College of Law boss opens up about today’s law school paradigm
Neville Carter AM, CEO and principal of The College of Law, has offered some insight into today’s law school environment, including whether the debate of whether such institutions are adequately preparing the next generation of lawyers.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Mr Carter described the Australian law school sector as a vibrant one, which promotes strong commitment to high standards and student care.
“Across more than 40 law schools there is a good spread of study options from full-time, part-time, online, onsite, traditional programs based on LLB combinations as well as the new raft of graduate, entry-level programs in the JD series of options,” Mr Carter explained.
“Our law schools produce around 7,500 completers each year of whom 90 per cent will go on to the professional qualification via PLT courses such as those run by the college.
“Australian Graduate Career Council statistics still show law among the best employment options for university leavers, perhaps some way from the halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s (when we could expect more than 90 per cent of law graduates to be quickly in employment) but nonetheless still comparatively high against other disciplines and industries averaging around 85 per cent.”
Lawyers Weekly asked Mr Carter whether he believes Australian institutions are properly preparing law students for the new skills they need to land a job in today’s competitive market, particularly when it comes to technology capabilities.
“There can be little doubt that this question is now starting to emerge across student bodies, law schools and legal professions worldwide,” he said.
“The idea of NewLaw is attracting enormous interest. However, it may still be quite a bit too early to answer that question with any reliability. The profession itself is still feeling its way through the wave of changed client expectation which starting crashing on the professions shore at the time of the GFC.
“While some of the technology-driven changes to legal process are relatively straightforward to track and copy in firms of all sizes, the large underlying trends in redesign of legal services and AI-assisted legal reasoning are much harder to understand in terms of likely mid to long term impact on the way law is practised and there is not yet any settle way of thinking, it seems to the college, in any segment or jurisdiction.
“In these circumstances, it’s a bit tough to expect law schools to do better than the profession itself. We are passing through a phase of high experimentation. For law schools, law students and practitioners the challenge is to stay close to that, to be open-minded and adaptive and experimentally ready to try out new things.”
By way of example, Mr Carter pointed to two initiatives the College of Law has embarked on to help the next generation of legal practitioners develop the skills they need in today’s market.
“The College has a responsibility on behalf of the profession to be continuing informing itself about change in the dynamics of legal practice, particularly at a time when change seems so generational in character,” he said.
The first of the two initiatives is the College’s Centre for Legal Innovation.
“In recognition of the significant changes taking place in the legal industry, the college established the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) in 2016 to provide thought leadership and facilitate local, regional and global conversations, experience sharing and networks focussed finding practical solutions to the challenges facing the legal profession and professionals,” Mr Carter explained.
“CLI is fully funded by the COL and is evidence of COL’s ongoing commitment to and support of legal professionals and the longevity of the legal professions in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
“In May 2019, CLI will launch its Legalpreneurs Lab (LP Lab). This will create a collaborative learning community for those with an interest in reinventing, innovating and transforming legal practice. The LP Lab will be a place where ideas are born and practical solutions are found through ongoing multi-disciplinary experimentation, collaboration, knowledge and experience sharing. LP Lab membership will be open to anyone working in the legal industry or with legal professionals and with an interest in the reinvention, innovation and transformation of legal practice.”
The second initiative Mr Carter flagged was the College’s Master of Legal Business – an award program introduced in late 2018.
“With Dr George Beaton as chair of the program board, a series of subjects focused on legal business management has been developed covering areas such as innovation and entrepreneurship, technology, client relationship building, operational excellence amongst others,” Mr Carter explained.
“The program is unique as it is tailored to the needs of the legal services industry and draws on leaders in their fields as teaching fellows. Each subject is only six weeks long allowing for rapid application on the job. The courses combine mostly online, practical scenarios that are supported by a face-to-face workshop. Our teaching fellows are available throughout the course should the student have questions or need clarification.”