'The Role of Practice in Legal Education: National Report for Australia' (Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 12/28) by James Douglas, Luke Nottage & M. Charles Tellier
highlights significant practice-oriented dimensions to legal education in Australia. Partly this arises because the traditional “gatekeeper” for entry into the legal profession has been the legal profession itself. Australian universities have played a growing gatekeeper role since the 1960s: basically, all lawyers must have completed an initial (LLB or JD) law degree. But the legal profession maintains significant control by requiring law degrees to include the “Priestley 11” compulsory courses.
Australia also has growing affinities with a model centred on a third possible gatekeeper: the market (for law graduates). The US epitomizes this model because basically anyone can pass even the hardest state bar examination – but if only after multiple attempts or with poor results, that person will not beable to compete in the market and get a good job as a lawyer (especially if also a graduate from a less well-regarded law school or with poor university grades). Australia is similar because the proliferation of law schools particularly since the late 1980s. Australia also shows some influence from a model centred on a fourth gatekeeper: the state. This arises because the government funds universities, especially through limited numbers of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) for many students undertaking LLB or JD degrees – whereby students pay lower fees to the law schools, and the government pays them a subsidy per student. Yet full fee paying students are growing, and the situation remains very different from countries like Germany or Japan, where the state sets a national legal examination.
Overall, the legacy of involvement from the legal profession and growing influence from market forces means that Australian law schools retain a strong emphasis on practice-oriented legal education. However, they are also increasingly integrated in wider academic communities, nationally and internationally, and the government also has interests in law students graduating with a broader perspective in order to pursue a growing range of careers. The net effect since the 1970s, as suggested in this paper, has been for law school education to more interdisciplinary and theoretical – although less so, for example, compared to the top U.S. law schools. Whether this balance is optimal or sustainable is difficult to assess, as this paper shows.