On 16 July 2015, at the Australian Law Teachers Association (ALTA) Conference hosted by Latrobe University in Melbourne, the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG addressed the question, “What law schools might do to help meet unmet legal needs”?
The ALTA conference theme this year was Legal Education and Access to Justice, and Michael Kirby tackled the question by suggesting Ten Commandments for law schools (paraphrased as follows):
- Pay attention to who we induct into law school – aim for more diversity and favour students from marginalized communities and those that can’t afford to go to University.
- Pay attention to the vulnerable students in the care of law schools – recognise the pressure on students and have policies/action that aim to prevent suicides.
- Give credit to students engaging with civil society – with the aim that all students do this during their degree
- Teach poverty law subjects – e.g. social security law, employment, tenancy, credit and debt.
- Recognise the importance of enhancing technologies – online degrees, webinars etc.
- Teach the importance of costs, security of costs orders and the role of amicus curiae – to promote public interest litigation.
- Support public legal aid and pro bono legal service providers
- More mooting – but more in the areas of disadvantaged individuals v. the State rather than complex commercial matters, e.g. avoid endless mooting on trusts matters.
- Law schools should secure links with Community Legal Centres and ‘miscarriage of justice’ clinics
- Study the aspects of the inquisitorial system – to encourage questioning by students
These Commandments provide a framework for interaction between law schools and the legal assistance sector; recognise the importance of law schools engaging with civil society, and the recognition of law students undertaking community service as part of their education.
The Centre’s Director, John Corker, was one of three people invited to respond to his address.
He suggested two other issues that could be incorporated into the Ten Commandments (but as Michael Kirby said, “very good points but you can’t have more than ten commandments”). The first was the need for a regular discussion amongst law students about what is meant by “justice”. He gave the example of the Brennan Justice and Leadership program at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Law School in Sydney (the Brennan program) which has sessions right throughout the degree course where students reflect and discuss “justice” in the context of their experiences of community service activities.
The second was a suggested expansion of Commandment 3 and a call for ALTA or the Council of Australian Law Deans to have a formal written policy supporting law schools to develop law student pro bono programs. He noted that only a few law schools have been successful in this endeavour despite promotion and support for the idea over a number of years. He suggested other law schools should follow the lead of the University of Queensland with its UQ Pro Bono Centre, and the Brennan program at UTS, both which have successful student pro bono programs and provide tangible support for them.
The Centre endorses these principles and suggests that if adopted by law schools they would go a long way towards developing a greater sense of social justice and a pro bono ethos in the lawyers of the future.