Faculty of Business and Law

Law Essentials

Studying law

What is it like?

The Law You Learn in an Australian Law School

Most of us know something about law, even if we are not yet a student of law. Our previous studies, our experiences, even the television can inform us about the law. Most people would be aware of courts, and judges, of the existence of laws, and the police to enforce them, and the role of Parliament and Government in developing laws.The law affects most of us every day. When you were born, the law required a certificate to be issued. When you were 6, the law required you to go to school.

Throughout your childhood, the law required your parents or guardian to look after you. If you are married, or want to be married, the law requires you to have a certificate. If you have a job, or when you have a job, you must pay taxes. If you enter into a contract with another person and break the promises in it, they can sue you under the law. Most of the time the law is not a problem for you (except when you are studying for a law exam!) … the law easily fits in with the way we go about our everyday lives.

These sorts of laws are contained in a Parliamentary Statute and from the Courts and at times, from international law- and that is what we teach you, and you learn, in law school.

In a LLB – a Bachelor of Laws - you mainly study the Australian legal system, in some subjects focused further on the Victorian legal system. At times you look to international law.In the Australian legal system there are a set of laws:

  • In Statutes
  • In what is known as the 'common law' – of the Courts

The legal system operates as a whole, in accordance with fundamental principles and precepts with Parliament, the judiciary and executive to establish and enforce the system of rules.

There are many different areas of law you will study in your law degree. Many of the subjects you study are required for you to be admitted to practice law in Victoria (11 requirements)

  1. Contract is the law relating to legally-enforceable promises made by one party to another party- based on the Latin phrase pacta sunt servanda- covers situations from buying food from the supermarket, or just your newspaper, having tiles laid on your roof, signing a contract of employment or negotiating multi-million dollar multi-party agreements.
  2. Torts Law – the body of law allowing an injured person to recover compensation from the person who injured them, either intentionally or by the person’s negligence. For example, accidentally hitting a person with a tennis ball or manufacturing a ginger beer with a snail inside it!
  3. Criminal Procedure and Criminal Law - governs the law relating to crimes, offences against the State such as murder, rape, manslaughter, deception, theft - To commit a crime two prerequisites must be fulfilled – you must have the requisite malicious intent to commit the crime (a guilty mind) and you must commit the criminal act (a guilty act)
  4. Civil Procedure – Laws relating to the conduct of a civil trial in a Court
  5. Company Law (Business Organisations) – looks at the law relating to forming businesses, different types of companies and their regulation
  6. Constitutional Law – Looks at the powers under the Australian Constitution.- The Constitution governs the relationship between the executive in Australia, as well as the legislature and the judiciary
  7. Administrative Law – Looks at the powers of the administrative and judicial review of administrative/executive action – it gives people the right to challenge the way government bodies exercise their powers
  8. Property and Land Law – is about the creation, ownership and transfer of interests in property as well as in land- property is what you ‘own’, both personal property, pens, chairs, things, as well as real property, a piece of land
  9. Evidence – The law relating to the collection and use of information in a civil and criminal matter including the use of witnesses at trial
  10. Equity and Trusts – An area of law giving justice and fairness when the law is too strict and inflexible in its operation.
  11. Professional Conduct (Legal Practice and Ethics) – your professional and ethical obligations as a lawyer

As well as these prescribed subjects, there are many other areas of the law – some of which you will have to study, others of which may choose to study. These include, for example, Commercial law, workplace law, misleading conduct, family law, intellectual property law and many others. For an example and outline of the types of subjects you would study in a Bachelor of Laws degree at University, look through the unit guides in the Law section of the Deakin Undergraduate Handbook

A single legal case may very well cross over each of these subjects and give rise to issues from each.

Studying the Australian Common Law System

In the Bachelor of Laws degree at an Australian University, you will study a common law legal system

Australia's common law system is a system of law with the feature of the doctrine of precedent – called stare decisis (“to stand by decisions”) or “judge-made” law – derived from the English common law system. The common law can be distinguished from the civil law system – in fact the system in most of the other countries in the world, including continental Europe, some Asian states.

The civil law system sees constitutions or statutes passed by government as authoritative. All laws, both substantive and procedural are contained in a ‘code’.

But: This is just scratching the surface, in a Bachelor of Laws you learn so much more ... in particular the skills of a law graduate

The Skills a Law Student Learns

Studying law is a skill. Over the 3, 4 or 5 (or so) years you are in law school, you develop the skill of being a law student. When you graduate, the tools in your armoury mean that you are equipped with the tools of a lawyer, as well as generic skills referred to as ‘graduate attributes’.

These are divided into two areas - knowledge and understanding and skills.

Knowledge and understanding

  • understanding of, and the ability to work with, a systematic body of knowledge, appropriate to the focus and level of the qualification based on the highest standards of scholarship and research
  • and where research is undertaken:
    - ability to initiate and formulate viable and relevant research questions
    - contribution to new knowledge, or an original interpretation and application of existing knowledge
    - understanding of the social, economic and cultural impact and application of their research, and its academic relevance and value
  • understanding of the professional, social, economic and cultural contexts of the discipline and related fields
  • awareness of ethical issues, social responsibility and cultural diversity
  • understanding and appreciation of international perspectives in a global environment.

Skills

  • critical analysis, problem solving, and creative thinking
  • identifying, gathering, evaluating and using information
  • communicating effectively and appropriately in a range of contexts
  • developing, planning and managing independent work
  • working effectively as part of a team
  • effectively using information and communication technologies
  • applying knowledge learned in the program to new situations

This text is an edited extract from Claire Macken, The Law Student's Survival Guide: 9 Steps to Law Study Success, Thomsons, 2009 (2nd edition).

Interesting links

Class presentations

Student Equity

Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

17th July 2012