The law in a time of change

By Andy Walsh

The value of having Professor Richard Garnett at Melbourne Law School is not lost on his students or colleagues.

Despite a hectic schedule dividing his time between his role as Associate Dean of Engagement, consulting to Herbert Smith Freehills, and working abroad on behalf of the Australian Government, he still makes himself readily available for those here needing to tap into the vast resource that he is.

Students have been turning to him for advice for more than a decade.

I sort of offer an informal careers service to all the students I teach. I just say to them to come and talk to me, and I've done that for years because I see it as part of the job

Professor Garnett says it is important for students to remain versatile to enhance their career options post-graduation, and suggested current students consider focusing on international disputes and arbitration to fill a knowledge gap.

"The area I'm in has expanded dramatically in the past 20 years," he says.

"The truth is, for many students who are looking for possible career options, this is going to be a growth area."

But Professor Garnett maintains that growth areas in law are cyclical.

When choosing a career path, however, Professor Garnett said it was important students carved out a niche for themselves.

"You need to in this world. [Law firms] like people with a clear sense of what they want to do," he says.

"The fact is, the world is becoming a specialised place and the need and the value attached to specialist skills is becoming important, and that's true everywhere and it's certainly true of the law."

Professor Garnett uses the example of a former student bypassing the law firms and going straight into an accounting firm as a taxation lawyer.

He says the student's novel approach to an interview, stating clearly from the outset his desire to work in taxation law, set him apart from other candidates.

"You need to package yourself," he says.

If you've got a particular interest and you want to work in a particular area and you've done your research, I think that's going to be really valuable. Having the right strategy is the name of the game.

However, the Harvard graduate does recognise the pressures in the industry in which he has made his name, with young lawyers often having to bear heavy workloads.

He says such conditions can give greater appeal to becoming in-house counsel rather than staying in a large commercial firm.

The project involves 77 states and the European Union.

Professor Garnett says The Hague's intention is to set up a parallel structure for arbitration in the litigation space.

The view in The Hague is we need a parallel structure for litigation to recognise that a lot people get stuck in awful messes where they end up in a foreign court but then there's the issue of will courts in other countries recognise that decision and respect that decision,

"Clients are becoming more demanding and cost- sensitive," he says.

Professor Garnett's expertise in private international law, international litigation and international arbitration has recently taken him to the Netherlands on behalf of the Australian Government as part of a project undertaken by The Hague Conference.

As part of his duties he will assist in negotiating a multilateral convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments at The Hague Conference on private international law.

"It's clearly needed, it's clearly very valuable, and the fact that there are more and more of these disputes means that the need for something like this becomes greater and greater."With the demand for his presence evident, it is good news for MLS that he is a part of the law school community.

Banner image: Richard Garnett
Photographer: Jorge de Araujo

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 13, June 2015.