Time for some blue-sky thinking in legal education

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Subject to the vagaries of air travel, I will arrive in Sydney later today to attend the UNSW Legal Education Conference. I’ll be presenting with my colleagues Alex Steel and Melissa Castan on some work we are doing developing a taxonomy of legal education research. More on that in another post.

In this post, I outline my thoughts on the state of publishing in Australian legal education. I’ll be presenting these as part of a plenary panel at the conference.

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Marriage equality bill straight from the patriarchy

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It’s been a harrowing few weeks for the patriarchy. Having now been exposed, pants down, a number of big names in Hollywood appear to have been cast adrift by new-fangled feminist norms of respect for bodily autonomy, and non-exploitative deployment of personal wealth and power.

It’s so bad, that some ordinary men have taken to their global media platforms to suggest that they will never get sex again, presumably now that they can’t just take what is their right, and wailing that they hope that we women will share the power with the poor old blokes now that we have achieved global domination.

Alas. Were this but true.

The patriarchy in Australia is faring no better. Despite men’s superior earnings, better job prospects, and an implied licence (or so it seems) to sexually harass, there is a rear-guard action to protect the wellspring of patriarchal power – male headship within the traditional nuclear family. Ironically, this is occurring in the context of marriage equality which is after all, nothing more than a quest to entrench the conservative institution of marriage in Australian society.

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Sexual harassment still a problem in the legal profession in 2017

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He sat across my desk, in my office. He looked me in the eye and said,’Did you know that you can tell the colour of a woman’s nipples by the colour of her lips?’

Another used his 120kg of bulk to trap me against a wall at a crowded work function, leering at me.

A co-worker clumsily groped me in a public space at a conference, again and again. I left

A professional colleague handed me a sheaf of his writing, watching me read his poorly written soft porn as we sat in a public cafe.

As I attempted to call our meeting to an end, he stood in my office so as to block my exit from behind my desk. My office door was open at all times.

These are some stories from my working life as a practising lawyer and as a legal academic over 30 years. One of these stories happened this year. I know that other women have it worse.

These experiences came to mind as I read allegations this week, made by three young women lawyers about their experiences working for a senior lawyer. The man allegedly sent the women to fetch his Viagra from the pharmacy, hired based on physical attractiveness, had pornography visible in his office, made sexually explicit comments, and showed a drawing of his penis.

While reading the stories of the three women, I reflected back on my feelings in similar circumstances. At first I thought it was deep shame that I felt – even after all these years. But I suspect that it is in fact fear. I was afraid of the potential of force – of violence – that each of these situations represented. I can only imagine the fear and confusion experienced by the young women who shared their stories.

Remember – this all happened in professional contexts.

I’ve written before about sexism and harassment in the legal profession (and here, and here). The stats aren’t getting better. Those in the legal profession know it is unlawful to sexually harass. Such behaviour breaches discrimination law, and workplace law. For good measure, it also breaches professional ethics. But it continues.

In some quarters, such behaviour is an open secret. This makes us all, the entire profession, complicit. The young women who have made the most recent allegations – and others like them – have thus experienced powerlessness, and maybe those same feelings of fear that I have had, in the face of our complacency.

There are three actions we in the profession must take. Especially senior members of the profession, and especially men.

  • Call out sexual harassment. Expose the open secret by telling the harasser to stop. It’s not banter, it’s not a joke. Tell them straight just to stop. Team up with others and together tell the harasser that it is unacceptable behaviour in your workplace. Use the power of our professional culture for good, and turn things around.
  • Support the person on the receiving end of the harassment. Ensure that they are supported by others. Shut down gossip. And, do not be that gossip. Hard, I know, in a gossipy profession. But gossip adds to the complicity.
  • I think we need to look to the overall culture of the profession, and our tacit acceptance of such behaviour – and to look for action outside discipline as a first call. However, if they don’t stop, report the behaviour to your professional body. And call the professional body to account if it fails to act.

If such actions are reported to you, it’s not enough just to support the complainant. You must deal with the alleged harasser too. In my own case, I have been personally well supported by men – but in some cases the man about whom I have complained has not been censured, and his bad behaviour continues.

It is therefore our responsibility as employers, and as colleagues, to alert the man to his poor behaviour, to let him know that it is unacceptable, and to sanction it. Otherwise, we know that it will continue. And we will see yet another generation of lawyers suffer the same fate.

I can’t believe I’m writing this. In 2017. About lawyers. But here it goes.

Please. Stop sexual harassment. Do not continue to be a bystander.

The male professoriate in law

A male law professor mentioned to me recently that in his experience, if you just do your work, and do it well, then your career will progress – rewards will flow. I was somewhat taken aback by this statement and pointed out that this certainly was not my own experience, and was unlikely to be the experience of many women in academia. Indeed, I suspect this is not the case in any profession.

It got me thinking about the makeup of Australian law schools. We currently have many women law deans around the country – though I do note that some are punching above their weight, holding the role of dean at a substantive position lower than professor. The law school is a feminised work force in many respects – women are highly visible in so many law schools. However I suspect that this is because women form the bulk of our casualised workforce, teaching sessionally.

I wondered though about the makeup of the professoriate. With so many women – and so many capable women – one might expect that there would be equality in the upper ranks of the law school. Let’s see if the numbers bear this out.

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Semantics or substance? Plebiscite/survey

Since my last post, I’ve developed a particular sensitivity to the language surrounding Australia’s marriage equality process. 

Billed by the government as a plebiscite using ‘one vote one value’ (Matthias Cormann on 10 August), a ‘democratic right’ to ‘vote’ on the question of marriage equality (Julie Bishop on 10 August), and having ‘the look and feel of an election’ (Allan Tudge on 9 August), in fact the government has directed the ABS to run a survey.

The legal questions as to the process therefore centre on the lawfulness of the direction under the Australian Bureau of Statistics Act, and the question of funding. 

The High Court of Australia will today hear two challenges to the survey. While some have expressed the challenge in terms of its undemocratic nature, I can’t see that this is relevant to the question of the lawfulness of a *survey*. 

Questions about democratic process are valid. But these are not legal questions to be heard by the High Court so long as the relevant process occurs under the Census and Statistics Act.

The relevant processes are the processes of surveys and of statistics. Statistics involves questions such as sample size and selection, population distribution, and the like. Survey methods go to the reliability of inferences drawn from the analysis. They do not involve questions of fairness, rights, legitimacy, or democracy. 

Further, a survey instrument is not a ballot and a survey response is not a vote. Defects in sampling methods are not voter fraud.

Because the government promised a plebiscite, we remain focused on democratic process and so we continue to frame our questions in this way. Even government ministers are stuck in their own language of a citizens’ vote.

But until we can clearly analyse the reality of the legal background to the process as one of statistical collection, we will be less able to analyse its validity – both under the law, and as to its ultimate statistical outcome.

Plebiscite not within ABS role

The Australian government has, notoriously, decided to run what it calls a plebiscite on the question of marriage equality in Australia. It will put up a bill to set up the running of the plebiscite as a mainstream vote, but this is expected to fail. Its fallback position is to have the Australian Bureau of Statistics (‘ABS’) run a voluntary postal vote.

On a straightforward reading of the relevant statutes, it is unlikely that the ABS is empowered by its legislation to run the vote. The former head of the ABS appears also to hold this view.

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Legal citations 2.0

Post by Kate Galloway and Melissa Castan. Cite as:
Kate Galloway and Melissa Castan, ‘Legal Citations 2.0’ Katgallow (21 June 2017) https://kategalloway.net/2017/06/21/legal-citations-2-0/

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The leading work on legal citations in Australia is the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (‘AGLC’). The AGLC, currently working on a 4th edition, provides users with a comprehensive style guide for all legal writing from use of capitals, through to citation of international treaty materials. (For an example of the current application of the AGLC, see eg this article.)

The explosion of online and other digital sources poses a challenge to most standard r

eferencing styles – as is clearly articulated by Prof Patrick Dunleavy, in this post. For legal citation in Australia, much of this development has occurred since the publication of the third edition of the AGLC, making it timely to reconfigure some of the key guiding principles behind legal citation.

As editors of the Alternative Law Journal and the Legal Education Review respectively, Melissa Castan and I increasingly encounter diverse forms of reference and referencing. In response, and this post, we propose a reorientation of the analogue focus of the AGLC to adapt and address the digital landscape of legal scholarship.

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The legal profession’s ‘black swan’ problem

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A black swan is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict.

The term ‘black swan’ derives from the story that the English had traditionally defined the word ‘swan’ as a bird that was white. Swans’ whiteness was integral to their ‘swanness’. When the English came to Australia and saw black swans, they were thrown by this completely unexpected event. If swans were by definition white, what was this black bird? It was impossible to have predicted the event of a black swan because of the circumscribed definition of swan.

Author Nicholas Taleb used the term ‘black swan’ in his best selling book. He suggests that we cannot predict the future if we expect the current circumstances to continue on the same trajectory as they have in the past. I think that the legal profession is in such a predicament.

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Are we seeing the devolution of university education?

cracked institutionYesterday the Australian Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, announced cuts to higher education funding and increases in student fees. In addition, the income threshold for repayment of student debt will be reduced. Funding for teaching will be reduced in 2019 by $380 million relative to the current funding formula.

Universities are huge institutions requiring significant funding to maintain their operations. Yet they face hefty competition from global and increasingly accessible, technologies. Instead of a future of under-funded universities, I see their devolution altogether – at least in terms of education, if not of research.

The change will not be quick. A higher degree (bachelors or above) is now the entry point for the regulated professions. These professions, including law, use course accreditation as a means of guaranteeing standards of graduate entry. For unregulated professions (such as marketing, or banking) the market determines the entry requirement, and that is generally a bachelors degree.

But things are changing, and universities’ role can no longer be taken for granted.

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The trouble with the McGlade amendments to the Native Title Act

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The dominant discourse in native title amendments is that of … coal?

In June 2015, the Australian Law Reform Commission handed down its final report into the Native Title Act. Amongst its recommendations was the amendment of provisions for the process of authorising Indigenous land use agreements (‘ILUAs’).

Coinciding with the ALRC Report, the Northern Development White Paper proposed a fund to settle all native title claims within a decade.

There has been no response to either the Report and the White Paper that might indicate just how native title processes might be improved, let alone settled, in the short or medium term. All of a sudden however, native title reform is back in vogue. But the heat of debate over proposed changes to ILUA authorisation masks what is at stake.

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