A History of Australian Legal Education, by David Barker

I was pleased to have attended the recent book launch of A History of Australian Legal Education written by my colleague Professor David Barker.

The book examines the history and development of legal education in Australia by tracing the establishment of university law schools and other forms of legal education in the States and Territories from the time of European settlement to the present day. While early Australian legal education was founded on the historic practices adopted in England and Wales, the circumstances of the Australian colonies, and then States, have led to legal education taking its own path.

Among the extensive detail of the book, some interesting facts about our legal education history are that:

  • to qualify as a barrister, back in 1848, a lawyer had to pass tests in Latin and Ancient Greek, and mathematics, as well as law;
  • the first three lawyers in NSW were former convicts; and
  • there were about 15 full-time legal academics in the late 1940s, compared with over 1,000 now;
  • teaching at one of the more socially progressive law schools [not mine] took place, on some sunny days, on the lawns outside the law school, “and even continuing in a nearby public house”.

The book considers the critical role played by legal education in shaping the culture of law and thus determining how well the legal system operates in practice. In addition, it examines a major challenge for legal educators, namely, the tension between ‘training’ and ‘educating’, which has given rise to a plethora of inquiries and reports in Australia and which has been the theme of the Academy of Law events this year.

Professor Barker in the end argues that legal education can satisfactorily meet the twin objectives of both training individuals as legal practitioners and providing them a liberal education that facilitates the acquisition of knowledge and transferable skills.

This book comes from Professor Barker’s doctoral thesis, his PhD in law being awarded by Macquarie University in 2016.

It is very readable, and although it may not reach the heights of David’s earlier best seller, Law made simple, now in its 8th edition in the UK, it will be read by the many lawyers who lived through the history it describes, and by many others interested in the development of legal education.


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