Post-Budget student loan crisis? New data on the US Experience

In this post I make no comment on the positives or negatives of the proposed Australian budget on higher education.  Suffice to say, it will have a significant impact (for non-Australians see here for the Australian government’s description, though see here for a story from the Guardian on the impact of the Budget).

Rather, this post simply alerts readers to a new study from the Brookings Institution in the US that focuses on the US student loan crisis, providing some data and analysis that may be helpful.

The report is relevant for there will be a lot of discussion about student debt if the proposed budget goes into effect (as seems likely).   Inevitably eyes will turn to the US and some will specifically point to its putative student loan crisis as a warning.  But, this new report from the Brookings Institution, a reliable and largely centrist think tank, makes for thoughtful reading.  

Despite acknowledging that “[c]ollege tuition and student debt levels have been increasing at a fast pace for at least two decades” and that there are now “serious questions about whether the market for student debt is headed for a crisis, with many borrowers unable to repay their loans and taxpayers being forced to foot the bill”  the Report’s analysis of the data actually concludes that “typical borrowers are no worse off now than they were a generation ago, and also suggest that the borrowers struggling with high debt loads frequently featured in media coverage may not be part of a new or growing phenomenon.”  The full report can be found here.

Colin Picker

Productivity Commission investigation into legal education and the legal profession

The Australian Productivity Commission is currently undertaking an investigation in Access to Justice arrangements in Australia.  As with many of these investigations, it is only when the interim report is released that the focus or scope becomes clear.

The draft report contained the following draft recommendation:

Draft Recommendation 7.1

The Commonwealth Government, in consultation with state and territory governments, jurisdictional legal authorities, universities and the profession, should conduct a holistic review of the current status of the three stages of legal education (university, practical legal training and obtaining a practising certificate). The review should consider:

  • the appropriate role of, and overall balance between, each of the three stages of legal education and training
  • the ongoing need for the ‘Priestley 11’ core subjects in law degrees
  • the best way to incorporate the full range of legal dispute resolution options, including non‑adversarial and non‑court (such as tribunal) options, and the ability to match the most appropriate resolution option to the dispute type and characteristics, into one (or more) of the stages of legal education
  • the relative merits of increased clinical legal education at the university or practical training stages of education
  • the nature of tasks that could appropriately be conducted by individuals who have been admitted to practise but do not hold practising certificates.

Unsurprising this recommendation has generated an number of responses, including ones from:

I’m particularly proud of the last one – a 26 page submission by our student law society (the only student input into the process).

Alex Steel

(PS the UNSW Law School submission also attaches the ‘as yet not publicly launched’ curriculum review report)

Introducing Behavioural Legal Ethics

Justine Rogers

Search the TV channels most nights, and you’re likely to come across the lawyer with “moral pluck”. You know, the witty and resourceful lawyer who has become, according to William H. Simon, the most depicted lawyer of popular culture. You’ll know him (and it’s almost always a ‘him’); the one who’s willing to commit moral transgressions to support an informal, sympathetic set of values. A local example is Cleaver Greene, the brilliant but slightly sketchy Sydney barrister in the series, Rake.

But it’s not just writers who are interested in lawyers’ ethics, legal scholars have long tried to understand their nature and effects. And now there’s a new approach that examines it from the perspective of psychology. It’s called Behavioural Legal Ethics.

Don’t let the psychology connection put you off. Rather than the waving about the diagnostic model like a judgmental teacher’s pointer, the starting position of Behavioural Ethics is that most people who do bad are not inherently bad. Research from this field has shown that these are simply normal people responding to environmental pressures, using typical modes of human thinking. In this way, for our purposes, rather than: Why are lawyers bad? Or, Which kinds of lawyers are bad? The question becomes: How can good lawyers do bad things?

Two examples of typical human thinking that can influence ethics are our obedience bias and our over-confidence in our own ethicality. In law, the role morality and partisan bias that characterises the ‘zealous advocate’ relies on and demands additional cognitive framing and filtering. Driven by our need for a stable identity, these patterns of thought serve our particular social and professional situations, including, for lawyers, the legal institutions in which they work. These processes can result in ethical lapses or blindspots or even the circumvention of ethics altogether. Through this approach, ethics and the thinking that it involves becomes something very social and very human.

This past semester, I have incorporated this new legal scholarship in our course, Lawyers Ethics & Justice, at UNSW Law  and I have found it immensely valuable. Among many things, it gives students a handrail to engage with the rest of the material. More specifically: Continue reading “Introducing Behavioural Legal Ethics”

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