Proposed changes to the standards for Bachelor of Laws and Juris Doctor qualifications could have a negative impact on the long-term quality of legal education in Australia.
The Australian Law Students' Association (ALSA) has voiced its concern regarding the standards recommended for the LLB and JD qualifications under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF).
With the proposed changes due for approval by the Ministerial Council for Tertiary Education and Employment in March, ALSA is demanding urgent reconsideration of the requirements for the award of Bachelors (Honours) and the classification of the JD as a masters program.
According to ALSA, the proposed requirement regarding the award of Bachelors (Hons) overlooks serious matters of equity and ignores the vocational focus of a law degree.
Under the AQF recommendation, to be eligible for an Honours award a student must undertake an additional year-long program within or following a Bachelors degree.
"It is unnecessary to add a year-long program to the LLB ... The LLB does not encompass different academic disciplines, unlike other more generalist degrees. It is a highly vocational degree," said ALSA vice-president (education), Melissa Coade.
In consideration of the student equity implications, ALSA said: "Given the existing length, cost and intensiveness of the LLB program, it remains appropriate to use academic distinction with the Bachelors program as at least partial qualification for the grant of an Honours degree."
ALSA has asked that the status quo should be preserved so the LLB (Hons) continues to be awarded in cases of academic excellence or from a shorter research undertaking as part of the final year of the LLB program.
Classifying the JD as a masters program could potentially see the undergraduate LLB depreciate, according to ALSA. Given the common subjects to both the LLB and JD, ALSA claims the JD as a whole cannot comfortably satisfy the requirements of the proposed Masters qualification.
"The distinction between the two programs must be made clearly and in a manner that allows both qualifications to retain a unique value," ALSA said, noting the significant overlap in course content as a major problem.
ALSA has called for the Ministerial Council to review the classification of the JD as a Masters program.