The future of legal practice and legal education: Mediation

Our series of posts from Chapter 12 of Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field, Mediation in Australia (LexisNexis, 2018) is almost at an end. This is our penultimate post:

The institutionalisation of mediation (discussed in Chapter 8 of Mediation in Australia is so central to the future of legal practice that (as we argued at some length in our other work Australian Dispute Resolution: Law and Practice (LexisNexis, 2017)) ‘it should also be central to every law graduate’s experience of legal education’. The recent nod to this position is the inclusion of DR in the core compulsory subject ‘Civil Procedure’ in the Priestley 11 subjects (the core compulsory subjects required for eligibility for admission to legal practice in Australia). Some in the mediation community, including some of our most esteemed colleagues in the ADR Research Network, see this as a positive and sufficient development. We agree that it is a positive development. However, we respectfully consider the approach to be insufficient.

Gavel,Law theme, mallet of judge

In 2012 a national study by NADRAC found that only eight law schools at that time included in their curriculum a mandatory subject in which 50 per cent or more of the teaching focused on DR. The NADRAC Report made the point that ‘the amount of ADR teaching that currently occurs in the majority of Australian law schools is not sufficient in light of the increasing role that lawyers will play in advising clients about and assisting them in ADR processes’. At the time of writing, NADRAC’s successor — the Australian Dispute Resolution Advisory Council — is conducting a follow-up project led by Dr Kathy Douglas of RMIT. This new project will provide current, accurate and up-to-date nation-wide data about the presence of DR subjects in Australian law schools.Another chess board

In our view, until that data reflects that every law school graduate has experienced a dedicated DR subject in their degree (including content on mediation theory and practice), the current Australian legal education system will be failing to adequately prepare law students to enter legal practice with the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and ethical attributes to enable them to succeed and thrive within and outside the profession in the 21st century. As long as DR is taught to future lawyers predominantly through elective subjects, it will be only those law graduates who have the acumen to choose DR as an elective who graduate with foundational levels of DR competence. The legal academy must support the work-readiness and future employability of students through DR education, if the legal profession is to have the capacity to manage positively the diverse challenges it faces into the future.

We welcome your comments and responses to these thoughts.

Laurence Boulle and Rachael Field

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About Dr Rachael Field

Rachael is a Professor of Law in the Law Faculty of Bond University. Her key teaching and research interests are in legal education and dispute resolution. Rachael was awarded an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation in 2008 and was made an ALTC Teaching Fellow in 2010. In 2010 Rachael worked with Professors Sally Kift and Mark Israel on the development of the Threshold Learning Outcomes for Law. In 2013 Rachael and Prof Nick James published a first year law text entitled "The New Lawyer". Rachael has been a member of the First Year in Higher Education Conference organising committee since 2007 and now chairs that committee. She was awarded the 2013 Lexis Nexis Australasian Law Teachers’ Association Major Prize for Teaching Excellence and Innovation jointly with her colleague James Duffy. In 2014 Rachael was awarded an Office of Learning and Teaching national Teaching Excellence Award. Rachael has also been a member of the Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane Management Committee since 1994 and has been President of the Service since 2004. In 2010 Rachael, along with the Women's Legal Service Brisbane, was commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General to design a model of family dispute resolution for use in matters where there is a history of domestic violence. This model was implemented in 5 locations around Australia for 18 months and was evaluated by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In 2011 and 2012 Rachael was invited by the Australian Human Rights Commission to contribute to their International Program by presenting the model to bi-lateral workshops with the All China Women's Federation. Rachael completed her PhD through the Faculty of Law at the University of Sydney under the supervision of Professor Hilary Astor in 2011. Her thesis explored the notion of neutrality in mediation and offers an alternative paradigm based on professional mediator ethics. Rachael was named Queensland Women Lawyer of the Year for 2013. Research Interests • Dispute Resolution • Women and the Law • Restorative Justice • Family Law • Legal Education

4 thoughts on “The future of legal practice and legal education: Mediation

  1. Another excellent post. In light of the requirements of State and Territory Uniform Civil Proceedures legislation and, at Federal level the Civil Dispute Reaolution and Family Law Act obligations to engage with ADR (let alone the clear precedents established by authorities such as Hawkesbury Community radio & Bryant as to the cost penalties and consequences of non-compliance) it is difficult to understand why there would be reluctance to engage (as educators or practitioners) with ADR. Perhaps, as reflected in earlier posts, there is a lack of leadership from the Bench and more senior elements of the profession who’s understanding of ADR is imperfect and incomplete

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    • Thank you for this comment Judge. I agree we can step up leadership on all legal fronts – in practice, at the Bar, in legal education and from the Bench. Rachael

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  2. Terrific initiative and worth supporting. So vital that all upcoming lawyers complete a dedicated DR subject as part of their degree and are ready for the contexts of their practice.

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  3. Thank you Judge Harman, very cogent comments. Although I have a conflict in relation to the National Mediation Conference in Canberra next year I think it would be edifying for all elements of the legal community to swap ideas on your and Rachael’s ideas. DR has many applications, including in and around the courts.

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