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Durham University

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Prestigious placements for pensions law students

(16 March 2020)

Our Law students can for the first time this academic year study pensions law as part of their undergraduate degrees, giving them vital knowledge of this very important area of law affecting so many people.

With over 40 million members of UK workplace pension schemes, people’s rights under these schemes are often their most valuable asset. Pensions law protects those rights.

As part of this new module, our students are able to gain valuable work experience with high-profile law firms and chambers.

We caught up with visiting professor and module leader, Philip Bennett, a leading expert in pensions law who is listed in the Pensions Section “Hall of Fame” in The Legal 500 United Kingdom, 2017.

Can you tell us more about it?

We think this could be the first undergraduate pensions law module in the UK.

Its aim is to enhance the options available to Durham Law School undergraduates and to give our students a good understanding of the key aspects of this very important area of the law affecting so many people.

We also want to encourage and support the development of future generations of pensions lawyers.

What do the students get involved in on their work placements?

It very much depends on what is happening with clients’ pension law issues during the work placement week in question.

As an example, one student found himself involved in reading the skeleton arguments in a case on a pension increase rule that was going to be heard in the High Court the following week. He was asked to offer his own critique and challenge to those arguments. The case was heard the following week and the student had the opportunity to see the arguments he had critiqued being presented in court.

How important is it for law students to gain experience like this?

Seeing how the pensions law you have learnt at Durham is applied in situations involving real clients with real pensions law issues to resolve provides valuable context.

The law becomes alive. You can experience the legal rules you have learned being applied in the real world. In turn that reinforces and develops your knowledge and skills in this area of the law.

What do you think are going to be the key issues in pensions law in the next ten years or so?

Legislation currently going through Parliament aims to allow collective money purchase or collective defined contribution (or CDC) pension schemes to be set up for the first time in the UK.

A CDC scheme aims to provide an on average higher level of non-guaranteed retirement income at an affordable cost through the collective pooling of risks and rewards shared in a fair manner amongst members.

This approach is being pioneered by Royal Mail for its more than 140,000 employees in partnership with The Communication Workers Union.

I am hopeful that this legislation will allow a way of providing that higher level of retirement income at an acceptable level of risk and will be a success.

We want to say thank you to the following law firms and chambers, each with a leading pensions law practice, for their generosity in providing work placements this year to our students:

  • Allen & Overy LLP
  • Arc Pensions Law LLP
  • Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
  • Macfarlanes LLP
  • Outer Temple Chambers
  • Sacker & Partners LLP
  • Travers Smith LLP

Find out more