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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 2. March 27, 1958

Second Rate Lawyers

Second Rate Lawyers

To any student doing law it must be obvious that to continue with the present degree course in law is to continue to produce second-rate lawyers. The student who after five years or so graduates in law has a hazy knowledge of his subject, knowing a little about a lot but not knowing much about anything.

An intending solicitor, who desires to specialise in Property Law and Conveyancing, has to fret away years of his life studying Criminal, Civil and Constitutional Law—subjects which subsequently he intends to take no interest in at all. Worse still is the plight of the intending civil and criminal lawyer who has to devote nightmarish years to studying the illogicalities and oddities of the law of Property. What earthly use is it to a criminal lawyer to know the difference between an estate tail male and an estate tail female? How many criminal cases would he win with a plea that his client's title was indefeasible? Again, what use is it to a conveyancing solicitor to know the difference between theft, robbery, aggravated robbery, and burglary?

Drawing of NZ map

The result of all this mucking about is that few of the subjects in the course are adequately covered. In fact of the eighteen subjects in the course only about nine are of any practical value. What is the effect of this upon an intending property lawyer? Firstly, it means that he will study only about three subjects mat are of any use to him, viz., property, conveyancing, and trusts and wills. His most important subject—property—will not be adequately covered. The whole of the law of personal property will have to be dealt with in three or four lectures. The same chaotic situation holds true for the intending commercial lawyer. Whole slabs of the law relating to contracts will be left untouched and other parts will be dealt with only sketchily. Insurance, arbitration and quasi-contract are left out altogether. (Last year students were told that quasi-contract was not in the syllabus—yet a question was asked about it in the exam.) Specialty contracts are only touched upon. The intending criminal lawyer is in the same boat. His criminal law course will leave out slabs of the Crimes Act of 1908 and will turn a blind eye to the Police Offences Act of 1939 and numerous other criminal statutes.

My suggestion is that the law course in our New Zealand universities should be drastically altered to allow for greater specialisation. For example, in the engineering course a student who has gained his intermediate may elect to pursue one of any six separate courses of study. He is free to specialise in either mechanical, electrical, civil, chemical, mining or metallurgical engineering. Why should not the law student have a similar option? There is no reason why it should not be done. Apart from the frills that make up half the degree, the law course splits up into about three separate categories. There are those subjects relating to property law, those relating to commercial law, and those relating to criminal and civil (tortious) law. Instead of future law students having to study the whole lot, let them elect to follow one of the three (or perhaps, two of the three) courses and make a far deeper study of their particular choice.