Studying Law in the Land Down Under

By Emeritus Professor Otto Stockmeyer
Prof. Otto Stockmeyer

Prof. Otto Stockmeyer

Otto Stockmeyer is an emeritus professor at Cooley Law School and a past president of the Legal Authors Society and of Scribes. This article is posted with permission of the Michigan International Lawyer and appeared in their Winter 2014 Edition.

Introduction

From January through mid-April of 2014, some lucky Cooley Law School second- and third-year students – along with guest students from other American law schools – are spending their winter semester studying Down Under in New Zealand and Australia. And for them it’s summer. Cooley’s ABA-approved “Down Under Foreign Study Program” is in its 16th year. The program combines one upper-division Cooley course, Equity & Remedies, with an array of international courses taught  by faculty members at two of the world’s top law schools: New Zealand’s University of Waikato and Monash  University in Australia. Monash’s law school is ranked 13th best in the world; Waikato’s is in the world’s top 100.

New Zealand

The first half of the program takes place at the University of Waikato. The university is located in Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth largest city, located on the country’s North Island.

The formal name of the law school is the Te Piringa Faculty of Law. It was founded in 1990 on  the principles of professionalism, biculturalism, and the study of law in context. Te Piringa in the Maori language translates as the coming together of people. The name links the law faculty to the region’s indigenous Maori heritage.

New Zealand, along with most other Commonwealth countries, teaches law at the undergraduate level. The degree awarded is the Bachelor of Laws (LLB). Six New Zealand universities have law schools or (as they are called) “law faculties.”

Most of New Zealand’s law schools follow an open-entry policy. Any student enrolled in the university may elect to study law, usually after one “intermediate year” of university course work. Of those who elect to study law, about 20% make it past the first year. In contrast, Waikato does not have open entry or an intermediate year. Waikato accepts well-qualified law students directly from high school.

For full-time students, the LLB degree requires four years of study. Foundation courses have familiar names: Contracts, Torts, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Evidence, etc. Equity, however, consists primarily of the study of trusts and wills.

Participants in the Down Under Foreign Study Program can chose among the following elective courses: Comparative and International Indigenous Rights, Comparative Chinese and Common Law Systems, Transnational Criminal Law, and International Trade Issues. Housing is offered in university dormitories.

Down Under, law generally is taught and tested like other undergraduate courses, through readings and lectures. Examinations are more expository than analytical. Waikato law students are advised to commit at least one hour of study and review for every hour of class. In the U.S., that expectation would be unrealistically low by a factor of two or three. For visiting American students looking forward to travelling the country, it’s welcome news.

Australia

In mid-February the program moves to Melbourne Australia. Melbourne is Australia’s second-largest city with a population of more than 4 million people. There, Cooley’s program is affiliated with Monash University, Australia’s largest. The Monash law school is likewise the largest of Australia’s 36 law schools, with over 3,000 students. Monash offers not only the undergraduate LLB degree, as do most Australian law schools, but also postgraduate JD and LLM degrees.

The Monash JD program is structured much like the year-round program that Cooley Law School has employed for 40 years: three trimesters a year, with classes entering in January, May, and August. Full-time students graduate in three years, part-timers in four.

Monash’s JD and LLM classes are held in a modern facility in the heart of Melbourne’s legal center. Foreign Study students live in a nearby apartment hotel.

The courses that Foreign Study students can select from in Australia include Introduction to the Australian Legal System, International Criminal Justice, International Environmental Law, and Competition Law. The Equity & Remedies course carries over from New Zealand. All course credits and grades transfer back to Cooley Law School.

In both countries extracurricular professional activities are an integral part of the program. They generally consist of witnessing local court sessions, visiting a barrister’s chambers, and attending talks by leading governmental and judicial officials. Group social activities include in New Zealand, surfing at Raglan Beach and a pool party at the Dean’s residence, and trips to a wild animal sanctuary and a winery in Australia.

By the time exams are over in mid-April, fall will be arriving in Australia, signaling to program participants that it’s time to return to the good old U.S. of A.

About the Author
Otto Stockmeyer is an emeritus professor at Thomas M. Cooley Law School, where he has taught Contracts and Equity & Remedies for 35 years. He has also been a visiting professor at Mercer University Law School and California Western School of Law. He was fortunate to participate in Cooley Law School’s Down Under Foreign Study Program in 2005 and 2013.

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