“I think too many kids do law,” …”They could spend those years at university doing something more useful and more valuable to whatever career they ultimately took on.” … “A lot of kids do law as though it is a sort of interesting background qualification and it is not,” …”If you want to have a general humanities degree that is an intellectual endowment that isn’t particularly specific in a vocational sense then you would be better off doing languages, history, literature, philosophy. Frankly you would be better off doing economics.”. …”I did law because I wanted to be a lawyer and I practised as a lawyer for a decade,” …”Why would you do dentistry if you don’t want to be a dentist, or medicine if you don’t want to be a doctor?”
Teaching in broader contexts is everything, and much of what Turnbull implies can be learnt from the humanities applies equally to a broad legal education. The point is strongly made by our colleague Ros Dixon in her piece: Studying law is about much more than becoming a lawyer, Malcolm Turnbull
What makes Australian graduates internationally sought after is their breadth of critical thinking skills – which come from immersion in a full three years of reasoned critique and learning the perspectives of others For most this is balanced with a second undergraduate degree that provides a broadening of their knowledge base (often qualifying for an alternative profession).
Of course not all students embrace that approach to education. Turnbull himself is famous for paying other students to attend lectures and take notes for him. Although clearly a prodigious intellect, one suspects he missed out on the immersive educational environment that many modern law schools now provide. The phrase “user experience may vary” seems apt.
Turnbull is right that students shouldn’t do law just because they have the marks. But law underlies so much of society’s successes and failures, and is inescapable in its impact on individual lives. No citizen is lesser for knowing more about individual, corporate and government rights and responsibilities. If ever there was a degree that applies to any possible career it is law.
When we survey our students we find that many don’t see themselves as being solicitors or barristers in the long-term. They have many other interesting career aspirations. But for almost all, law remains an important underlying skill they think they will use.
And internationally law school is looking cool again. After drops in enrolment and dire predictions of mass closures of law schools, enrolment applications in the US have risen this year. One suspects that despite Turnbull’s plea, law will remain wildly popular.