A Conversation with... Professors Leverick and Chalmers

The Glasgow University Law Society (GULS) Law Review has commissioned a series of interviews with academic staff from across the School. In the first 'A Conversation with...' article, students Daniel Buchan and Holly McKenna talk to Professor Fiona Leverick and Professor James Chalmers about their criminal law research and working as a writing team.  


Professor Leverick has been a Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Glasgow since 2013. She joined the Law School in 2007 as a senior lecturer, having previously worked at the University of Aberdeen. Professor Chalmers was appointed to the Regius Chair of Law in 2012, having previously taught at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Both Professors are joint REF Champion for the School of Law and have worked together on research projects in various areas of Criminal Law. Currently, in collaboration with Ipsos MORI Scotland and Vanessa Munro (University of Warwick), both Professors are undertaking a major research project into the Scottish jury system, funded by the Scottish Government, examining the various aspects of the way in which juries reach their decisions. It is due to report in 2019.

As Professor Chalmers is the Criminal Law honorary editor for GU Law Review this year, we were keen to hear a little more about his research in the field. We thought it would be an interesting mini-project to interview them together and learn more about what it is like researching as a duo. Our Criminal sub-editor Daniel and Editor in Chief Holly sat down with them both to delve deeper into their research and experiences of working together.


The conversation

Q: Can you tell us a little about your current research into jury decision-making?

FL: We can’t say much other than we’re doing it, unfortunately! Because the project involves recruiting members of the public to sit on mock juries, the Scottish Government is keen that nothing much is said about it until the mock juries have taken place. Watch this space!


Q: How important at this point in time is experience of practice in success within criminal law academia?

JC: Knowledge of practice comes in different ways. Our jobs often involve working with practising lawyers and spending time in court. The thing about criminal law is that it is very transparent, so you can have a large degree of involvement. I would say that having at least a connection to the practice is very important.

FL: An understanding of practice is definitely important. Teaching the criminal justice system would be hard without an understanding of it! However, as we meet practitioners all the time, you don’t necessarily need to be a practising solicitor.


Q: What makes a successful academic partnership? Why do you think your own dynamic works so well?

FL: As we have known each other for such a long time, it works well. We began working together in Aberdeen when we were both lecturers there, so we got to work closely on both teaching and research, and learned that we both have a very similar approach. We’re both kind of obsessive perfectionists and like to cover all our bases. I think we work well as a team because of this very similar perspective on things.

JC: We find that when we break things down into sections for a new project and then bring it all together, the ‘joins’ aren’t very obvious, so we have a very similar writing style too. This makes it easier because it all comes together so well. I think you would struggle to act as a good academic partnership if you had very different writing styles.


Q: What is your usual process for producing, say, a new article together? Does each person take on a particular role?

FL: We normally sit down (especially where there are tight deadlines to consider) and, first of all, panic a bit. Then, once that passes, we’ll discuss what needs to be done and divide it up between us. We will take responsibility for different parts originally but we have a process where we’ll swap over and the other will read the opposite sections. We’re pretty well-drilled in doing this now, so we’ll have a shared document so that, while we’re away doing separate research, we can keep well-documented notes so that if the other person needs them, they’re there. Another reason we work so well together is that we both keep such detailed notes on things. Making good notes can take, say, 3 months, compared to the writing which can take a few days. We tend not to write much during the research process.

JC: For an article, we like to decide the argument that the piece is trying to make. This normally comes right at the start; but with a longer report, it is easier as the chapters have separate subjects. One reason why it is easy to work together is that we do tend to separate out the research and writing stages of a project. If you are more of a ‘doing the two things together’ kind of person, it makes it a bit harder to work collaboratively.


Q: Having worked together so often, in what ways have you been influenced by each other in the style of your work?

JC: Probably, but it’s not easily measurable. I think one way Fiona has influenced me is through her background in social science, and the methodology there – so, a lot of the materials we use for statistics are materials she knew a lot about.

FL: We have such similar ways of working in the first place that we probably haven’t changed each other all that much.


Q: Of all the work you have done together, what is your proudest achievement?

FL: A big moment was definitely the Criminal Defences book. Up until that point, we had only collaborated on a journal article in a top quality academic journal (which was ace!)

JC: The biggest piece of work we’ve done together is the Criminal Defences book. It was probably our biggest achievement in co-authorship, but in a different way as we split it evenly and did ten chapters each. Whereas, with the Fair Labelling article in the Modern Law Review, it is impossible to distinguish between who wrote what as it is so intertwined.


Q: Is there a particular area of criminal law you feel is in need of development, or simply that you would like to research further into?

JC: Right now, we’re in the process of ‘tidying up’ all of the commitments we’ve already taken on. We’ve been doing a big bit of work into criminalisation that has been put to bed, with the last paper from the project being published later this year. The jury research programme will take us up to the middle of next year in delivering the research to the Scottish Government. For the next two years, our lives are somewhat ‘mapped out’ already so it’s not something I’ve given much thought to.

FL: I had looked into the issue of criminal records and disclosure of them, but at the minute it’s a small idea that may never see the light of day. The jury research has been interesting thus far; I wouldn’t mind doing some more research into this area. At this point, I think we have such a good sense of ‘knowing what’s out there’ that we know what would make a good research project. However, lots of things we’ve researched have just landed in our laps – for instance, our project on hate crime. This wasn’t something I’d ever thought about researching but the opportunity arose and proved to be really interesting. To an extent, there’s a lot of pressure to bring in external funding rather than just sitting in your office on Westlaw, so sometimes research choices can be a bit constrained because of this.


Q: Given the unusual facts involved in so many criminal law cases, does any one of them stand out as a particular favourite?

FL: Definitely HM Advocate v James Paton (1858), relating to fraud. Someone sold a bull with fake horns and the skin had been inflated to make it look bigger. It’s bizarre how someone wouldn’t notice that the horns were false!

JC: The case of reckless endangerment where a man kept a puma and released it into a bar in Edinburgh (unreported, sadly).


~ Daniel Buchan and Holly McKenna


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