THE UNIVERSITY of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has been conferring law degrees on graduates who haven’t completed a subject that has been compulsory for admission to legal practice in New South Wales since 2000.
Rhiannon Eagles, a UTS law graduate who recently completed a College of Law course, was shocked to find she was ineligible for admission into legal practice in November this year. Under the Legal Profession Admission Rules 2005, the UTS law degree is only recognised as an accredited law degree subject to completion within the degree program, or separately, of an ethics course.
“I turned up before the Admissions Board with my certificate of completion, transcripts, references, and they said I hadn’t done my ethics course. I said they must have been wrong, there must have been a mistake. I just couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Any student seeking to be admitted as a legal practitioner in NSW is required to have completed as part of their law degree a course in legal ethics, approved by the Legal Profession Admission Board (LPAB).
At UTS, the ethics subject Professional Conduct was only made compulsory for all law students on 1 December 2006, shortly after Lawyers Weekly began inquiring as to why UTS was the only law school in NSW and the ACT where the subject wasn’t a core subject.
Phillip Griffith, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning) at the UTS law faculty, said the decision to incorporate legal ethics into the core of the degree was made as part of a curriculum review.
“What did happen in the past is that some students didn’t choose this subject as an elective and went off to do PLT elsewhere and couldn’t get admitted,” Griffith said.
Previously, the subject was only compulsory for students undertaking the University’s own practical legal training program.
Eagles said the response she received from UTS was unsympathetic.
“All they said was, ‘Well, why didn’t you do PLT with UTS? Why did you choose to go to College?’ That’s all they wanted to know. But if you get a graduate job at a large law firm, most of them offer to put you through College of Law and you don’t have to pay for it, so that’s why people do it,” she said.
UTS previously offered the subject as an elective to all students, however, Eagles said at no stage throughout her degree was she made aware by the University that it was compulsory for admission. Nor does the College of Law check to see whether tertiary qualifications will meet the LPAB’s admission requirements.
Eagles will now have to do a bridging a course through the College of Law to be eligible for admission.
“I am really angry because now I have to pay $800 up front to do a bridging course. Plus it’s bad for my work’s budget because they were counting on me being admitted,” she said.
Griffith says affected law students should have been aware of the admission requirements. “There was plenty of warning to students. By the time folk are doing this, they have a pretty fair capacity to read regulations and rules and I think there is a good understanding of what the situation was,” Griffith said.
Joanna Townsend is another UTS law graduate who didn’t complete the ethics course because she didn’t know the subject was compulsory for admission. Townsend is currently working as a journalist but hasn’t ruled out practising law in the future.
“I did five years at university and was told I could do whatever four elective subjects I liked instead of PLT to get my law degree. I didn’t know this subject was compulsory for admission. No one told me this,” Townsend said.
The LPAB and the College of Law websites state that an ethics course is one of the requirements for admission, however, the 2006 UTS online law faculty handbooks do not.
Griffith says around 10 per cent of UTS law graduates don’t do PLT as part of their degree. That means 10 per cent of UTS law graduates between January 2000 and December 2006 may not have a law degree accredited by the LPAB.