Lawyer shortage concern for the bush



`I fought the law and the law won’ may become the battle cry for outer-city folk if a shortage in rural and regional lawyers is not fixed, according to a Griffith Law School academic.

Trish Mundy has teamed with interstate university partners on a project to deliver an undergraduate law curriculum to address problems with recruitment and retention in rural and regional law centres.

Ms Mundy said 36 per cent of the nation’s population resided in rural and regional areas yet only 17 per cent of lawyers practised in these areas.

“The law industry has difficulty in recruiting and retaining lawyers and legal professionals in rural and regional areas,” she said.

“The shortage of lawyers outside of the city will lead to a crisis in terms of access to justice for a significant proportion of the country’s population.”

Ms Mundy said many rural and regional law firms and community legal centres were unable to find suitable lawyers to fill vacancies when they arose and were impeded by the drain of corporate knowledge caused by a constant staff turnover.

“This will only intensify over the coming years as a large number of senior legal professionals in these areas have indicated an intention to retire, compounded by a significant number of junior lawyers who have indicated an intention to make rural or regional practice a short-term career option only,” she said.

The project involves law academics from the University of New England and Deakin University over a 12-month period from November.

The project aims to develop strategies within the undergraduate law curriculum to prepare and attract lawyers and other legal professionals for legal careers in rural and regional Australia.

Ms Mundy said previous law literature indicated that a student who undertook their legal study at a rural or regional university was more likely to seek employment in a rural or regional area, compared with those who studied in the city.

She said despite this link, the typical law school curriculum did not actively deal with preparing graduates for employment within regional and rural community industry environment.

“The project will firstly comprehensively examine the notion of legal practice through the conceptual lens of ‘rural social space’, seeking to understand what a rural or regional legal practice career means for law graduates, their employers, and rural and regional communities,” she said.

“Secondly, this project will develop a customisable curriculum package that accounts for the legal needs of rural and regional communities, and which prepares future lawyers and legal professionals to be able to work in these areas.”

She said this would be the first known funded project seeking to examine the role the law school curriculum may play in better preparing law graduates for such positions.