IN THE AUCKLAND UNIVERSITY COURT
I TE KŌTI MATUA O WAIPAPA TAUMATA RAU
 CRHC 1927
UNDER the Law School on Trial Series 2023
IN THE MATTER of the STUDENTS
AND the SYSTEM
Hearing: 14 August 2023
Appearances: Craccum Magazine, Legal Ethics 2023
JUDGMENT OF NEWS J
CASE STUDY 3 – LEGAL ETHICS (LAW 458) SEMESTER ONE 2023
 LAW458 is a single semester, 10-point course in the LLB. It is not a compulsory paper to complete the LLB, but it is a requirement for all students wishing to be admitted to the bar. As such, almost every student will undertake this paper at some point in their degree, even as a precaution. LAW458 is usually offered in both Semesters One and Two each academic year.
 Zoe Lawton, a sole-practitioner and Barrister by profession, first taught the LAW458 course in Semester One, 2022. She taught it again the following semester, and in Semester One 2023 she was made the course coordinator of the paper. It was at this point that the events took place.
 Both the applicants and the defendants are in agreement on the facts of the case. These are laid out as follows.
[a] Lectures for LAW458 in Semester One of 2023 took place from 4-6pm on a Friday evening. Lawton prescribed a seating arrangement to students under the guise of fostering professional relationships.
[b] Lawton overhauled the previous course structure, which was assessed formerly on a substantive essay and exam, worth roughly 50% each. In its place, she instilled three smaller assignments, including one that required students to use LinkedIn to develop professional profiles, and another that required students to use ChatGPT to research issues in the course.
[c] Lawton also announced that lecture recordings would not be available to students. The caveat to this decision was that students may approach her through email and request lecture recordings in a personal capacity should they disclose an illness, disability or other bereavement. Generally, however, for a missed class, familial or work obligation, students would have no access to previous classes. The court notes that this goes against University policy, which generally requires all lecture recordings to be made available.
[d] Teresa Brown, a student and an advocate, raised the issue with the Law School’s Associate Deans of Equity, Pacific, and Learning and Teaching. They were satisfied with Lawton’s exemption. The issue was further escalated to the PVC of Education, who agreed with the decision of the Law School.
[e] Lawton released marks for Assignment Two in the course after the final examination. Students did not have a chance to benefit from assignment feedback before they undertook the examination. The mean for the assignment was 56.9%.
[f] On June 23, following several student complaints about the way the course was taught, accessed and moderated, Lawton sent out a Canvas announcement to students. It read, in part:
[fa] Throughout the semester I have been subjected to a prolonged campaign of complaints…some of you have been very vocal in your criticism of me and this has subsequently emboldened others to follow suit…let me make it very clear that I will not tolerate unjustified and defamatory online abuse from any of you…I would also like to remind you that when University of Auckland graduates apply for admission to the bar, the NZ Law Society alerts the Law School. A list of names are then provided to me and I am invited by the NZ Law Society to inform them of any concerns regarding character. I will not hesitate to express concerns about those of you who have subjected me to unjustified and defamatory abuse. As you can imagine, directing [this abuse] at your ethics lecturer will not reflect well on you.
[g] In a first for the Law School, after significant student complaints, Assignment Two was remarked because of an error. The mean for the assignment moved up by 7.8% to 64.7%.
[h] An Official Information Act request was filed by an anonymous student requesting any correspondence between Lawton and the Law School regarding the email sent on June 23. The Law School is currently attempting to deny this on grounds that the request is too wide in scope, and would take them too long to fulfil.
The Case for the Applicants
 The applicants submit that Legal Ethics was run in a way that was inequitable to students. Students who could not attend class in person for any reason other than sickness or disability were barred from accessing lecture recordings, creating an unreasonable standard when students had work or familial arrangements. Applicant Teresa Brown notes to the court that it should be of specific importance that lecture recordings were withheld over confidentiality concerns and yet every individual who would have access to the ‘confidential’ recordings, could also be present to hear the information in person.
 Another applicant herein provides an affidavit.
[a] “Legal Ethics epitomises [Law School] failures of communication, empathy, and accessibility. Is it too much to ask that they not make students disclose private medical information to access lecture recordings; they not turn a course based on professional standards into a networking opportunity; they not have hidden marking criteria for assignments; they not also make whole sections either practically inaccurate or near impossible to research; that they not threaten the futures of an entire cohort because they dared to complain in a private Facebook group. As students we pay exorbitant yearly fees to a law school which claims to be the best, so why are our pleas for the bare minimum being met with structural hostility? Students shouldn’t have their entry to the bar undermined for speaking out. Students shouldn’t have to beg for consistency.”
 Another applicant gave evidence that they perceived the email sent as an “overt threat to students”. They continued, “I don’t think anyone I’ve talked to has taken it a different way than that. If you dared to speak out against her, she’s threatened you there will be professional consequences. I think it’s ironic that she’s teaching about ethics while threatening her students.”
The Case for the Respondents
 Herein lies the unedited affidavit for the respondents, provided not by Lawton herself, but by the Law School.
The Law School granted LAW 458, Legal Ethics, an exemption from the University’s lecture capture recording policy. The Digital Course Outline and Canvas Homepage made clear statements to students about the Law School’s expectations around attendance at this course. Students wishing to become lawyers are required to study this course. Legal Ethics is a very practically oriented course designed to ground students in the ethical issues surrounding legal practice. This was why it was appropriate to grant an exemption for lecture capture because this course was specially designed around relational teaching methodology using the kind of scenarios that are found every day in legal practice.
 The Law School was satisfied that the teacher had put in place alternative learning arrangements for students unable to attend class in person. The student representative at the Staff Student Consultative Committee meetings reported the teacher had been approachable and responsive on this issue, noting no other concerns.
 In respect of the recording exemption, a student chose to escalate this to the PVC Education. The PVC Education also reviewed the Law School’s decision and agreed that this exemption from recording was appropriate.
 Course assessment on Legal Ethics included three coursework assignments. The teacher reported on Canvas the average weighted grades as being 9.8/10, 17/30 and 7.6/10 respectively. The mean result across the coursework assessment was therefore 68.8%.
 Assignment 2 marks were released on 20 June as was the teacher’s general feedback.
 In acknowledging that this was after the final exam date the Law School notes that the exam followed a format based on the in-class, small- group, team-based practical exercises which were designed as direct preparation for the final exam. The Law School recognises the importance of timely feedback and continues to monitor this across all our courses.
 Assignment 2 has been rigorously moderated and, in line with normal practice, assessment from this course has gone to an external assessor at another New Zealand law school. This process of external assessment is designed to ensure both a consistency of approach in marking and alignment with prior years’ grades for this course.
 Based on the evidence provided, the jury is directed to give a verdict as to whether the conduct was substantively unjust.
 The court would like to thank the members of the public jury for their involvement over the passing month. It encourages every member to bring forward any concern that they may have in this institution, in order to improve it for all.