Law creates the framework for how we interact with the world and the issues that need solving. Sometimes, solving legal issues requires a deep foundation in history - you need to know the right processes and precedents when you enter a courtroom - but it can also require innovative new ways of thinking.
A curriculum where you can learn these new ways of thinking, while also gaining rigorous, traditional legal knowledge, is what sets Flinders Law apart from other Australian law schools. It's the only university in Australia where Law students have the opportunity to learn how to code using an open source platform, in the transformative Law in a Digital Age topic that students take in their first year.
Creating apps that make a real difference
In Law in a Digital Age, students work with not-for-profit organisations, government agencies and community legal centres to create legal chatbots that can be used to solve real-world problems: organisations like the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, AnglicareSA, the Hutt St Centre, and more. Students use the open source platform Docassemble to create their apps, meaning they pick up basic software engineering skills during their degree.
Dean of Law at Flinders, Professor Tania Leiman, says that Law in a Digital Age is vital for anyone studying law. “It’s not just about the tech,” says Professor Leiman. “It’s about mindset – being innovative, being enterprising and being open to exploring the possibility of new solutions. It’s also about using all the tools we have to make justice more accessible and available for more people in our community.”
"It not only gives our students the opportunity to use technology to think about the law differently, but also provides our students with a taste of what it is like to work in access to justice," adds Dr James Scheibner, who teaches the subject.
“It's not just about the tech... It's also about using all the tools we have to make justice more accessible and available for more people in our community."
Because the subject is a placement, it provides students with the opportunity to refer to it on their resumes - as well as providing valuable experiences they can reflect on in interview or networking settings.
Advocating for the vulnerable
One of the applications developed by Flinders students (Hannah Guest, Jocelyn Neumueller and Laura Spencer) during their studies was a Community Access Tool for the Hutt St Centre. The new application allows staff to more effectively provide information on the services, amenities and facilities available in the communities that the centre’s clients may move into.
Currently, the Hutt St Centre Pathways program provides council packs to its clients when moving, which include useful information about the local services and support available. However, these packs cannot always be tailored to individual needs, and aren’t available to clients who don’t interact with the Pathways team.
To use the app created by Flinders Law students, Hutt St Centre staff (or the clients themselves) first answer a series of questions to determine eligibility for certain kinds of assistance. The application then draws information from a database of council specific services for eligible clients.
Skills for a thriving career
Applications made by Law in a Digital Age students have been warmly welcomed by many organisations, highlighting the growing demand for future-focused legal skills across a range of sectors, as well as opportunities for impact through innovation.
“We’re focused on teaching our students with a curriculum that equips them well for the changing skillset that legal professionals now require,” says Professor Leiman. “Of course, it’s assumed that all law graduates will have a rigorous knowledge of the law – and we give them that – but more than that, they need to understand how to survive and thrive in what is a very dynamic context.”