Bond University

Article Title

A Brilliant Career: Life as a Law Teacher


[Exract] I had aspired to a career in teaching for a long time. But when I decided to go to law school instead of pursuing graduate studies in French language and literature, I thought I had finally decided against this career choice. I had chosen law because of its stability and reliability as a profession — and it would provide a certain level of income too! Like many other kids growing up I also had my standard court room heroes, but it was neither Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason nor EG Marshall’s Defender that really stirred my interest in the practice of law. Before entering law school I had worked as a clerk in a law office and had some idea about the more routine aspects of legal practice, especially as they relate to conveyancing and small scale collection litigation. This experience did not inspire me to enter a career in law either. I studied law in the end without much focus other than it might provide me with a stable, reliable and remunerative career. Teaching would provide the former two but not the latter. And besides, the idea of teaching law seemed far beyond my ken. To me, then, a choice to attend law school was a choice against teaching. It never once occurred to me I might teach law one day! Law school began a late transformation for me. It was a time of slow intellectual awakening when for the first time I faced, albeit obliquely then, the social and economic issues which I of course eventually found were always reflected in legal doctrine. But in fact, my legal education, while providing a pad to launch my interest in perplexing, subtle and challenging issues, laid a groundwork for me as a legal educator only through its mostly negative effects on me as an individual. I found the study of law alienating, competitive, lacking in direction, and peopled by teaching staff and students both fundamentally disinterested in the learning-teaching process and the substantial issues of moment which underlie most law study. My classmates were always more interested in jobs at the major law firms or their trading accounts with their brokers than in asking questions about law’s meaning or purposes. For a long time in law school I felt like a lost spelunchian trapped in a cave whose entrance had closed and whose exit was obscured by stalagmites and stalactites of indifference and coldness. No one seemed to care about learning, students or the values which were or might be reflected in law’. Regrettably, although there were many fine people with whom I studied law, the overall feeling I had about my legal education experience was that it was designed to distance me from reality, to separate intellect from emotion, to numb my sensitivity to the hurts and struggles of individuals, and to embolden me in the acceptance of the underlying but never spoken values embedded in the subjects of our daily study. The study of law was made up mostly of empty pursuit of rules characterised by order, clarity, continuity but not by worth, utility or aspiration. My first year of law study was met by modest academic success in face of minimal understanding but significant ability to regurgitate data. Second year simply frightened me by its torrential onslaughts of reading. There were seven final examinations at the end of second year, and two others midway through. In third year, I suddenly learned that what I was expected to know was neither complex nor subtle — learning law at my law school was easy, I just was not supposed to know that. I relaxed for the first time since registration and started to see some fascinating political, social, economic and philosophical issues. And while I could see many roles a teacher might play, the connection between myself and a career in law teaching had not been made by the time of my graduation. I was mostly concerned with graduating, trying out legal practice and leaving the dispassionate world of law study well behind me.