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"Bridging the gap between the profession and the law school."

Deakin Law School launched its new Research Centre on the Legal Profession in April 2016.  Representing a unique development within the landscape of Australian law schools, the Centre reflects the aspiration to build a bridge between the profession and the law school. In pursuit of its aims, there are four key areas of focus for the Centre: Law Clinics; Practical Legal Training; Research and Internationalisation.

Dean of Law, Professor Sandeep Gopalan says that ‘the school aims to produce people who will be successful in the profession and greater engagement will help enable that success’.

The Research Centre will offer two clinical electives: a Business Venture Clinic (under the leadership of co-executive director, Dr Claudio Bozzi) and a Civil Justice Clinic. Joint Executive Director for the Centre, Mr Athula Pathinayake, explains that the Clinics will benefit both students and the community.

Students will build practical skills and knowledge through experiential learning. The clinics will provide students with an opportunity to assist in cases, advance their knowledge and develop vocational skills via Practical Legal Training. The adoption of experiential opportunities has become common practice in many law schools in the US and the UK. Professor Gopalan firmly believes in this approach and says that, ‘more focus on experience will lead to increased employment outcomes’.

In addition, both Clinics will offer free, professional legal services to the community. The Business Venture Clinic will provide real legal advice to start-up entrepreneurs, while the Civil Justice Clinic will provide advice for civil problems such as refugee cases or domestic violence.

Research remains the main focus of the Centre; Staff will study the changing nature of the legal profession, the challenges posed by globalisation and technology, the optimal models of regulation for the profession, ethics, and rule of law. The centre will also analyse topics such as diversity in the judiciary and judicial decision-making. Professor Gopalan explains,

‘For instance, Stanford University has developed a way to use cognitive computing to analyse millions of legal cases to predict the outcome of a new case. A development like this requires a regulatory and an ethical response.

‘Similarly, technological developments in areas such as surveillance and autonomous weapons generate new research questions that could be undertaken by DLS via the research centre’.

Internationalisation is the fourth area of importance to the Centre. In recognition of the increasing need for cross-border legal representation, particularly in the areas of international trade and commercial law, the Centre will actively seek out opportunities for international research, collaboration and networking.

As early as at its launch, the Centre was honoured by a visit by 11 judges from Sri Lanka’s highest courts: the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal. The judges participated in a Centre workshop for professional development, building their knowledge of Australian legal practices. It is hoped that this will aid them in dealing with an increased number of complex cases arising as the Sri Lankan market opens up. They were also able to share their knowledge of the Sri Lankan legal system for the benefit of DLS students and staff. The remaining 11 judges will attend DLS later in the year.

The visit was organised by Mr Pathinayake. He hopes that visits from other judges and legal practitioners will become a regular feature of the centre. There are plans to invite other judges to the centre and to create a ‘judge in residence’ program in the near future.