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Brown, Helen --- "Opinion" [2000] AltLawJl 101; (2000) 25(6) Alternative Law Journal 264

Legal education in the 21st century

What knowledge, skills and values should a law school seek to impart to its future lawyers? What is the role of .the discipline of legal studies in the education and training of lawyers? Ever since the training of lawyers moved from an apprenticeship system to tertiary institutions, these questions have never produced a unanimous response. This issue examines some current themes and controversies in legal education, without posing a unanimous view as to what legal education should aspire to be. Despite a variety of views from our contributors, some common themes occur. They value the teaching of critical evaluative skills, a questioning of legal positivism and use of law as a transformative political tool. There is a yearning amongst the contributors to teach law in a way that is broader than the traditional 'black-letter' approach. Yet, judging by the tone of some of the articles, all is not well in the legal academy. Clearly, some law scholars see a crying need for a movement away from the market dominated, 'bottom-line' culture that has recently taken hold in Australian universities.

Sandra Berns looks at some of the challenges facing law schools that seek to teach a critical perspective while imparting relevant skills and legal ethics throughout the core curriculum. She examines the challenges posed by the advent of computer technologies. The personal computer on the desk of every university teacher and some law students can be a mixed blessing. It has resulted in a vast increase in administrative duties assigned to the academic, coinciding with the contraction in numbers of support staff available to assist in administrative and secretarial tasks. The advent of the Internet has raised the stakes for students who may be tempted to plagiarise, while simultaneously making detection nigh on impossible for even the most vigilant scholar. Computers may also exacerbate inequality of access for law students from disadvantaged backgrounds, with some students being totally reliant on university-funded computer facilities while others enjoy unlimited access through home computers with on-line facilities. Berns remains committed to educating future lawyers to challenge, rather than sustain, the status quo in legal and political institutions, despite the growth in corporatist managerial policy and the diminution of government funding.

Margaret Thornton examines the impact of a market-driven philosophy on the academy. The language of the market has infiltrated the management culture of universities in the new millennium, creating a new managerial elite concerned more with the commodification of education for paying 'customers' than the pursuit of excellence in critical scholarship. The new corporatist managerialism permeating today's universities is perhaps irrevocably changing the face of legal education. Business, commercial and property-based subjects are promoted at the expense of critical, contextual subjects focusing on individual rights and law's effect on ordinary people, as opposed to corporate entities. In adopting this broad-brush managerialist style, we risk creating a shallow conformity across law schools where le­ gal education is commodified and standardised at the cost of independent intellectual inquiry and the pursuit of excellence in critical teaching and research.

Adrian Howe provides a witty invective against the dumbing down of the law curriculum at the expense of socio-legal research and teaching. She traces the dismantling of a distinctive, world-renowned socio-legal tradition at a 'yellow-brick' university and its replacement with a bland, doctrinal uncritical approach to the teaching of law. She mourns the excising of critical scholarship from the law curriculum and the promotion of an unreflexive doctrinalist approach which fails to problematise the unequal distribution of power in our legal and social institutions.

In my article, I critique the ethos of competition and aggressive individualism that permeates mainstream legal edu­ cation. I propose some alternative methods of student selection, teaching and assessment in the hope of fostering a different ethos of collaboration and co-operative learning. I seek to minimise the hierarchy and competition, currently en­ demic in law teaching, with a view to producing lawyers who will work to dismantle rather than sustain global capitalism.

The controversy of global capitalism is also addressed by Mary Heath who takes a magnifying glass to the media coverage of the S1l demonstration in Melbourne on 11 September 2000. While members of the World Trade Organisation met inside, thousands of protesters assembled in the freezing rain outside the Melbourne casino. Returning from the demonstration on the morning of 11 September, I wrote an elated message to a feminist email list about the carnival atmosphere of the demonstration, and the dynamic creativity of many of the performers, dancers, musicians, acrobats, jugglers and assorted odd-bods. There were hippies next to grannies, BLF windcheaters alongside RM Williams trenchcoats, thespians walking with mainstream office workers. The sheer diversity of the protesters was exhilarating. Imagine my surprise when I read and saw the media coverage, which was universally damning of the protesters. We were 'unruly fascists', a violent mob intent on injuring and harassing the police and conference attendees. Heath critically appraises the tremendous dissonance between the experience of the protesters and the alarming way we were vilified in the media.

Andrea Rhodes-Little brings a thoughtful and provocative approach to the moral and ethical responsibilities of the law teacher. She seeks to contest what constitutes legitimate knowledge in a university context, asking, can we unwittingly do great harm to our students in seeking to impart a quest for learning. She seeks to expose the multiple sites of representation in the construction of knowledge and the complex power relations that underpin these representations and knowledges. lt is no longer possible for the conservative law teacher to feign ignorance about the impact of the 'knowledges' they seek to impart.

The Alternative Law Journal is no stranger to debate about the modes and means of educating our future lawyers. It is hoped that this issue promotes and enhances the ongoing discussion about appropriate future directions for Australian law schools.

Helen Brown

Helen Brown teaches in the School of Law & Legal Studies, La Trobe University.

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