Legal Ethics, Culture, Practice and Professionalism

  • John Littrich
  • Associate Professor Trish Mundy
  • Karina Murray
  • Associate Professor Cassandra Sharp

 The Legal Ethics, Culture, Practice and Professionalism theme of the Legal Intersections Research Centre is engaged in research which considers the cultural, ethical and educational dimensions of lawyering and legal practice. With an emphasis on empirical methodologies, the research carried out by members of the theme includes exploration of gender issues in the legal profession as well as rural, regional and remote legal practice contexts.

Its members are also engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning, particularly as it relates to student transition, professional identity construction, learning and teaching in the first year of law and law student wellbeing. More generally, its members are involved in research relating to the teaching of ethics, professionalism and lawyering skills within legal education.

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Achieving Gender Diversity in Australian Law Firms: Best Practice
Professor Nan Seuffert and Associate Professor Trish Mundy

This collaborative pilot research project, between the Women Lawyers Association of New South Wales and the Legal Intersections Research Centre, investigates current best practice initiatives on gender diversity in large Australian law firms. The project investigates initiatives that support women lawyers in advancing to partnership and other leadership positions. Four of the top-achieving national law firms in Australia on gender equity criteria are engaging with many of the best practice initiatives for diversity and inclusion recommended by the current national and international research and scholarship. What is apparent, however, is that the current best practices internationally have yet to achieve significant advancement of women, or to break through the glass ceilings for women that continue to operate. We argue that achieving significant progress on gender diversity in law firms will require reshaping law firm practice and partnership model, and that collaborative projects between the profession and academics, with a focus on synergies between the competencies and diversities movements, provide the greatest potential for this realising this goal.

The report on this project titled ‘Advancement of Women in Law Firms: Best Practice’, was recently launched in Sydney by the Hon. Justice Jane Matthews AO This pilot project is intended to provide the basis for a larger research project in 2018.

Seuffert, N and Mundy, T. ‘Diversity policies meet the competency movement:
towards reshaping law firm partnership models for the future’ (2017) International Journal of the Legal Profession DOI:10.1080/09695958.2017.1359613

Legal Practice and Culture

Attracting and Retaining Lawyers in Rural, Regional and Remote (RRR) Communities
Associate Professor Trish Mundy

This project explores a range of topics connected to RRR legal practice contexts, with an overarching agenda of investigating the opportunities, challenges and strategies associated with attracting and retaining lawyers in our regions. Most recently, this has included doctoral research exploring the lived experience of female lawyers practising in RRR communities and the ‘imagined experience’ of female final year law students. Through phenomenological and narrative methodologies, the research seeks to understand the ways in which socio-cultural constructions of gender in ‘rural’ ‘space’ and ‘place’ might transform or impact women’s practice experience in RRR communities and their relationship to the attraction and retention of women in RRR practice. It also seeks to increase understanding of the role that ‘imagination’ and cultural constructions of the ‘rural’ play in framing or informing the career choices of final year law students.

Mundy, T. ‘Insights into Gender, “Rurality” and the Legal Practice Experience (2011) 16(2) Deakin Law Review 339. 

A Lawyer’s Character: Is There a Moral to this Story?
Karina Murray

PhD commenced April 2012  Supervisors: Assoicate Professor Cassandra Sharp and Associate Professor Chris Barker.

“Character” is a term used in a number of areas of law as well as across a number of professions. For those aspiring to practise in law, the profession requires the applicant be of “good character”. This project asks the questions: how do the law, the profession and the community define the “character” of a lawyer? It takes a cultural legal studies approach to analyse whether there are specific values or morals that demonstrate “character” (or a lack of).

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Legal Ethics and Education

The Power of Stories in the Transformation of Identity and Ethics Among Law Students
Associate Professor Cassandra Sharp

This project uses an empirical and interdisciplinary methodology, blending law and cultural studies, to explore the influence of popular culture on legal education.  This project offers a new scholarly perspective on how law students use representations of law in popular culture to create and construct identity and ethical meaning.

Sharp C. ‘“Represent a Murderer…I’d never do that!” How students use stories to link ethical development and identity construction’ in M. Robertson et al (eds) The Ethics Project in Legal Education (London, Routledge) 2011.  

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Taking the Profession out of Professional Responsibility
Karina Murray

Upon entering law school, students often receive the message, ‘you need to start thinking like a lawyer’. Yet alarmingly, research shows that lawyers (and law students) suffer stress, anxiety and depression at a rate significantly higher than the general population. These projects seek to review the traditional approach to legal method and make useful links between ‘legal decision making’ models and ‘ethical decision making’ models.

Funded by UOW Legal Intersections Research Centre Small Grant (2012), ‘Why teaching ‘legal ethics’ doesn’t create ‘ethical lawyers’: taking a ‘mature’ approach to ethics instruction’

Murray, K. ‘A book-end approach to ethics’ in Leon Wolff and Maria Nicolae (eds), The First Year Experience in Law: A New Beginning? (Halstead Press, 2013) Chapter 6 (pending)  

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Towards a Pedagogy of ‘Place’ in Legal Education
Associate Professor Trish Mundy

This project examines the role of undergraduate legal education in preparing law graduates for practice in rural and regional Australia. In particular, it seeks to explore a theory and pedagogy of ‘place’ and the ways in which ‘place consciousness’ might usefully be integrated and supported within the classroom environment and law curricula more generally.

Funded by UOW Legal Intersections Research Centre Small Grant (2013), ‘Towards a Pedagogy of “Place” in Legal Education’

Mundy, T. ‘Placing’ the other: final year law students’ ‘imagined’ experience of rural and regional practice within the law school context (2012) (Special Edition) International Journal of Rural Law and Policy 1.

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Legal Internships as a “Capstone”: The UOW Experience
John Littrich

Many tertiary institutions in Australia and internationally have recognised the value of providing students with a subject or experience toward the end of their studies that acts as a “capstone”: bringing together the knowledge and skills acquired in their discipline studies and preparing them for the workplace. This project looks at legal internships, in particularly the mandatory internship undertaken by LLB students at UOW and, through information provided by students and internship providers assesses the value of such programs as a ‘capstone’ experience for law students and its role in shaping professional values. 

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Taking Hints from Hogwarts: UOW’s First Year Law Immersion Program
Associate Professor Cassandra Sharp, Karina Murray, Associate Professor Trish Mundy

This is a group project which brings together a number of academics within the first year program and LIRC. It uses an empirical and interdisciplinary methodology, blending law and cultural studies, to explore the influence of popular culture on legal education.  This project offers a new scholarly perspective on how law students use representations of law in popular culture to create and construct identity and ethical meaning.

Sharp C, Bond M, Mundy T, Murray K, Quilter J, Taking Hints from Hogwarts: UOW’s First Year Immersion Program (2013) Journal of Australasian Law Teachers Association (forthcoming).

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Good Practice Guide for Independent Children’s Lawyers Meeting with Children
Dr Felicity Bell

Felicity Bell is working on a project with the Centre for Children and Young People at Southern Cross University, and New South Wales Legal Aid, to create a guide for children’s lawyers about best practices in meeting with children. Informed by research and by the voices of children and young people, this guide is intended to be an easy-to-use and informative resource. This practical project complements Felicity’s academic work around the practices of lawyers meeting with children.

    • Felicity Bell, ‘Barriers to Empowering Children in Family Law Proceedings’ (2016) 30(3) International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 225-247
    • Felicity Bell, ‘Meetings Between Children’s Lawyers and Children Involved in Private Family Law Disputes’ (2016) 28(1) Child and Family Law Quarterly 5-24

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