Bond University


The influence of legal education on the attitudes, values and career aspirations of law students is well-documented. Since lawyers are amongst the most powerful players in our society, it is incumbent upon legal academics to ensure that we are graduating students committed to using their degrees to enhance social justice and equality, and who are dedicated to upholding the rule of law. As Max Radin opined, ‘the lawyer’s task is ultimately concerned with justice and ... any legal teaching that ignores justice has missed most of its point’. Clearly, ‘[e]verything we do as law teachers suggests something about justice’. It is of concern, therefore, that accounts of legal education are increasingly reporting it to be adversarial, competitive, ‘mystified’, and seemingly objective and value-neutral. Commentators note that students are taught to view the law as ‘something separate and apart from the rest of the goings-on in society’. They are trained in the art of ‘studied detachment’, forced to ‘leave their sense of compassion at the door’ and have their ‘curiosity and genuine intellectual interest’ inhibited. They eventually emerge from this ‘intellectual myopia’ or ‘moral abyss’ with a ‘deadened’ sense of social consciousness, and in its place is one which is ‘properly professional’ and ‘largely apolitical’.Legal education, it is said, has become ‘universally the same shade of grey’. Empirical research supports these observations. Numerous studies have found that law students’ commitment to social justice principles and public interest practice diminishes over the course of their studies. This paper examines the possible causes of and solutions to this. It reports on the results of an empirical study undertaken at the University of Queensland, which investigated the extent to which law students demonstrated a commitment to social justice principles and public interest practice. It concludes that the discussion of socio-political issues and the development of ‘alternative’ legal skills is generally supported by law students, and makes some suggestions on how this might be achieved in legal education in practice.