17 August 2016

Law Students

'Law Student Lifestyle Pressures' by Alex Steel and Anna Huggins in Rachael Field, James Duffy and Colin James (eds) Promoting Law Student and Lawyer Well-being in Australia and Beyond (Ashgate, 2016) comments
One significant factor influencing student wellbeing is the degree to which their studies are subject to external lifestyle pressures. These pressures are relieved or exacerbated by choices students make around their approaches to study, and the amount of time they devote to work and leisure. This Chapter considers results from a 2012 survey of law students at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney, Australia. Those results are compared to results from a similar US law student survey, and comparable data from the UK and Australia more broadly. In addition, the UNSW study compares key lifestyle choices of undergraduate (LLB) and graduate (JD) law students. The significance of the analysis in this Chapter for understanding law students’ wellbeing is that comparing American and Australian law students’ lifestyle patterns provides insights into contextual variation between both groups, which is important to bear in mind when comparing American and Australian research on law students’ wellbeing, and appreciating the limits of such comparisons. In particular, much of the wellbeing literature to date has focused on course-based stressors, but in light of recent research indicating that improvements in students’ course-based experiences may not have a direct effect on law students’ elevated levels of psychological distress, it is important to understand the broader life pressures and stressors that may be impacting law students’ wellbeing.
'How should academia, the practising profession and the courts assist each other in the education of Australian lawyers?' by Ailsa McKeon in (2016) 90 Australian Law Journal 355 identifies
four proposals for increased engagement between academia, the practising profession and the courts for the furtherance of Australian lawyers' education. These proposals are, in sum: increased involvement between professional regulation bodies and university students; greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills through taught law courses and pro bono activities; greater student engagement with the operation of courts and tribunals; and the training of solicitors from law firms by those within community legal centres in relation to their pro bono activities. The philosophical foundations of the law support such steps, which would be of direct advantage to students and broader benefit to the community.
 McKeon argues
Voluminous amounts of literature already exist around law school education. This is partly due to the fact that law schools have faced a number of challenges in recent decades, including the proliferation of their number, differing funding models, and the demands of a changing marketplace. There is less material on the continuing education of legal professionals, [1] despite the fact that all Australian practitioner regulation bodies require continuing professional development for practitioners' ongoing certification. [2] For their part, members of the judiciary receive the benefit of a number of institutions dedicated to the education and training of judges throughout their tenure. Domestically, these include the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration, the National Judicial College of Australia, and the Judicial Conference of Australia.
To the outsider, or even the law student, it is easy to perceive law school, the legal profession, and the courts as discrete units. However, these units are necessarily connected: for example, the practitioner regulation bodies and the courts control admission to the profession, partly on the basis of university qualifications. Yet on a daily basis, these linkages are largely invisible. In the author's view, this has played a role in the apparent transition of the practice of law from being a profession to a vocation.
This claim is not founded in elitism. Rather, it reflects the fact that the law is fundamental to a just and democratic society and that as such, a life in the law requires commitment to particular values. Testament to this is the fact that admission to the ranks of legal professionals as an officer of the court requires, first, that an applicant be of "good character"; and secondly, that the applicant give an oath or affirmation to the effect that she or he will "truly and honestly conduct [herself or himself], in the practice of a lawyer of this court, according to law to the best of [her or his] knowledge and ability". The particular ethics of law are also vital to its proper practice; jurisprudence too, connects law with philosophical notions of the "good life" and how this may be achieved in society. Returning to the central question, this article makes four recommendations – three focusing on law schools and the fourth on the legal profession – aimed at enhancing the education of Australian lawyers through increased emphasis on professional ethics and a holistic understanding of the law and legal process. The first recommendation is of increased involvement between professional regulation bodies and university students. The second is a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills, both by embedding these skills within taught law courses and through pro bono activities. The third encourages greater student engagement with the operation of courts and tribunals. The fourth, related to continuing legal education of legal practitioners, is the training of solicitors within law firms, in relation to their pro bono activities, by those within community legal centres. Each of these is addressed in turn.