As we all approach the end of the year and inevitably wonder how we could do things better, differently or whether any change is possible, the story of the UNSW curriculum review might be of interest.
In 2013, UNSW Law introduced major changes to the LLB and JD programs following a two year process of curriculum review. The main features of the new curriculum and the process of undertaking the review are outlined in a comprehensive report: Curriculum Review: Designing an International, Experiential, Research-Focused, Curriculum for a C21 Law School
The report was launched by the Chief Justice of Australia, Robert French AO in October with a speech entitled Curriculum Change – A Multidimensional Task, Curriculum Review at the Law School of the University of New South Wales.
French CJ in his remarks makes a number of important points about the issues with designing law curricula, including the following affirmation of what we are doing as academics:
“The fact is curriculum design is a battlefield in any area of education and acutely so in the field of legal education. The battlefield is populated by articulate, passionate and persuasive proponents of different and sometimes conflicting visions of what law schools should be for and what they should do. Nevertheless, the question of purpose in legal education, which has been called strikingly by one writer, ‘the lost question’, must be asked. It has been asked in the course of this review. Law schools are not there simply to make money for their universities or to enhance institutional prestige. Any institution worthy of designation as a university must seek higher societal purposes. Harold Koh, formerly Dean of Yale Law School, emphasised the moral dimension of legal education when he said in 2006:
I do not believe it is our job to simply bless the status quo. We stand for principles about what the rule of law ought to be. As a law dean, I think that law schools are not just professional schools. They are institutions of moral purpose. We must speak up for the rule of law when someone is threatening it, because if we don’t, who will?
Of course, moral purpose is of little avail if its proponents are not equipped with the practical tools to give effect to it. The redesigned curriculum seeks to engage with the doctrinal and theoretical, the ethical and the experiential dimensions of legal practice, in an integrated way.”