The legal profession has been concerned for some time with the capability of law graduates for transnational practice. While much of the discussion in the context of the Australian legal profession has centered on knowledge, for example of private international law, there is inevitably an array of skills and attitudes that must accompany such knowledge to develop what might be called the global lawyer. This post teases out what those skills and attitudes might look like.
Contemporary (and future) Australian law graduates have opportunities in global lawyering in a few different ways. As lawyers in domestic Australian jurisdictions, their clients will increasingly face an international law landscape. This occurs through the imposition of international standards in domestic contexts, or through increasingly globalised trade relations which themselves attract international and transnational jurisdiction. Of note also is the likelihood of an international client-base, requiring lawyers adept in providing effective professional services to an increasingly diverse clientele.
The growth in law firms that are themselves international with an Australian presence, likewise afford graduates the opportunity for international transfers to practice in other jurisdictions, and also to collaborate internationally within the firm. Similarly there are a number of Australian agencies and NGOs that operate globally, and which call for qualified Australian lawyers who can practise in diverse contexts.
A third option is for Australian lawyers to take themselves overseas and qualify in offshore jurisdictions.
The concerns of the profession probably focus on the first two of these examples but it is now widely accepted that law schools must prepare our graduates for all three – in addition of course to ensuring the community is served by good quality lawyers who are skilled in Australian law and legal practice.
The Bentley and Squelch Report identifies four methods of curriculum design to ‘internationalise’ the law curriculum: aggregation, integration, segregation, and immersion. I am interested here in a slightly different way of conceptualising the internationalised law curriculum: designing a capstone to facilitate our students’ transition into the global lawyer graduate, and I have been thinking about this in collaboration with Professor Paula Gerber and Melissa Castan, both of Monash University.
The premise for a discrete subject focussing on the global lawyer is to engage students in thinking about ‘borderless practice’. The components of transnational practice include an understanding of comparative legal practice, comparative legal processes, cross-cultural competencies, and digitally-mediated global information flows.
While comparative law is its own recognised field, the focus on setting a foundation for a global lawyer is to appreciate diverse legal process and the cultural context within which that process occurs. The Australian justice system is a departure point for an overview of diverse comparative litigation practice, overlaid with international arbitration and public law process.
Without interrogating the rules of civil procedure globally, the goal is to raise awareness in students of diverse justice systems and to inculcate open-mindedness to variations in procedure and the implications for practice. The process of questioning and investigating other jurisdictions models an approach to thinking about legal process as a precursor to learning the rules themselves. It also is the opening for investigating culture: not in a vacuum, but as it relates to the lawyer’s practice, their relationship with colleagues, with clients, and with the community they serve – wherever that might be.
Cultural competency can be dealt with on two levels. The first is raising student consciousness of cultural differences and how this affects both communication and the role of the lawyer. The second relates to the interaction between identity – often the subject of human rights – and culture. This itself has two dimensions: how the lawyer can protect human rights in culturally diverse contexts, and how the lawyer’s own identity is perceived within diverse cultural and legal contexts. The global lawyer requires insight into their own impact as a lawyer and a person.
An emerging cultural context is the use and application of digital technologies. They demand their own competencies in facilitating communication, and in making choices about their use. The global lawyer is adept at managing their digital footprint. They have a mind to the effective management of information in accordance with professional and ethical norms regardless of jurisdiction. They have skills in manipulating information using diverse digital tools as a means of communication and an expression of the client’s needs and of the law itself.
In one sense, in an increasingly globalised world every lawyer is ‘global’. Increasingly open access to the law itself, mass communication and global connectivity potentially projects each of us into a global community. Building on the significant work already done in Australian legal education on an internationalised curriculum, legal educators need now to consider how they design curriculum that keeps pace with, or indeed leads, in the question of broad – global – graduate competencies.