Australasian Law Teachers Association

Promoting Excellence in Legal Academic Teaching and Research

2011 ALTA conference 


'My Lawyer Rules: Assuring Legal and Education Standards'


Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
Sunday 3 to Wednesday 6 July 2011


The Brisbane floods and the Christchurch earthquakes failed to prevent close to 200 legal practitioners and academics attending the 66th Annual ALTA Conference during 3-6 July 2011. The conference was hosted by the Queensland University of Technology School of Law and was held at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The theme of the conference was “My Lawyer Rules: Assuring Legal and Education Standards”.

The welcome reception at the Stamford Plaza on the evening of 3 July 2011 launched the Conference participants on a journey of excellence in presentations, functions and intellectual interaction. Rarely can delegates return to their universities and say they had drinks with the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia and a Justice of the High Court of New Zealand. Delegates who attended the welcome reception had such an opportunity.

The Conference opening day commenced with a Welcome to Country by Uncle Des Sandy, an Indigenous Australian elder. He recounted many lessons taught on and around the lands on which the Stamford Plaza exists today. Those lessons reinforced the importance of the ALTA delegates “coming together” as a group of friends to share, learn and enjoy.

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT and Immediate Past Chair of the Universities Australia Board of Directors, formally opened the Conference and introduced, Chief Justice Robert French AC of the High Court of Australia. The topic of the Chief Justice’s presentation was ‘Legal Education in Australia – A Never Ending Story’ and this can be accessed from the High Court website. His Honour said:

“The objectives and content of legal education and how it should be undertaken have been much discussed in Australia and in other countries with which we share our legal heritage. A lot of that discussion in recent times has focussed upon the relative emphasis to be given to such elements as the contents of the positive law, its social and historical context, the dynamics of its change, the skills and ethical sensitivities needed for legal practice, and the role of the lawyer in society as agent of the rule of law and social justice. Related to that discussion are concerns about the effect of legal education upon law students. An incidental and important question is the extent to which the diversity of law jobs makes generalisations about the desirable outcomes of legal education more difficult.”

His Honour provided a comprehensive overview of legal education and said:

“I will conclude by setting out what I would like to see as some of the attributes of the law graduate today. Like all lists in legal papers, this is not exhaustive. The law graduate, in my opinion, should have at least: 

      • Basic knowledge of the principles and doctrines of important areas of the law. Basic knowledge of the ways in which law is made and interpreted and applied. 
      • Basic skills, transferable across subject areas, which enable the graduate to identify, define and analyse legal problems, to formulate options for their resolution, to advise clients, and to use negotiation, alternative dispute resolution or litigation, if necessary, for their resolution. 
      • Awareness of and sensitivity to ethical issues and the ability to respond ethically to them. 
      • A commitment to legal practice as a species of public service. 
      • An awareness of the ongoing need for reform of the law and a readiness and ability to contribute to reform.

‚ÄčThose are among my desiderata for legal education. They are necessarily aspirational. No curriculum plan can be expected to produce perfectly formed, deeply knowledgeable and competent ethical lawyers with a highly developed sense of social justice. Many influences converge to yield such people. They include the influences of family, community and the wider university environment, together with continuing legal education and practical experience. 

The ongoing efforts of the legal academy to shape and improve legal education are impressive. It is a great endeavour you all undertake and I take this opportunity to wish you well with it.”

The issues of national standards for legal education and the legal profession were discussed by all of the plenary speakers who followed Chief Justice French including Justice John Byrne of the Supreme Court of Queensland and Justice Raynor Asher of the High Court of New Zealand, Auckland who engaged in a discussion of ‘Assuring Legal and Education Standards: Some Perspective from Admitting Authorities’.

During the first day of the Conference, Chief Justice French launched the text book Excellence and Innovation in Legal Education edited by Professor Sally Kift, Dr Michelle Sanson, Jill Crowley and Penelope Watson, and published by LexisNexis. His Honour acknowledged the valuable contribution the publication would make to legal education.

The Conference formal dinner took place on the evening of Monday 4th July at The Strand at Rugby Quay, a spectacular restaurant overlooking the Brisbane River. Barrister-at-law, Andrew Boe, who is a criminal law specialist, addressed participants at the formal dinner. He has been involved in some matters which attracted public attention including, R v Ivan Milat (NSW) (notorious serial killer); R v Pauline Hanson & David Ettridge (alleged political corruption); R v Robyn Kina (bicultural competence/domestic violence murder); Cornack v Fingleton and Gribbin v Fingleton (judicial bullying and independence) as well as the several cases surrounding the Palm Island death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee. Andrew’s presentation reinforced the need for lawyers to have a passion for the work they do and a determination to seek change where the law appears to have facilitated an unjust outcome.

During the second day, delegates had the opportunity to hear and question prominent people in the area of legal and education standards. Dr Carol Nicoll, CEO of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (and CEO-elect of Australia’s new Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency) spoke on ‘Assuring Legal Education Standards’ while Professor Margaret Sheil, CEO of the Australian Research Council, addressed ‘Assuring Legal Research Standards’.

The ALTA Annual General Meeting, Chaired by Professor Rosalind Mason, was also conducted on this day.

During the second and third days of the conference delegates attended many interest group workshops in Legal Education, Company Law, Law for Non-Law Students, Practical Legal Training, Law and Social Justice, Dispute Resolution, Labour Law, Commercial Law and Consumer Protection, Law and Medicine, Indigenous People and the Law and Constitutional Law and International Law. A number of posters were also on display in a specially designated poster room and this provided another avenue for high level intellectual engagement with the conference themes.

The Conference casual dinner was held at the Stamford Plaza alongside the Brisbane River in the Brasserie. Great food, music and dancing provided the right ingredients for a fantastic evening.

Wednesday morning saw Professor Sally Kift of QUT and Professor Richard Johnstone of Griffith University conduct the final plenary session, ‘Assuring Legal and Education Standards: Views from the Academy’. After interest group workshops in Legal Education, Revenue Law, Company Law and Criminal Law, delegates gathered for the final lunch. 

This year’s ALTA Conference will be remembered as a collegial, engaging and stimulating gathering. We look forward to the 67th Annual ALTA Conference in Sydney next year.

Scott Kiel-Chisholm
ALTA 2011 Organising Committee Member

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