Melbourne Law School's rich history is woven through Australian and international politics and constitutional reform from Federation to the present day.
- 1889 to 1930s
- After WWII
- 1999 onwards
Since 1857 MLS has educated prime ministers, governors-general, judges, lawyers and academics, and its alumni are found in varied occupations throughout Australia and the world.
Prominent alumni include Prime Ministers Alfred Deakin, Robert Menzies, Harold Holt and Julia Gillard, and Victorian Premier Rupert Hamer, as well as Governors-General Sir Ninian Stephen and Sir Zelman Cowen.
Four graduates have served as Chief Justices of Australia, including Sir Owen Dixon, regarded as Australia's greatest ever jurist and Sir Isaac Isaacs.
Underpinning and driving everything at Melbourne Law School is its enduring tradition and commitment to innovation.
In 1857 the University of Melbourne's founding Chancellor, Sir Redmond Barry, established Australia's first law course.
MLS combined scholarly teaching of the principles of law with preparation for legal practice and Victoria soon became one of the first places in the common law world where all lawyers had to do part of their training at university.
The Law School began in the University's main building, later known as the old quadrangle. In the early years of teaching law there were no designated lecture rooms for law students, and lectures were generally held in the Mathematical and Natural Sciences Lecture Rooms.
The degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) was offered from 1864, and from 1881 the University awarded the degree of Master of Laws (LLM) to honours graduates in law, after five years, without further study. From 1883 to 1895, the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) was a two-year graduate course, available only to students who had completed the Bachelor of Arts course.
In 1873, the growing Law School was re-organised, new staff were appointed and the Faculty of Law, the University's first, was created to oversee the Law School's academic activities. William Hearn, one of the University's foundation professors, became Dean of Law.
The Faculty's members were the full-time Dean, four part-time lecturers, and members of the University Council with legal qualifications.
This membership linked the Law School with the practising profession and the courts. Over the years non-teaching members of the Faculty have included chief justices, practising lawyers and prominent business figures. In 1884, to make it easier for the many law students who worked in the city and studied part-time, classes and lectures in several law subjects moved to the law courts in William Street (now the Supreme Court).
The school was a men-only domain until 1880, when women were allowed to study at the University. However, it was not until 1897 that the first woman enrolled.
Grata Flos Matilda Greig, who was born in 1880, became the first woman to graduate in law from the University of Melbourne. At a time when there were few women students, four of her sisters also studied at the University, two in medicine, one in science and one in law.
Flos Greig enrolled in arts and law in 1897, graduated in 1903, and was ranked second in the honours class list.
No woman had yet become a lawyer in Victoria, and it was unclear whether Greig could be admitted to practice. The first woman to graduate in law in Australia, Ada Evans, received her degree from the University of Sydney in 1902 but was not allowed to practice until 1918.
With the help of John Mackey (a member of parliament and one of Greig's lecturers), a statute–sometimes nicknamed the Flos Greig Enabling Act–was passed, making it clear that women could enter the profession.
In 1905 Ms Greig became the first woman to practise as a lawyer in Australia. She worked as a solicitor in Melbourne and Wangaratta, and travelled extensively in Asia.
In 1889, aged only 28, Cambridge-educated Edward Jenks became the second Dean of Law at the University.
Also a Professor of Law, Jenks was the first to occupy a Chair of Law at an Australian university.
Professor Jenks was succeeded in 1892 by William Harrison Moore, appointed Professor of Law at the University at the young age of 25, starting work there in 1893 and becoming the longest serving dean.
Professor Moore specialised in constitutional law, which was transformed by Australian federation in 1901. He was the author of one of the first and most authoritative books on Australian federal constitutional law, The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia, and his teaching influenced generations of law students, among them future Chief Justice Owen Dixon and future Prime Minister Robert Menzies.
Professor Moore became an adviser on constitutional issues to State and Federal governments, also to the Governor-General and the Victorian Governor.
Sir Kenneth Hamilton Bailey succeeded Professor Moore in 1928. He became the University's first Australian-born Dean of Law. As a Melbourne University student, Sir Kenneth was awarded the Rhodes scholarship for Victoria in 1919, and graduated in law and arts at Oxford University.
In 1924 he returned to the University, where he was lecturer in history and Vice-Master of Queen's College before becoming Professor of Jurisprudence and then Professor of Public Law. One of his former students and future Law School Dean Sir Zelman Cowen recalled "Bailey's courses were searching, stimulating and complex".
The end of World War II saw the start of significant funding from the Australian government, supplementing the Law School's income from fees, donations and the Victorian government.
Over the next three decades, federal funding transformed the financing of the Law School and the University.
Sir George Whitecross Paton was Dean during Sir Kenneth Bailey's absence overseas in 1937 before taking over from 1943 to 1951.
Sir George played a large part in resolving a long-running struggle between the University and the Law Institute of Victoria over the content of the law course.
In 1951, Sir George resigned as Dean to become the University's Vice-Chancellor. He presided over the University's rapid expansion in the 1950s, with the help of increasing funding from the Federal government.
It paved the way for former student and later Professor of Public Law at the University Zelman Cowen, to step into the role.
After World War II, Dean Cowen later recalled: "During the years of the '50s, the Melbourne Law School was expanding, we were developing new programs, and in a very real sense establishing new horizons for Australian law schools".
Dean Cowen used his contacts abroad to establish relationships with American law schools, fostering staff visits and postgraduate study for Melbourne graduates.
In 1961, rising enrolments forced the Law School (still the only avenue for entry to the legal profession in Victoria) to limit student numbers. In response, the Council of Legal Education opened an independent law school in 1962, and the Monash University Law School opened in 1964.
In 1986, the Asian Law Centre became the Law School's first research centre, headed by Professor Mal Smith, and developed into one of the largest teaching and research centres of its kind in the world.
By 1987, critical reviews of the Law School by the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission and the University led to internal renewal.
Amid rapid changes in the University and Australian higher education, staff election of the Dean ended, international students were invited to enrol, and a new graduate program attracted large numbers of students to masters and graduate diploma courses.
In 1999 Australia's first Juris Doctor (JD) program began at Melbourne Law School. It offered graduates from other disciplines a qualification recognised for admission to legal practice. The JD degree is now the primary law degree.
In 2002, staff and students of the Faculty of Law finally moved to the new, purpose-built premises in Pelham Street opposite University Square.
After the school moved to a full graduate entry requirement in 2008 the final LLB students graduated in 2012.
International partnerships now connect MLS to the leading law schools in the United Kingdom, Asia and North America and include flagship dual program degrees with Oxford University, Cambridge, New York University, University of British Columbia and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
JD students are able to apply to earn additional degrees from any of these premier law schools, earning unparalleled access to the international job market and experiencing the most sophisticated forms of legal work.
Students also have the opportunity to participate in the Center for Transnational Legal Studies (CTLS), which allows them to study in London and be taught by professors from around the world.
The CTLS addresses the need for law graduates to have experience in, and dealing with, legal problems that cross national boundaries, legal systems and cultures.
In 2006, an international review concluded: "No faculty of law in North America comes close to replicating the rich array of offerings, and the scope and diversity of teachers", as those of Melbourne Law School's graduate program. MLS is committed to creating and sustaining a culture of excellence, measured against the best law schools in the world.