Written by Julia Day
The UNE School of Law are excited to be welcoming Mr Robert French AC as guest speaker for their 25th Anniversary Dinner. Mr French is a former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.
At the dinner, Mr French will be discussing ‘The School of Law- Reaching Beyond the Region and into the Future.’ Mr French notes that regional law schools need to prepare their students for globalised legal practice as well as legal jobs outside the profession. There are many law graduates who will end up working in law jobs outside legal practice. Furthermore, in the globalised world we live in so much of the law, trade and commerce is informed by international conventions and treaties. There are many other areas of law affected by international approaches including family law, criminal law and environmental law.
In terms of practising law in regional areas, Mr French notes ‘there is still a shortage of legal practitioners in many rural areas. Encouraging legal practitioners to move to these areas can be advantageous to both the rural community and legal practitioners. The practitioner in a rural area has the opportunity to develop a range of skills in a less frenetic environment than that of CBD practice.
I was also interested to find out what impact Mr French thinks technology will have on the legal profession. Mr French stated ‘there will continue to be an inescapable requirement for human judgment in terms of advice and negotiations.’ He did however qualify this statement by saying that there will be increased use of information technology linked to algorithms used to search voluminous documentary records or to assess risk factors in particular classes of case such as flight risk relevant to bail applications – something already being done in the United States.
Mr French did not originally intend to study law. In fact, he first completed a science degree at the University of Western Australia. He realised that he was not going to be a great theoretical physicist and decided a law degree would give him the most wide ranging career choices. Mr French chose to pursue legal practice after completing his articles of clerkship. He enjoyed exploring the way in which the law could help people realise legal issues important in their lives.
Aside from his outstanding legal career, Mr French is also well known for promoting the rights of Indigenous Australians. This desire to achieve positive societal difference was inspired by the influence of his mother, Kathleen French. Kathleen was heavily involved in charitable organisations and non-government organisations. She had a strong interest in child protection issues. She was appointed to the National Women’s Advisory Council in the 1970s. Other members of the Council included Quentin Bryce, later to become Governor-General of Australia. She was awarded a posthumous Order of Australia.
When asked about how the legal profession has changed during his career, Mr French noted ‘there are more women practising law and many more indigenous law graduates.’ When he first started in legal practice, Mr French remembers drafting documents using carbon copy precedents which were kept in manila folders. Now this work is all completed electronically. The other notable change has been the complexity, time and expense of modern day trials. For example, the average murder case when Mr French first started practising was 2 or 3 days. Now the average murder case runs for longer than 8 days.
When I asked Mr French how he plans to spend his well-earned retirement, I expected him to say fishing, holidays and relaxing. I was completely wrong- instead he is busier than ever. He is working as a visiting lecturer at several universities whilst also being involved in off shore court work. He is also the Chancellor of the University of Western Australia.
Mr French does all this whilst still finding time to grow vegetables at his property in Denmark, Western Australia. He says he grows them remotely by telephone to a gardener who visits his property. He shares the spoils of his telephonic labour with his two granddaughters and other members of his family.
Thank you Mr French- we are very much looking forward to meeting you on the 17th November!
Tickets for the dinner are available at the following link: <<https://www.une.edu.au/…/school-of-law-25th-anniversary>>