Jobs for law graduates

The issue in Australia is not as stark as it currently is in the USA. But, as a recent article in The New Yorker suggests, many US law graduates are having difficulty finding jobs. Students with high levels of debt are left without a means of paying it back.

There are important differences differences between Australia and the US: (1) our fees are lower (for now), (2) law in Australia is an undergraduate degree, so many graduates choose non-law career paths, often treating law as a useful general degree rather than as a professional qualification, (3) the Australian economy is doing relatively well, and (4) some international students wish to use their degree in their home country, where demand may be higher. Nevertheless, on the numbers, there are still many more Australian law graduates than there are law jobs for graduate lawyers in Australia.

What is the ethical responsibility of law schools in Australia in this regard? Is it simply a question for “the marketplace” or should universities (typically funded on a per student basis) think carefully about appropriate numbers? Should weaker students (who are less likely to find employment) be provided with more help and advice?

Lyria Bennett Moses

One thought on “Jobs for law graduates

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  1. I explored a related theme in an earlier post (“Australian Legal Education – Excess Capacity? A Crisis in the Making?”) but did not discuss the ethical issue you raise above.

    One other approach, a tougher harsher less pleasant approach, that could be said to be driven by ethical concerns would be to ”wash-out’ the weaker students – saving them time and money. Some law schools in America have as one of the first year goals the aim to ‘wash-out’ those students that will either (a) likely not pass the bar, (b) be incompetent lawyers or (c) would have a tough time finding legal work given their bad grades and then could not pay their student debt. The view is that the law school would be unethical to permit them to continue studying under those circumstances. It should go without saying that this is not done in a vacuum – but takes place after support, often significant support, had been provided for those students that had been struggling.

    Of course, those schools with such policies grapple with the big questions that immediately jump out for such a policy (what is a suitable cut-off GPA/WAM, do the assessments actually measure relevant factors, how to take into account non-academic factors that might have contributed to the poor results, appeals processes, etc.).

    But, despite the challenges and the different context of Australian legal education, a more vigorous policy to ‘wash-out’ significantly under-performing students may be worth considering as one ethical response to the issues Lyria raises above.


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