Alternative career options for lawyers - Academia Awaits You!
Got a passion for the law but still not quite feeling fulfilled? Maybe you’d like to channel that passion towards educating and inspiring some fresh, new legal minds? Yep, that’s right, I’m talking academia! A role as a legal academic will likely see you preparing lectures and exercises; grading exams and papers; and advising and working with students individually as well as in groups. Undertaking research to expand knowledge in a given area including by collecting and analysing data, or examining original documents, literature, and other source material. Publishing research findings; keeping up with developments in the legal field; supervising graduate students' teaching and research; participating in the further development of the Law School’s programs and; building and enhancing the student educational experience. This is a great career option if you love love love the law. Especially for those of you that are looking to say a big bye-bye to those billable hours!
As a Professor of Law you can expect to earn on average about $158,000 per year. The road to get to there will likely look not too dissimilar to that of the hierarchy of a law firm: Associate Lecturer; Lecturer; Senior Lecturer; Associate Professor; and then Professor. You can potentially expect to start this trajectory on about $85,000. Some positions along the way may require you to have a PhD or PhD in its final stages of completion, and a demonstrated ability to contribute to high quality teaching. This in addition to developing a record of publications in leading journals.
In academia you’ll mainly be working fairly regular business hours (win!), however, you might spend additional hours marking student’s papers and exams or on research work.
One man that made the change and has never looked back is Jeff Giddings, a Professor of Law at Monash University and Director of the Monash-Oakleigh Legal Service Clinic.
Jeff recently joined the Monash University Law Faculty after more than two decades at Griffith University in Brisbane, Queensland. He received an Australia National Teaching Fellowship in 2013 for the Effective Law Student Supervision Project. In addition, he served as an International Scholar for the Academic Fellows Program of the Open Society Foundation (2013-15). This involved working extensively with the American University of Central Asia, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
Jeff’s accolades and achievements are enormous, and we were lucky to have him on the Beyond Billables podcast recently. Our conversation hit a lot of different notes but focused mainly on legal education, legal aid, lawyer stigma and Jeff’s advice to those just starting out.
Jeff spent his first 18 months out of law school working for a law firm in Melbourne before realising that the legal centre movement was the place he wanted to be, so he made the move to Fitzroy Legal Service where he spent a further 4.5 years. He then made his way into academic life, initially at La Trobe University.
“I was surprised when I got the job that salary wise it was a step up from my salary as a legal centre lawyer. It doesn’t pay as well as some jobs, I’ve heard numerous stories of past students of mine that earn a lot more than I do now as a Professor. My response would be ‘so what!’ It’s certainly been a very rewarding area to work in.”
When children started arriving on the home front, Griffith University and Queensland, his wife’s home state, started to have appeal.
“All I knew about Griffith University was that it had a really nice campus and it was new and it was keen to do new things. It was pretty clear really quickly that if you had the get up and go and the initiative to make things happen then it was a University where you would be given the opportunities to make things happen,” says Jeff.
He stayed on at Griffith University for 22 years, so yeah, they were doing something right!
According to Jeff now could be a really interesting time to enter into the world of academia as a legal professional as he sees a lot of change on the way in terms of how law students are educated, especially in the next 5 to 10 years.
“There’s a bigger role for experiential learning, practical engagement with real legal issues. We also need to look for ways in which legal education integrates the insights from the practice of law as well as deepening the understanding of the more abstract principles involved. It’s not about practice versus theory - that’s not a helpful distinction and separation. Really teaching needs to be informed by both and that’s the way we really develop knowledge.”
“To me the key thing that law students need to emerge from their studies with is a problem solving mindset, so that we really attend to understanding the situation that our client faces and then we set about using our knowledge of legal principles to identify what might be the options available to the client and then enable the client to make those good choices in regards to what they want done.”
“It is really important to move away from notions of carrying all of the legal knowledge around in your head to knowing where to go to find the answer. Students need to understand that litigation is appropriate as a tool in some circumstances but there are a whole range of other circumstances where different processes ought to at least be considered.”
And what’s the highlight of working in academia? “Working with students is the best part of it all. It’s great to work closely with people that are eager to learn” says Jeff.
“I have always thought that I was really lucky that I look forward to going to work in the morning, but I look forward to going home at the end of the day. And to me that’s a good way to be. I don’t go and do work just for the sake of it. It’s not something that’s driven by my ego, it’s driven by my sense that there’s important stuff that ought to be done. That’s what given me perspective.”