Law school commits to bettering education for women, disadvantaged locals
A Sydney-based law school is committed to delivering a degree that caters to the “real diversity in legal education”, including promoting female seniority in the profession and making it cheaper for disadvantaged communities to secure a legal future.
The University of Notre Dame Australia has responded to the hike in university fees in 2021 by transitioning into a “Table A”
university, meaning that students can now access government grants and assistance. The funding changes will ensure aspiring solicitors will no longer be as financially disadvantaged when pursuing a law degree.
Dean at the School of Law, Professor Michael Quinlan, said the university hopes these soon-to-be lawyers can continue to achieve their full potential in their chosen careers, even if it means that they must now contend with a 28 per cent increase in costs.
“As the Australian law school standards recognised difference as an important element in law schools, a real commitment to diversity in legal education involves different approaches by different schools,” Professor Quinlan noted. “Notre Dame will continue to provide law students with real choice in the environment and context they choose.”
Barrister and law advisory board member Melissa Fisher agreed, adding that a change in fee approaches will ensure the school continues to attract more and more students. She said that regardless of the course, every time university fees are increased, “you are impacting kids that come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds”.
“This is just going to make it harder for the legal profession to be diverse and reflect in the community it serves because if you make law degrees in particular more expensive than other degrees, it becomes a real barrier to entry for people from the more diverse backgrounds. We take a leap backwards and the profession becomes representative of people from wealthy backgrounds,” Ms Fisher explained.
“That is not healthy for the profession or the community. We need to see people from all backgrounds come into the profession with their diverse cultural understandings or language skills; these are just two of the valuable qualities they can bring.”
Ms Fisher, who is now deputy chair of a NSW Bar Association’s diversity and inclusion committee, has also encouraged the university to address the under-representation of women in senior roles in the legal profession.
“It’s hard to be something you can’t see – and it’s hard to see female barristers in action because the profession in NSW is still working towards ensuring the equitable briefing of female barristers. The available data suggest there remains a strong preference for male barristers,” Ms Fisher said, referring to a recent report that found only 22 per cent of people at the bar were female.
Vice-president of the Notre Dame Student Law Society, Jasmine Robertson, added it was “inspiring to hear stories of women who have and continue to pave the way. These stories provide hope and evidence of possibility.”