A law degree not just for lawyers

A Melbourne Law Masters degree is not just for lawyers as the Grattan Institute's Danielle Wood proved upon completion of her Master of Competition and Consumer Law recently.

The economist, a former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission employee, undertook the degree to complement her work in public policy.

Despite not having a legal background, Danielle's inclusion in the competition and consumer law program is not unusual, and highlights its interdisciplinary nature; its teachers and students hail from economic and legal backgrounds, and its content is constantly being expanded to help cater for a wide spectrum of student interests and needs.

Danielle believed her masters would allow her to view her work from both sides of the coin.

"I started when I was a consultant in competition law in the private sector," she said.

"My clients were all lawyers, and it just felt to me I only had half the picture in the competition law space; it is really where law and economics come together and I knew the economics side quite well and just thought it'd be good to have a handle on the legal side of it too."

Although having graduated without plans to practise as a lawyer, Danielle is appreciative of the legal knowledge she has gained from undertaking the degree.

She said she had got more out of it than her Master of Economics, and that it had given her a "different way of thinking".

"You get a lot out of it in terms of knowledge and way of thinking through coursework and calibre of lectures. Another huge advantage is the fact you are in the classroom with a small group of your peers so you're meeting people from law firms or other government agencies that are working in the same field as you," she said.

"It has rounded out my skill set, and allows me to speak to both groups; (competition law) is lawyers and economists coming together and if you can speak both languages that is a really big advantage."

"Having that specialist knowledge also puts me in a better position to contribute to public debate in that area of the law."

Professor Caron Beaton-Wells, Associate Dean of the Melbourne Law Masters and Director of the Competition and Consumer Law specialty, believes the trend in non-lawyers undertaking the program is acknowledgement of its use and versatility in a number of career paths.

"We have students coming from a variety of industries and professions utilising it to broaden their legal knowledge, which can assist in understanding different elements within their roles," she said.

"This is happening across specialties – not only in competition law but in construction law, international law and health and medical law, too."

"The benefits of having this knowledge cannot be underestimated, and with content that is regularly refreshed to ensure we remain at the cutting edge of legal development, there is always opportunity."

Danielle has no immediate plans to leave the Grattan Institute, where she has been employed for more than six months, but does know where her interest lies.

"I want to stay in the public policy space. Competition law is beneficial no matter where you go; it is so ubiquitous and it regulates all entities in the economy so it is always going to be relevant," she said.

The Melbourne Law School offers the only specialist masters qualification in competition and consumer law currently available in the Asia-Pacific region.

For more information, visit the website.

By Andy Walsh