The University of Tasmania is yet to respond to concerns from the state's legal profession over its decision to water down its postgraduate and undergraduate law courses.
Tasmania's nationally esteemed postgraduate law course is currently under threat, with a delegation of the state's highest legal personnel meeting with the University of Tasmania on February 8 to discuss its concerns.
The university has been contacted for comment about the outcomes from that meeting, and to confirm details about its changes.
A very high proportion of members of the legal profession have law degrees from the University of Tasmania and they are rightly concerned about what it would mean for the reputation of their own qualification if the standing of the law school would deterioate.- Law Society of Tasmania president Simon Gates
The legal graduate diploma program in the spotlight is a 26-week course offered by the Centre for Legal Studies which gives students a law-office experience, with mock-court appearances in front of Supreme and Magistrate Court judges, and access to practising lawyers who sometimes give lectures.
The university is proposing to bring in an interstate provider to deliver online content for that practical legal training course.
It has also proposed changes to the undergraduate Bachelor of Law course, where in-person lectures are being canned in favour of smaller-online workshops.
The university has not consulted the state's legal profession, which relies on the postgraduate program to adequately prepare graduate lawyers for practice.
The unprompted move has taken the profession by surprise, including the highest legal personnel in this state, including Supreme Court Chief Justice Alan Blow AO, former Tasmanian Governor Professor Kate Warner AC FAAL, and Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates SC.
Law Society of Tasmania president Simon Gates said there had been no firm response from the university after the delegation's meeting in February.
"They were taking some of the things we raised on notice, and we're waiting to hear from them."
He said he did not understand the reasoning behind changes to the practical legal course, and was deeply concerned about the reduction in undergraduate lectures.
"Why are they doing it without any consultation with the profession at all, to find out what the profession wants and needs?"
He added that core law units such as contract, torts and criminal law have previously been taught with three to four lectures a week, and up to one tutorial a week.
Under the changes lectures would drop to one online lecture, and students would receive two hours of "face to face" workshops that could include online interactive workshops.
"There is a lot of anger. A lot of people are contacting the law society and raising their concerns about this. Senior lawyers are concerned about what this will mean for new lawyers entering the profession, and whether they are going to be adequately prepared for practice," Mr Gates said.
"A very high proportion of members of the legal profession have law degrees from the University of Tasmania and they are rightly concerned about what it would mean for the reputation of their own qualification if the standing of the law school would deterioate."
Mr Gates said a reduction of lectures to just one lecture a week could mean the full breadth of learning content would not be covered.
"The fear is that if there has only been one lecture, that our teaching staff are going to have to use those workshops to actually deliver the content, or are going to be faced with students participating in workshops when they have no knowledge of content," he said.
"We don't want students coming out without knowledge of important areas of the law, we need graduates to have a really solid grounding in the fundamental areas that you need to be a competent lawyer."
In December last year, the University of Tasmania announced it will provide legal studies to students in the North and North West by offering an online diploma of law, and had plans to offer a full Bachelor of Laws to those regions.
Mr Gates dismissed a rationale that regional-based law students would now be able to access courses and practical legal training.
"To the extent that it is being suggested that it will allow regional based students to have access to PLT, then that just doesn't make sense," Mr Gates said.
"PLT is already on offered online, for example the College of Law and the Leo Cussen Centre for Law, so for people who want to do it that way, they already can."
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