By Samantha Allemann
A decade ago, MLS embarked on an educational transformation, becoming Australia’s first all-graduate law school and introducing the Melbourne Juris Doctor. Since then, over 1500 students have graduated with this degree and gone on to a diverse range of careers. MLS News caught up with some of our alumni from the very first JD cohort.
In 2008, Melbourne Law School made history in Australian higher education, becoming the first law school to stop offering an undergraduate law degree, the LLB. As part of the University of Melbourne’s new curriculum, dubbed the Melbourne Model, MLS became a fully graduate law school, bringing it in line with leading international universities.
While MLS had previously offered a JD program alongside its LLB course, the new ‘Melbourne JD’ introduced in 2008 was different in both its design and curriculum. Professor Cheryl Saunders was the Associate Dean (JD) when the first cohort of Melbourne JD students commenced.
“Being a part of the first cohort taking a new degree gives you a sense of adventure and history, so that made that first year quite exciting,” she says.
It wasn’t without its challenges though. Developing a new law curriculum to meet the needs and capabilities of graduate students and to take advantage of the opportunities that graduate law offered was key to the success of the program.
“We therefore redesigned and restructured the curriculum, drawing on relevant insights from the LLB, while also ensuring the new curriculum complied with the requirements prescribed by the legal profession,” Professor Saunders says.
The move to a graduate program also enabled MLS to develop a substantially more integrated approach to the teaching of law, as all students had a common timetable. The Law School also committed to keeping lectures small, so that classes could be more interactive and students encouraged to be engaged in their learning.
Since Melbourne took the lead, other Australian law schools have introduced JD programs and the University of Western Australia has also become a fully graduate law school.
Professor Saunders says a graduate law degree of the kind developed at MLS offers multiple advantages.
“Firstly, it’s much more likely that the students we take into the degree really want to do law,” she says.
It makes a big difference to have a group of students who have had some experience of tertiary education, have done well, have taken a considered decision to do law and gone to the bother of applying for it.
Brooke Coghlan (BA 2007, JD 2011), who was a student in the 2008 intake, agrees.
“I don’t think I would have had the same maturity and focus required to do well in my law degree if I had commenced straight from high school,” she says.
“I was lucky to be able to do a clerkship in my first year of the JD, which solidified my feeling that I wanted to join a commercial law firm to experience different practice areas and receive great training.
“It was definitely because of this experience that I became a commercial M&A lawyer.”
Coghlan, who has worked in investment banking, private equity and as a political adviser, is now a Senior Associate in Corporate Transactions at Ashurst.
“I believe the experiences I’ve had in other industries have made me a better lawyer and adviser,” she says.
Coghlan helped advise Woolworths SA on its $2.2 billion acquisition of David Jones and was also involved in advising the Victorian Government on the $2.1 billion divestment of its shares in Snowy Hydro Limited to the Federal Government.
While Coghlan commenced the JD program straight after finishing her undergraduate arts degree, many other students come to the course after working or travelling.
Such was the experience of Elliot Luke (JD 2011), who was also part of the 2008 intake.
For Luke, the impetus to study the JD came after working in the human rights and international development sectors in Australia and Latin America.
“I realised I needed a professional qualification to make a greater impact in that field,” he says.
Luke, who graduated at the start of 2011, soon realised qualifying to practise as a lawyer was important to him and he was offered a job at commercial law firm Allens.
later returned to MLS as a Research Fellow for Professor John Tobin where he contributed to a forthcoming book on the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Further legal study at Cambridge University led Luke back into legal practice and he now works for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Washington DC.
“Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has a Latin American investment arbitration practice group and that was an area of interest for me as it’s all about the interface between public policy and commercial considerations,” he says.
“Because I’d already worked in Latin America, I spoke fluent Spanish, Portuguese and a bit of French.
“Freshfields set me up with an interview and, to cut a long story short, I joined the Washington office as an Associate in July 2016.”
It wasn’t his first international posting after graduating from the JD; Luke also worked for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris and in the commercial litigation practice group of Herbert Smith Freehills in London.
Charlotte Frew (BA(Hons) 2007, JD 2010), another member of the 2008 cohort, is Assistant Director of the Mental Health Branch of the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.
“At the time that I applied for the JD, I was working for the Department of Premier and Cabinet as a policy adviser,” she says.
It was working within the Victorian Public Service that really made me aware of how limited my knowledge was of the legal framework within which government decision-making occurs.
Frew remembers the excitement of meeting her classmates, as well as finding inspiration from her teachers.
“I had the huge privilege of being taught by Ian Malkin, who reinforced my belief in the possibilities of law as a tool for social justice, and really made me feel like I had done the right thing by quitting my job and signing up to a punishing degree.”
Since graduating from the JD, Frew has had a diverse career, which has included working in the County Court, as a lawyer for Victoria Legal Aid and across a range of roles in the Victorian Public Service.
“I knew before I started that I wanted to focus on law that was people-focused,” she says.
Being able to assist people appearing at the Mental Health Tribunal with their submissions has been a career highlight for Frew.
“I always liked to think that it supported recovery and the quality of care they received,” she says.
Reflecting on his JD experience, Luke hasn’t forgotten how much work went into the qualification.
“Particularly around exam time, people would be in the library until 11pm and we’d have study sessions that went late into the night,” he says.
“On the one hand it was hard work, but on the other hand that was where some of the closest friendships were formed, and they continue to this day.”
Melbourne Law School has a Recent Graduate Committee, made up of alumni volunteers, which provides advice on an engagement program for recent graduates of the Law School (0 – 10 years out). For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Banner image: The 2018 Melbourne JD cohort commencing their studies, 10 years after MLS launched the program. Credit: Paul Pasztaleniec
This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 19, May 2018