Skip to main content

The Future Life of a Professional Law Academic in Australia: What to Think About Now

Dr Louise Parsons, Bond University


The Australian Universities Accord Final Report (Accord) delineates ambitious goals for the nation's future and for its higher education system, which must deliver ‘the knowledge, skills and research our nation needs’ (Accord, p 2). The Accord will have profound implications for the professional landscape of academics, who will shoulder a significant burden in realising the goals of the Accord. Whilst the availability of academic jobs may remain unchanged, work demands will be different. Significantly higher student numbers are envisaged, with more students from disadvantaged backgrounds and a greater range of international students. Increased numbers of students may be in part-time employment, and academics may need to support more students who may need extra help to succeed in their studies. Academics may also teach increasingly online, or at regional universities, or at regional study hubs. Academics will likely have to make extensive use of artificial intelligence, will be required to upskill themselves and update their teaching skills, and will also be required to adjust the curriculum content to produce law graduates skilled in technology, artificial intelligence, and technology law. Law graduates would also require additional competencies in climate law, first nations perspectives, social justice, and intercultural and interdisciplinary contexts. Academics and their competencies will be heavily regulated, and law academics will have to satisfy the requirements of the legal professional admission bodies. In addition, all academics will also be key in delivering the exceptional academic research envisaged by the Accord, and in developing the talented future researchers and innovators needed for a strong Australian future.

So how does one prepare for an academic future? In this paper I will propose that as a professional law academic, a wise course of action now is to keep an eye on the future but a focus on the self. A strong actual or aspirational professional identity helps navigate a professional career more intentionally, and hopefully more successfully. The paper investigates what it means to be a ‘professor’ as well as the modern-day realities of academia. By developing a strong (but individual) professional identity (whether that is the ‘activist-lawyer’, the ‘reformist’, the ‘prac-ademic’, the ‘bureaucrat-academic’ or the ‘philosopher-lawyer’, the ‘legal commentator’, the ‘law reformer’ or any other academic identity), professional identities can assist in professional career development, and help navigate some of the challenges of legal academia created by the implementation of the very valuable goals of the Accord.