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Are Law Schools Out of Touch?

President Skinner, Simpsons

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Many law schools are still dominated by old, somewhat outdated course structures and electives. While this structure offers students a grasp of basic legal principles, it presents students with little clinical face-to-face experience.

Very few law schools contain compulsory clinical training as part of their course, requiring law students to seek practical experience independently. Some law students are unable to sacrifice time outside of their busy study schedules to engage in volunteer work, and so face difficulty when searching for their first legal job without any clinical experience.

Law schools need to acknowledge the importance of practice, not just theory. Instead of assessing students’ understanding solely through essays and exams, law schools must recognise the necessity of practical learning to further prepare students for life beyond the classroom. Practical experience could include drafting court documents, moots, placement, discovery and more. In 2017, Forbes magazine noted that universities globally “should specialize and focus on training students for a particular market segment”, and that the current education system “produces graduates unfit to practice”.

Monash University currently offers professional practice units, where students complete pro bono sessions with clients at Community Legal Centres. These sessions are supervised by solicitors and allow students to gain invaluable experience by working alongside professionals. One Monash LLM student found that the unit was beneficial and rewarding, makingthe transition from law student to new graduate seamless:

“I would definitely recommend it. You learn a lot of practical skills, mostly to do with drafting and corresponding with clients. You are basically doing the work of a graduate lawyer, so it makes going from uni into work a little less daunting”.

However, this clinical unit is only available as an elective, rather than a compulsory unit, and can be incredibly competitive as only a select number of students are enrolled in the unit in each intake.

Australian Catholic University is one of the few universities which has compulsory practical units for law students as part of the curriculum. The two units require each student to undertake 80 hours of pro bono work per year for their final years. For those students unable to commit to such demanding time requirements, other options are available such as intensive units at Community Legal Centres. One ACU student noted that completing these units enabled her to gain experience whilst studying, rather than taking time off her busy schedule:

“Doing these units means I have been less stressed about having to find law-related work while studying, which can be so difficult to find. It has also given me relevant experience to put on my resume and most importantly, experience and insight into how Community Legal Centres operate”.

Law schools must adapt to the changing nature of legal careers by providing the skills and practical experience employers demand of law graduates as a precursor to entering the legal industry.

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