Education, Research, Outreach and Governance
Carel Stolker; Cambridge, 2015; 472 pages; $125 (hardcover)
Law schools lie at the intersection of influence by the judiciary, the profession, the university, government, industry and the citizen. In this most detailed book, Carel Stolker navigates the complex and often competing regulatory and conceptual imperatives of the law school. Impressively, his view is truly global. The reader is taken on an international journey and while there are obviously great jurisdictional differences, Stolker highlights that law schools perhaps share more in common than might be thought.
The book has 12 chapters, but can roughly be conceptualised as covering the university, the identity of the law school, legal education, legal scholarship, engagement and governance. There are two aspects of this in particular that I would like to canvass here — characteristics that are relevant not just to legal educators, but to the legal profession and society more broadly.
The first of these is the question of law as an academic discipline within the university. Caught between academe and the profession; between the local and the global, the answer to this question in the Australian context over recent decades has been resoundingly in favour of its academic nature. Slowly however, having largely closed off professional pathways to practice, work integrated learning and a skills orientation is entering the university.
In chapter three, Stolker articulates the arguments for and against law-as-academic. He posits reasons for the outsider status of law within the university, and suggests four reasons why law is academic: ‘its impact on people and society, its complexity, its connection to other disciplines and its role in raising future legal scholars.’ I think that these questions are worthwhile for the profession and the academy to consider in our own context of the massification and vocationalisation of higher education. What is it that we are trying to achieve through university education — or training — of lawyers? Can we achieve both vocational and academic skills together? These are issues not just affecting law, I suspect, but other disciplines also.
The second and, in my view, related discussion asks whose law school it is. This follows chapters on legal scholarship and law schools’ economic and societal impact. The question is a good one, and speaks to the divergent stakeholders who affect our regulation and operation. His conclusion, at the end of chapter nine, is that university is a public good. Stolker canvasses the arguments about students as customers, as clients and rejects the notion of customer sovereignty. His notion of the public good I find appealing, and I would suggest also that beyond the higher education concept of ‘engagement’ for the discipline of law it reflects a commitment to service and to justice.
I am a reader whose interests lie in legal education and the
law school, and I acknowledge that this book may be daunting for the more casual reader. Despite its forensic approach to the topic however, it is eminently readable and proceeds apace. Despite its global breadth, it provides a depth that prompts some serious thinking about our purpose and inevitably our future.
KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University.