CEPLER Research

CEPLER fosters world-class, cutting-edge, independent research on the legal profession and legal education and provides a forum for debate.

We aim to provide work that is rigorous, critical and reflective and we engage with a wide variety of themes: legal ethics; access to legal services; the regulation of lawyers and lawyering; globalised legal services and the free movement of lawyers; diversity in the profession; and the where, why and how of pro bono.

Current and recent research projects

Sustainability and the Commissioning of Legal Services

Project Overview

This pioneering research, supported by funding from the Legal Sustainability Alliance, explores the extent to which sustainability is a driver in the commissioning of legal services.


The project consists of three phases:

  1. an online survey to private practice;
  2. confidential, one-to-one interviews with private practice lawyers;
  3. confidential, one-to-one interviews with in-house lawyers.


  • Professor Robert Lee, Director of CEPLER and Head of Birmingham Law School
  • Dr Steven Vaughan, Senior Lecturer, UCL (former Director of Research, CEPLER)

Litigants in Person

Project Overview

Following the withdrawal of legal aid in areas such as Family law disputes, the number of people representing themselves in court has significantly increased. The literature on this issue indicates that these 'litigants in person' place a great strain on court resources and that their increased numbers, combined with cuts to court staff, are having a significant impact on the administration and quality of justice. CEPLER is undertaking a pilot study to explore: the impact this increase in litigants in person has on the administration of justice; and how litigants in person experience the justice system.


Stage One- Proposal and Agreement: outline proposal; submission to the University Ethics Committee; court meetings to agree research parameters and access to the court; a comprehensive literature review.

Stage Two - Fieldwork: a mixture of quantitative and qualitative work with both litigants in person - involved in family, housing and debt matters - and court staff. Through questionnaires, the objectives were to gather data such as:

  • the approximate numbers, demographic profile and financial status of litigants in person in three areas of civil justice;
  • the broad nature of their court application;
  • the reasons they were representing themselves;
  • if they had access to legal aid, or other legal advice;
  • the litigant in person's experience of dealing with their case prior to court and during their appearance in court;
  • the experiences of court staff in dealing with litigants in person;
  • the general impact on the administration of justice within the court.

Stage Three - Further Analysis: this stage involved one-to-one interviews with those respondents who consented to providing more detailed information, followed by collation of questionnaire data and coding and analysis of interview responses to provide statistical evidence.


The project lead is Professor Robert Lee, Head of Birmingham Law School and Director of the Centre for Professional Legal Education and Research (CEPLER).

Professor Lee has been supported by:

  • Dr Tatiana Tkacukova, Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University
  • Professor Hilary Sommerlad, Professor of Law and Social Justice, University of Leeds
  • Jonathan Collinson, Postgraduate Researcher, Birmingham Law School
  • Lesley Griffiths, Senior Administrator, CEPLER


A research paper was delivered at the Socio-Legal Studies Association Conference in Newcastle in April 2017 by Professor Lee and Dr Tkacukova, and later published as a CEPLER Working Paper


Large Law Firms and Corporate Social Responsibility n title

Project Overview

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) focuses on the impacts that businesses have on their surroundings. It takes various forms – carbon reduction, charitable giving, flexible-working, for example – but, despite the power and significance of large law firms, there has been little exploration to date of their attitudes to CSR. This research reviewed and compared the public CSR disclosures of the largest law firms in England and Wales.


An examination of the websites of the Top 100 law firms (as ranked by trade journal The Lawyer). The objective was to determine the CSR declaration by each firm and break these down into four categories:

  • Community Giving – volunteering, charitable giving, fundraising
  • Pro Bono – giving free legal advice and/or representation
  • Equality and Diversity
  • Environment and Sustainability

88% of the Top law firms in England and Wales had a CSR section to their website. Of these, only 24% explained on their websites/policies/annual reports why they reported their activity and its importance to the firm.

Key Contributors

  • Dr Steven Vaughan, Senior Lecturer, UCL (former Director of Research, CEPLER)
  • Linden Thomas, Solicitor and CEPLER Manager, Birmingham Law School


The research findings were published in the Birmingham Law School Research Spotlight series

Download the paper here 

Legal Services Onshoring

Project Overview

Global English law firms, who previously only ever had London offices, have started to open up 'onshored' offices outside the capital. Some undertake business support functions, others employ local lawyers to perform lower profile work that has become unprofitable for London lawyers. This research examines that shift and the changes to the nature of legal work and legal professionalism.


One-to-one interviews with lawyers from every onshored office currently open in the UKl.

Key contributors:

  • Dr Steven Vaughan, Senior Lecturer, UCL (former Director of Research, CEPLER)
  • Ms Emily Carroll, Director of Careers and Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School


'Transaction Mills? The 'Dirty Work' of Legal Services Onshoring' - paper presented in July 2016 at the Fordham University conference, 'Lawyer Mobility - A Value or a Threat?'

Accordion title

Accordion content