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DLS academics deliver sound arguments on women in the law and legal education.

Deakin Law School academics Dr Neera Bhatia and Dr Claudio Bozzi have featured in a special media panel discussion as part of The Australian’s Legal Week.

The Oct/Nov edition of Legal Week focuses on the demographic shift that’s transforming the role of women in the legal profession, the way law firms are redressing the gender balance, the influence of government and the views of major corporate consumers. It also examines the way distinguishing law schools – such as DLS – are preparing students for 21st century legal practice.

 

   Legal affairs editor Chris Merritt and Dr Claudio Bozzi                                               Dr Neera Bhatia

In the video roundtable discussion, Dr Bozzi, Director Centre on the Legal Profession, outlined the leading role DLS has taken in establishing professional law clinics that deliver real-world professional preparation for Deakin law students.

‘What we are doing is bringing together the ability to think like a lawyer and the ability to act like a lawyer — to understand the business of clients and to understand the business of law as well. To some extent, we are making the graduates entrepreneurs of their own career because it is now a very competitive environment and distinguishing yourself from others is also becoming increasingly difficult.’

By dealing directly with legal clients, he said that Deakin law students solve problems – often within a very tight framework – and also sometimes take on substantial matters that produce precisely-tailored results. Outside the USA, such law clinics are rare.

‘Even in the UK … the focus on commercial law is still not common. Most of the clinics centre on social justice issues, family law, and criminal law, and once upon a time, debt relief, or tenancy issues,’ he added.

Regarding the issue of gender balance and diversity, Dr Bozzi said that both the legal profession and law schools need to work together.

‘I believe the university can be a springboard for a lot of change and it’s a very good place to examine issues critically and openly and objectively.’

He said that because of the nature of law schools and universities, there was an opportunity to work with the legal profession to bring about critical change across a range of areas.

‘...Entirely across the board when it comes to diversity and all the other hidden assumptions and biases that we work with, whether they are in-group assumptions or whether they are unconscious or systemic assumptions and biases … you know, we live within a profession where a lot of what is taken for granted is no longer satisfactory. And we have to work together to question whether we want a profession­ that is for everybody and becomes a better profession as a result.’

Dr Bhatia, a DLS health law researcher who specialises in issues such as end-of-life decision-making, said it was encouraging to work in a law school – and at a university – that was leading the way with gender and diversity equity.

‘We have a new dean and deputy dean who are both female and I think that’s a real shift toward­s strong leadership within the school.

We have a female vice-chancellor and I think that for me, as a woman in the law school, as a ­senior lecturer, that’s great to see, to see some really strong female leadership. It’s encouraged in the school and within the university.’

She added however that there is still a long way to go – not just in academia but across the legal profession – and that the topic of diversity is clearly on the radar of Deakin law students.

‘I attended a Deakin Law Stud­ent Society event a couple of weeks ago that the students had put together and it was looking at this issue of diversity. [They] were very much aware that diversity is something that we’re working towards but nowhere near there,’ she said.

‘When I talk about diversity, I’m not just talking about gender diversity. I’m talking about racial diversity. I’m talking about diversity within our industry, legal industry or academia in terms of sexual orientation. So, students are well aware of it. They know it’s something that we are working towards but we’re ­nowhere near where we need to be and that could take 10 or 20 years … I think in academia, we’re probably a little bit better at it but, again, by no means are we streets ahead.’ 

For a full recap of the Legal Week roundtable panel discussion including the video recording, please click here