Michael Legg is an Associate Professor of Law and Director of the IMF Bentham Class Actions Research Initiative at UNSW Law. With 18 years of experience as a legal practitioner, Michael has worked with leading law firms in both Australia and the US. He is admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of NSW, Federal Court of Australia, High Court of Australia and in the State and Federal courts of New York.
Michael currently teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses in the areas of litigation and corporate law and is the recent recipient of the Academic of the Year Award at the Lawyers Weekly 2017 Australian Law Awards. The award was made in recognition of Michael’s innovation in teaching, and his leadership in being the academic member of the ground breaking FLIP report by the Law Society of New South Wales.
Read more about Michael’s career and what lead him back to UNSW Law as an academic below.
Tell us about your career since graduating from university.
I worked in litigation and dispute resolution in private practice for 10 years. I started my career as a summer clerk and then graduate with Mallesons Stephen Jaques. I then went to the US and completed an LLM at the University of California, Berkeley and obtained admission to the NY Bar. I worked in New York for Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, before returning to Sydney where I worked for Gilbert + Tobin and then Clayton Utz, before joining UNSW in 2009.
What was one thing you learned from practicing law in America?
I learnt a new legal system and new skills for practice (e.g. depositions). While valuable in itself, that caused me to reflect on Australian law and practice and question why we do things a particular way.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the legal profession? What advice would you give to current and future members of the legal profession to combat these challenges?
The tension between lawyers wanting to earn a return on their studies and efforts which can lead to the high cost of legal services, and access to justice for individuals who cannot afford those costs. Lawyers need to find a way to reconcile that tension. It may be through pro bono work. It might be through technology. But the profession, and the society we serve, will be worse off if there is no reconciliation.
What was your motivation for returning to UNSW Law and what do you enjoy most about being an academic?
I enjoy writing which overtime became writing about law. Academia let me follow that passion and write about the things that I was interested in and thought were important. It is also a collegial and flexible workplace.
How do you motivate your students to challenge themselves in the classroom?
I encourage them to think about why getting it right matters in the real world when you have a real client who’s relying on your advice/advocacy.
Challenging them to critique the law or legal process and think of a better way to address a problem.
Name one thing that has changed at UNSW Law since your time as a student, to now, and one thing that has remained the same.
The physical aspects of the Law School and the University have changed enormously. We have windows in the class rooms now! The classrooms in the library tower did not have those.
The culture of the law school, which is its great strength, seems to be largely the same.
Tell us about your favourite UNSW Law memory.
Debating legal, political and moral issues with peers with the certainty of youth on your side.
How do you like to unwind on the weekends?