Notes from the Road: Q&A with Andrew Godwin of Melbourne Law School

That I’m in Australia is due to Andrew Godwin, senior lecturer at Melbourne Law School.

Andrew first contacted me in 2004, and thereafter we exchanged emails once in a while.  When I told him about my upcoming trip to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, he thought the stars were in alignment for a detour to Australia beforehand.

Andrew has had an interesting career, including ten years in Shanghai as partner and chief representative of Linklaters. Now his research interests include Asian law, property law, finance transactions, insolvency law, and professional training. And he maintains a relationship with Linklaters.

I’ve greatly enjoyed chatting with Andrew and look forward to future collaboration, so I thought might find of interest the following exchange.

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Ken: What prompted you to join Melbourne Law School?

Andrew: Although engaged in practice for over 15 years, I had always been interested in teaching and legal education. In particular, I was interested in the different ways in which legal education could be informed by—and help meet—the needs of commercial lawyers and “transactional law.” This, I believe, is part of a developing trend around the world.

Increasingly, the legal profession in Australia and overseas is expecting law schools to produce graduates who have made a well-informed decision to pursue commercial practice and who are well prepared for the challenges involved. Law firms expect graduates to understand the role that transactional lawyers play in both a domestic and cross-border context, and also to have developed an awareness of some of the essential skills, including advising, drafting and negotiation.

There is an international trend towards the development of a transactional law focus within law schools as a complement to the clinical law programs that have been in place for over three decades. This trend is particularly evident in the United States, where several law schools (e.g. Emory and Columbia) have established transactional law programs.

I think we would all agree that law schools are very effective in teaching students to think like a barrister or an appellate court judge—in other words, equipping them with the ability to write opinions and apply the law to a hypothetical set of facts—but are not so effective in teaching students how to think like commercial lawyers. In this sense, the focus has traditionally been on the back end of a business relationship (i.e., the relevance of law to the resolution of disputes) rather than the front end.

In Australia to date, most of the attention has been placed on professional training after graduation. Although, in my view, professional training in Australia has been very effective, more could be done at the law school to help bridge the gap between the academy and the profession.

I am keen to help bridge the gap. This is reflected in my involvement in establishing Melbourne’s Transactional Law Initiative, under whose auspices your seminars have been organized.

Ken: U.S. law schools hire faculty based largely on academic credentials—professional experience is frowned on. And they reward faculty for writing turgid law-review articles that no one reads. Given your alarmingly practical bent, can I take it that Melbourne Law School has a more healthy approach?

Andrew: The criteria that I had to meet were the same as for other members of the faculty. In other words, I had to demonstrate an interest in teaching and an ability to contribute to research. However, my transition was supported by three factors: (1) I was known to members of faculty (I am an alumnus of the Law School); (2) I had a natural base in our Asian Law Centre, given my involvement in China and my language skills; and (3) I was in a position to be able to teach a range of subjects that the Law School was keen to offer. The main challenge that I continue to face—one that is faced by all people who come to academia after a long stint in business—is which focus to maintain and how to find time for all of the  possible initiatives that one might pursue. Life simply isn’t long enough …

Ken: What, if anything, do you miss about full-time private practice—other than the money!

Andrew: This is an interesting question. I’d always thought that I would miss the interaction with clients—after all, a lot of the satisfaction that lawyers get out of legal practice is tied up with their reputation among clients and their ability to solve clients’ needs. But I discovered that the thing that I missed the most was the camaraderie between colleagues that arises when they work on deals together and jointly face the challenges, whether client-related or otherwise. Teamwork, I think, is an incredibly important aspect of legal practice.

Ken: For a young lawyer, how does private practice in Australia compare with private practice in England or the U.S.?

Andrew: There are many similarities, particularly in view of the increasing internationalization of the legal profession in Australia and Australia’s growing importance as a cross-border M&A market in sectors such as mining and resources. In recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of UK-based international law firms establishing a presence here or joining forces with Australian firms. Interestingly, a handful of US firms—such as Sullivan and Cromwell and Skadden Arps—established a presence here long before the UK firms, which makes Australia somewhat unique as a market in which the US firms got here before the UK firms!

Of course, there are similarities and differences as compared with England and the US. Australia is an interesting hybrid of the two, given the combination of its UK-inspired Westminster system with its US-inspired federal system. I think this has had an impact on the ways in which Australian lawyers engage in private practice. In terms of culture and approach, private practice in Australia is closer to the UK model than the US model. However, outward-bound Australian law graduates are heading to both sides of the Atlantic, and an international career with a UK firm or a US firm is now a mainstream choice.

Ken: What sort of relationship does Melbourne Law School have with the Australian business community?

Andrew: Melbourne Law School has always been one of the “establishment” law schools in Australia, having graduated many business leaders, judges and political leaders (including Australia’s current Prime Minister and Attorney-General). As a result, it has a close relationship with the Australian business community and the legal profession. In today’s competitive environment, however, it is not adequate simply to rely on one’s track record, and Melbourne Law School has had to work hard to stay ahead. We made legal history in Australia four years ago when we moved to an exclusively graduate model. In other words, we now admit only graduates into the JD program, along similar lines to the United States.

Ken: Thank you, Andrew.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.