Written by Professor Nick James, Executive Dean, Faculty of Law
In my role as the Dean of a leading law school, I am often asked by prospective university students whether I think it is a good idea to enrol in a law degree. Of course, my answer is always yes, but not simply because it is my job to encourage people to study law. I genuinely believe that the law is and will remain a study pathway and a career choice that is rewarding, engaging, impactful and important, and I am certainly not alone in holding that view.
Older students thinking about enrolling in a postgraduate law degree are often particularly concerned to be assured that they are making the right decision. In this short article I will present five reasons why I think getting a Juris Doctor is (still) a good idea.
1. Enhanced employability
Many postgraduate students choose to enrol in the Juris Doctor because they want to ‘switch careers’ and become a legal practitioner. A career as a lawyer is certainly a rewarding one, for many reasons. In recent years there have been many claims in the media regarding the alleged oversupply of law graduates in this country. The better view, however, seems to be that these claims are exaggerated. This information sheet published in 2018 by the Council of Australian Law Deans clarifies the situation. In short:
- Claims that there are up to 15,000 law graduates each year are untrue: the actual number is about half of that figure.
- The proportion of law graduates in employment within 4 months of graduation is well above the national average.
- In terms of earning capacity, law remains one of the most lucrative qualifications.
The fact is that there are innumerable employment opportunities for hard working law graduates, and even for those who choose not to follow the traditional legal career pathway, holding a law degree is evidence of a deep understanding of our legal system, exceptional communication and problem solving skills, extraordinary resilience and a strong work ethic – all characteristics highly valued by any employer.
2. Improving access to justice
Our legal system is far from perfect. In Australia we are fortunate to live in a community governed by the rule of law, and our system of legal rules is broadly aligned with our community’s moral and ethical values and generally enhances the achievement of justice … but there are many legal rules, decisions and processes that lead to unjust and unfair outcomes. We as a community need law graduates committed to reforming our legal system to make it fair for everyone. In particular, we need more law graduates able to serve the many members of our community who are not able to readily access legal assistance: the impoverished, the disadvantaged, the remote, and the marginalised.
3. Technology enhanced legal services
Like many professions and industries, the legal services sector is being disrupted by the emergence of exciting new technologies. Big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and even social media platforms are making it possible for legal services to be more accurate and more thorough, and to be delivered more quickly, more cheaply and to a wider range of clients. Every day there are new opportunities for digitally literate law graduates to develop innovative technology-based solutions to legal problems and find new ways to serve their clients and the wider community. Will these technologies eventually make human lawyers redundant? Unlikely: the complex problems solved by lawyers cannot be solved by AIs, and most people would still prefer to consult a human lawyer rather than an app when faced with a serious legal challenge.
4. Rebuilding the economy
We are presently in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, but eventually it will pass and our minds will turn to rebuilding our damaged economy. We will need legal professionals who will collaborate with and serve as facilitators and advisers to the entrepreneurs and enterprises that will power our economic recovery. We will need business and community leaders who are hardworking, intelligent, ethical and capable of critical and creative thinking. We will need a new generation of law graduates. After all, there is a reason why so many of the great influencers, political leaders and social reformists of the past few decades went to law school.
5. Human rights and COVID
The consequences of the current crisis go much further than economic damage. Many of the measures implemented by our Federal and State governments, while intended to ensure our physical wellbeing and safety, have infringed our individual rights and freedoms. Addressing the legal implications of these infringements and taking steps to ensure that, during and post-COVID, our individual rights and freedoms are appropriately protected will not be easy. We will need courageous and well-educated lawyers committed to ensuring our governments recognise and respect our individual human rights and freedoms.
If you are intelligent, articulate, hardworking, and passionate about creating a better world for others, then making the decision to become one of tomorrow’s global legal professionals is more than a good idea: we need you.