Beyond employment – the function of a law degree

Don’t study law unless you really want to be a lawyer.

That was the blunt advice Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull offered future high school graduates on Canberra radio late last week.

Malcom in school

Image: Financial Review

The PM, a law graduate himself, spoke frankly about the amount of school leavers opting to study law in lieu of other broad humanities degrees like literature, history and philosophy.

“A lot of kids do law as though it is a sort of interesting background qualification and it is not.

“I did law because I wanted to be a lawyer and I practised as a lawyer for a decade.

“Why would you do dentistry if you don’t want to be a dentist, or medicine if you don’t want to be a doctor?” Mr Turnbull said.

One can’t help but feel as if the PM is selling law degrees a tad short.

Whilst it is true that law should be the choice area of study for would-be barristers and solicitors, the notion that law is merely a practical discipline is simply untrue.

A law degree offers students a wide range of skills that can be appropriated for various uses.

Huffington Post Law

Image: Huffington Post

Students of law learn to research, to consider the value of ethical reasoning, to hone their oral and verbal aptitude and to develop their writing skills beyond simple descriptions and outlines.

Law teaches critical analysis; learning to make judgements on matters where a ‘correct’ answer may not exist.

Perhaps the most valuable benefaction of a law degree is a worldview – an understanding of the world and one’s rights within it.

The most alarming takeaway from Mr Turnbull’s comments is the notion that the primary purpose of education is not to enlighten or enrich but simply to qualify students so as that they can fill a societal role.

It’s a dark idea and not one that inspires all that much hope.

Given Mr Turnbull’s sudden interest in philosophy as a broad humanities degree, perhaps we should consider the words of American philosopher John Dewey.

“Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.”

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