Fancy studying law in the heart of the Sydney CBD, in Australia’s most technologically advanced law school – with a required ATAR of just 85?
If so, the new Sydney City School of Law (‘SCSOL’) might be the place for you.
Due to open in March 2016, the innovative institute is Australia’s newest law program, but it does not fit the traditional mould of a law school. Run by private education group TOP Education Institute, it has been marketed as a tech-savvy school focused on a practical approach to legal training, and will seek to recruit graduates from western Sydney schools, who are ‘traditionally underrepresented in the legal profession.’
What Is It All About?
The Sydney City School of Law will be situated at the Sydney Technology Park near Central railway station.
According to SCSOL Dean Professor Eugene Clark, the school’s approach to legal education is:
‘driven by a passion and commitment to educate lawyers with a global outlook, commercial aptitude, a commitment to social justice and the highest professional ethical standards.’
The Dean says that unlike many universities, SCSOL will have smaller class sizes to ensure ‘individualised attention’, and will aim to teach practical skills to make graduates ‘market-ready.’
Do We Need More Law Schools?
While the school’s willingness to attract students from underrepresented constituents is certainly admirable, many have questioned the desirability of opening more law schools at a time when the legal services market is already under the pressure of an oversupply of new graduates.
The number of law graduates has doubled since 2001. As discussed in a previous blog, the past decade has seen a huge influx of law graduates, with 12,000 new lawyers entering a job market that employs just 60,000 people. And with 37 law schools across Australia and counting, this figure is only set to increase in the near future.
The Australian Law Students’ Association has expressed concerns about the limited job prospects for law graduates, citing statistics which show that 25% of law graduates fail to find a full time job within four months of graduating, up 3.5% from 2013. In addition to the rapid expansion of law schools and increased numbers of law graduates, the Association named several other reasons for low employment rates across the profession, including the ongoing impact of the GFC which saw graduate employment rates slump across the board.
The Association has also blamed substantial funding cuts to community legal centres and government agencies, which have quelled demand for new staff in many organisations.
A recent report prepared by the Law Society’s Working Group into the Future Prospects of Law Graduates examined the lack of employment opportunities, acknowledging that there is a perceived problem with graduate opportunities. It found that the relative ease with which law schools can be established, and the high fees they can charge, are factors that contribute to this perception.
The Report also identified the proliferation of the Juris Doctor degree as a reason behind the increase in law graduates, as well as the introduction of the Legal Studies course to the HSC curriculum, which has apparently popularised legal careers.
However, Report concedes that ‘the higher education model is outside the Law Society’s sphere of influence, as is market demand for graduate lawyers,’ and also cites the findings of the 2014 Review of the Demand Driven Funding System and the Productivity Commission’s reports, which found that ‘it would be counterproductive to suggest law schools limit the number of places in their courses.’ The
Report also highlighted the need for more data to be presented about the number of law graduates accredited by the LPAB and a tracking mechanism to match graduate numbers against employment.
So while current law students may be concerned by the thought of competing with more law graduates for future jobs, there is no indication that legal professional bodies will intervene to slow the expansion of law schools across the nation.