The lawyer’s role and the legal workplace have changed over the last decade. The practices of the past are being replaced by emergent technologies and new ways of working. Business has evolved. From eDiscovery and smart contracts to cloud-enabled practice management tools, legal practitioners must have a broader technological knowledge and know-how than has been required in the past. Skillsets like project management, data analysis, business acumen and collaboration are also required in today’s legal marketplace, be it in the corporate, government, not for profit sector or start-ups.

Quality legal education in Australia should not only keep pace but play a significant role in leading the industry’s transformation. The legal profession and legal educators have reached a tipping point: training methods and education that prepared past generations for a lawyer-centric industry no longer fit the changing needs of the market. The legal profession in Australia has been subject to rapid and dramatic changes due to shifts in client demands, policy amendments, fluctuating labour markets, and most notably, technological advancements.

To further bridge the gap between what the best law schools are teaching and what the legal profession requires from graduates, UNSW Law is launching a Graduate Diploma of Legal Professional Practice (GDLPP) commencing February 2020. It is the first Practical Legal Training course accredited in NSW by the Legal Profession Admission Board (LPAB) in over 20 years and the first to be designed from the perspective of current legal practice in a technological and globalised environment. Offered twice per year, the first cohort will commence in February 2020 followed by a second intake in September 2020.

Under the Admission Rules, a PLT course must cover certain skills, values, and practice areas (core and optional practice areas) with prescribed competencies, elements and performance criteria for each area. The GDLPP has been designed to not only meet these requirements but surpass them. Current UNSW Law students can complete their PLT while finishing their degree at the same institution, while new students will have access to the progressive and rigorous legal education offered at UNSW Law, ranked 14th in the world in the 2019 QS World Rankings.

This innovative new program meets the demands for deeper integration between substantive education and practice by offering a distinctive, practice-ready program for law graduates intending to seek admission to the legal profession. Consisting of coursework and workplace experience or a practicum, the GDLPP is designed to develop both practical skills and proficiency in the day-to-day practice of law. The program begins with a 5-day face-to-face workshop, followed by online coursework over 19 weeks.

UNSW Law seeks to set the benchmark in collaborative, responsive and innovative legal education through industry partnership initiatives. Developed with subject matter experts from across the profession, the program completes the suite of UNSW Law offerings and positions UNSW as the only Group of Eight law school in the state to offer students end-to-end legal education for admission to the legal profession. Key learning outcomes of the core program include advanced theoretical and technical knowledge; thinking and problem solving skills; communication, collaboration and interpersonal skills; self-management skills; and application of knowledge, skills and values.

Noting the difficulties students have finding meaningful workplace experience, the program also offers unique placement opportunities in the faculty’s in-house clinics and legal centres such as Kingsford Legal Centre, Refugee Advice and Casework Service and Youth Law Australia and partner organisations. Further, in an educational first in pre-admission programs, the Practicum provides the flexibility to focus on areas of innovation, including the future of legal innovation in practice and specialised social justice contexts.

The Practicum creates opportunities for students to combine placements, simulated workplaces, technical learning spaces, law-related projects, continuing legal education, and structured reflective practice. Students will be able to choose from online or face-to-face or blended modes depending on their preferred focus. For example, students might choose to undertake the practicum as an extended workplace experience activity or combine this with online learning modules on specialised legal practice and technology topics.

The GDLPP is therefore designed to offer students a flexible, predominantly digital pathway to practice that is aligned to UNSW Law’s mission of social justice, adaptable skills and broad horizons. The program prioritises student engagement based on a practitioner mentor model and is designed to ensure a pace that prioritises student wellbeing. It also utilises cross disciplinary partnerships with leading wellbeing institutions to support students as they progress through the course.

The GDLPP incorporates emergent educational technologies that are integrated, innovative and unprecedented in the PLT learning and teaching space to equip students with the best possible educational experience as they transition into legal practice. The program aims to meet the contemporary twin demands of a career-enhancing PLT offering that addresses the evolving needs and interests of a diverse client-base and society, as well as equip the next generation of lawyers to reimagine and lead the legal profession of tomorrow.

Vedna Jivan