More than merely work-ready: Appropriating vocationalism and promoting professionalism in the law school

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A ‘vocational’ approach to legal education is one that emphasises the importance of developing practical legal skills, drawing connections between legal knowledge and legal practice, and ensuring graduate employability. The vocational approach has in recent years re-emerged as one of the dominant approaches to teaching law, to the extent that for many academics it is taken for granted that the primary purpose of a law degree is to prepare students for a legal career, whether as a legal practitioner or as some other worker with legal expertise. Vocationalism within the law school is not, however, unopposed. Vocationalism’s critics point to other, equally valuable (perhaps even more valuable) approaches to legal education, such as approaches that emphasise the importance of theoretical rigour, or preserving the rule of law, or of identifying and addressing social injustice, or of preparing students for lifelong learning and lives as broadly educated and socially responsible citizens. Given the value to university administrators of law schools as mechanisms for attracting high quality students to the institution, the vocal demands by students for qualifications that will lead to salaries generous enough to justify their university fees, and the ever closer ties between the academy and the practicing profession, the juggernaut of vocationalism is unlikely to stopped, or even slowed down by its critics. This paper presents the argument that vocationalism’s critics should instead seek to appropriate vocationalism’s momentum to achieve their own objectives. They should embrace the notion that law schools must focus upon preparing their students for legal careers, and participate in – and thereby influence – vocational initiatives with a view to creating law graduates who are not only ‘work ready’ (thereby satisfying students, employers and university administrators) but also theoretically informed, broadly educated, committed to the rule of law, and concerned about social justice. This can be achieved by adopting and promoting an expanded notion of ‘professionalism’, one that incorporates all of these traits in what it means to be a legal professional.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2016
EventThe National Law Reform Conference - Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
Duration: 14 Apr 201615 Apr 2016


ConferenceThe National Law Reform Conference


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