civil law with respect to business. That meant negligence, negligent misstatement, intellectual property, trusts, fiduciaries (this is when you have to, legally, act in the best interests of parties that aren't yourself), business structures (briefly, incl. agents) and consumer law (Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act). There was also a very quick introduction to privacy, and possibly some other things (er, property). Throughout these topics the ideas which mattered were often illustrated by well known case law that established precedents or simply demonstrated with particular clarity the idea at heart. The idea of the reasonable person or simply reasonableness is particularly important when looking at negligence (and negligent misstatement). Personally, I think the negligence stuff was where the course came into its own, as while IP is interesting the lecturer was not the world's best... and privacy was like two lectures long.

Ultimately, I think these concepts are important enough that they really ought to be at least addressed at school... along with defamation (which we didn't study) as defamation is a really important thing to consider when you consider human interactions on the internet. I think this new found conviction is a strong endorsement of the content of this course... even if, strictly speaking, it was not the point at all.

Success: What Makes It?

  • Case Notes. These don't need to get obsessed with the facts of the case. What matters is the legal idea contained within the cases. Bolton v Stone is about liability and reasonableness (i.e. if it is not reasonable to take a precaution, you're not liable) for instance... not that some woman got hit by a cricket ball. To this end, look at the old Eagles textbook because, by God, it has some information on probably upwards of 90% of the cases.
  • Links. It is not sufficient to know the legal ideas. You need to put them in so that they don't appear to be floating in your answer. This was the feedback I received on my second AROPA answer. The way that you incorporate the cases mustn't float either: they're a core part of your explanation of whatever.
  • Study. This course has a fair amount of content but it is manageable. I would just make sure that you have some sort of logical approach (for you) to your studying. For instance, I grouped the cases by topic and stuck them after the content notes for those topics (for the cases that I did... which came to bite me in the exam as I needed cases for a question so had to choose a harder one due to not remembering).
  • Familiarity. This means that you have done AROPA, attempted tutorial and workshop problems beforehand and have a thorough understanding of what the course is about. ILAC is just a framework. It was put to me by one of the lecturers that they advise following a framework due to the limited English skills of some international students (clearly DELNA and whatever else the university uses is not sufficient). The point he was making is that if you know what you're doing, actually know what you're on about, then ILAC need not be some rigid climbing frame.

Conclusion:

In the end, I got an A from Comlaw 101. In all honesty, I probably should have done better on the exam, which means maybe I should have got an A+. I think I just didn't know the content as well as I thought I did. However, I actually really enjoyed Comlaw 101 in the end and it gave me an appreciation that maybe law is more interesting than I once thought. Indeed, I would go as far to say that Comlaw was the best of the BCom core papers... even if it exposes the contradictions of my worldview (given that there is no clear career path from Comlaw).

That being said, maybe Comlaw 101 wouldn't be for everyone. Certainly, it could be frustrating that we just didn't really examine the principle behind the fiduciary relationship, preferring a more rote "these are traditional fiduciary relationships". Also, I do think they oversell the tutorials... I am left again concluding that the closest I have been to a tutorial as the university says they are is that final Eco 101 one or the Business courses.

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