Educating Commercial Lawyers

Melbourne Law School is looking at the way it teaches legal subjects to better prepare students for different kinds of legal practice.

Law schools have traditionally taught legal subjects separately, but in legal practice lawyers are often presented with problems that cross different areas of the law. Feedback from the profession suggests that many graduates are unprepared for this reality of practice.

Professor Carolyn Evans, Dean of Melbourne Law School, says the school is now developing a more integrated approach to teaching legal subjects, with the aim of making students more aware of the way different areas of the law interrelate."We want our graduates to be equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to work in the real world, where clients can come through the door with problems that are a mixture of different areas."

"The Law School has been working closely with the profession to identify innovative ways of narrowing the gap between law school and law practice."

This month Melbourne Law  School will launch a new program in transactional law that takes a different approach to teaching the lawyers of the future. Senior Lecturer Andrew Godwin, chief architect of the new program, believes there are ways the Law School can better equip graduates who go on to commercial practice.

"We've been very effective in teaching students to think like a barrister or an appellate court judge – to write opinions and apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts. Our new program will focus on teaching students how to think like  commercial  lawyers."

The Transactional Law Program will help students understand how legal principles and concepts are relevant in a transactional context. It will look across subjects, both electives and the compulsory "Priestly 11", to help students see how different areas of the law feed into transactions.

"The new program gives us a platform on which we can strengthen the transactional focus of subjects and engage in further curriculum integration, including cross teaching, common materials and assessment," says Mr Godwin.

The centerpiece of the program is a website that gives students access to resources to build theirunderstanding of transactional law and the role of transactional lawyers. A subject map will identify subjects that are relevant to transactional law.

One of the new subjects captured by the program is Deals, which brings the law to life by focusing on a business acquisition and looking at how many different areas of the law are relevant to that transaction.

For students interested in commercial practice, the new program will be an important toolin understanding what transactional lawyers do and how they work with clients to identify and manage risks. It also explains the theory behind the range of advisory, drafting and negotiation skills required of a transactional lawyer.

"With better insights into commercial practice, students can make informed decisions about whether they want to pursue commercial law," says Mr Godwin.

In designing the program, the Law School has sought the view of law firms, including Baker & McKenzie, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Mallesons Stephen Jaques and Allens Arthur Robinson.

Mini vandePol, partner in Baker McKenzie's Melbourne office, says the initiative will help reduce the learning curve for recent graduates.

"Law graduates are hungry for real life experience and often this opportunity is not available to them until they find themselves in the middle of a transaction or litigation in a commercial firm environment. However, at that time there is often a combination of pressures, including fee sensitivity and time restraints, which may restrict the ability of firms to provide an optimum learning forum," says Ms vandePol.

"Baker & McKenzie are very pleased to assist Melbourne Law School in its innovative transactional law program which we think will provide an invaluable "bridge" between the theory of law and the reality of practice."

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 6, October 2011.