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Experiential learning expansion a focus for 2016

Dean of Law and Head of Deakin Law School shares his vision for the future.

Professor Sandeep Gopalan is the current Dean of Law at Deakin Law School. Since his appointment in 2015, his overarching vision has been to enhance the quality of research and teaching to match international standards; specifically increasing the experiential learning component of the law course. He says 'this will be the single biggest change over the next three to four years'. In implementing this strategy, he adds that 'Deakin will become unique among Australian law schools with a system that is closer to the US law school system, which has a strong emphasis on contact and experience with law practice within the real world'.

His vision is strongly linked to increasing the profile of Deakin Law School, both within the community and on an international level. Already many initiatives are in place or in the pipeline. Core strategies include: bringing the profession to the school; creating opportunities for students to be exposed to law in a practical context, and have an opportunity to  genuinely help sectors of the community that are in need; engaging in increased international contact, and; developing more overseas study opportunities for local students.

Professor Gopalan wants students to benefit from the experience and knowledge that legal professionals can offer and talks about 'bringing the school closer to the legal services market'. For 2016, he is in the process of recruiting several clinical academics (solicitors) to come to Deakin. Longer term, he would like to invite more judges, possibly via a residency program.

A broad variety of new study opportunities will emerge in the first half of 2016, for students to work alongside academics and professionals in areas that can make a real difference to the community and even have an impact on government decision-making. Deakin Law School is establishing four research centres, each with a different focus. Professor Mirko Bagaric will head up the Sentencing and Criminal Justice Research Centre, which will look at alternative methods of punishment to reduce the number of people in gaol and the associated cost to the community. Professor Samantha Hepburn will oversee the Energy and Natural Resources Research Centre, which will examine law relating to energy scarcity, energy alternatives and legal issues in the mining industry, while Professor Jean Du Plessis will manage a Research Centre for Corporate Governance which will study sustainability and corporate governance. Professor Gopalan will supervise the fourth research centre, examining the legal services market and how changes in technology are impacting the profession and enabling access to justice.

By the Trimester 2 2016, a number of new clinical electives will also have been established. These include a Business Venture Clinic, in which participants will provide legal assistance to start-ups on a pro bono basis. Via a Civil Justice Law Clinic, Deakin Law School students will take on general civil cases (e.g. disputes with landlords, refugee residency cases), providing free legal assistance and supporting the legal system where it is apparent it could use help. This is expected to attract kudos due to the huge need from disadvantaged groups for legal help.

Professor Gopalan is also proud of the progress Deakin Law School is making in becoming a school with an increased international awareness. For instance, last year the first ever Deakin Law Conference was held abroad in Shanghai. A judge from the international court of Justice in The Hague was in attendance. Delegates from over 10 countries attended, including Canada, Singapore, Australia, UK, Ireland, and Cambodia. In April, Deakin Law School will run a training seminar program for Sri Lankan Judges. In Trimester 2, Deakin Law School will introduce a Master of Laws – with a focus on international business, designed to be of interest to international participants. A postgraduate combined accounting and law qualification will be offered in Trimester 3, recognising the increasing level of complexity and regulation in the financial services sector. The focus for this qualification will be on internationalisation and cross-border issues and it is hoped that it will create more energy in this research space, feeding into PhD level studies.

The school is currently entering into several new overseas partnerships. Professor Gopalan cites the recent signing of MOUs in Vietnam with the prosecutors’ office, as well as a relationship with the University of Brawijaya in Indonesia, which will include joint degrees, staff and student exchange and research collaboration. Regular international study programs are conducted, with recent programs successfully completed to Indonesia, the USA, India and Sri Lanka.

At the end of the day, Professor Gopalan hopes that the actualisation of his vision will produce graduates who are better equipped, with real experience and have increased opportunities for employment when they graduate, and a law school that is recognised as world class for its research and engagement.

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