Can we talk about law school?

Researching the effect of law school’s implicit curriculum on law students’ perceptions of life after law school

My name is Andrew Henderson, and I am a PhD student at The ANU College of Law. I have also been a tutor at The ANU College of Law and the Canberra Law School at the University of Canberra.

My PhD research is focused on how law school has influenced law students’ thinking – whether it has affected their perceptions of what legal practice is like, how they solve problems and whether it has changed what they want to do when they graduate.

What’s an ‘implicit curriculum’?

Australian law schools have to teach law students specific subjects. The Law Admissions Consultative Committee (LACC) – sometimes also referred to as the ‘Priestley Committee’ – publish a list of 11 subjects that every law student has to complete as part of their law degree (‘the Priestley 11’) if they want to be admitted as a lawyer. But law school isn’t just about what law students learn. It’s also about how they learn it. That might include how it’s taught, how it’s explained, or how they are instructed to apply it.

Let me give you an example…

Think about a great experience you had in a law subject. What was ‘good’ about it? Was it the way a tutor or lecturer explained it? How did it affect how you felt about that subject? Did it influence you to think about that subject in a particular way?

People who write about how students learn, and the way it affects how they think about the subject and their studies, sometimes call this ‘the implicit curriculum’. The Priestley 11 and course guides are explicit – we can see them written down. How the explicit curriculum should be communicated to law students usually isn’t. But it might affect how they think about the law – Is it ‘good’ or ‘bad’? What does it tell them about the best way to solve disputes? Does it match how they think people deal (or should deal) with one another? Did it influence their decisions about what you want to do after law school?

Why are you doing this?

My research won’t make any immediate changes to legal education. But it is one of the first attempts to identify if there is, in fact, an implicit curriculum in Australian law schools, how it is communicated, and the effect that it has. Depending on the evidence this research provides, it will provide a basis to review how law schools work and identify, change or promote ways of teaching law that support law students’ academic and professional success.

I’m thinking about being interviewed. What’s involved?

I will be interviewing as many law students as I can from both The ANU College of Law and the Canberra Law School at the University of Canberra. ‘Interview’ sounds pretty formal, but what’s involved is more like an informal chat about why you came to law school, your experiences, and if the way you think about the law and your degree has changed.

Interviews will be recorded, unless you ask me not to.

I realise your time is valuable and interviews will last no more than an hour. While I am writing my thesis, it might be useful to check back with you about something you said. Any follow-up questions will last no more than 30 minutes.

I’m worried that something I say might get back to by friends or my convenor …

Your participation in an interview is entirely voluntary.

I realise that you might be worried about anything you say about law school getting back to your friends or lecturers, or that it might affect your marks. I will make sure that doesn’t happen:

  • No one other than me will have access to your name, student number or email address. I will never share that information unless you agree, or I am required by law to produce it.
  • The only information that I will use in any interview recording or transcript will be your age, the gender with which you identify, the year you commenced study, the program in which you are enrolled (LLB or JD) and the university you attend.
  • If you say something in your interview that might identify you, I will edit that out of the recording.
  • Interview data will be generalised and used to identify themes that are common to interviews. That is, I will not identify any individual interview unless it’s appropriate and necessary.
  • If I do propose using something specifically from your interview, I will send the extract in context to you before I use it. You can refuse to let me use it (and you don’t have to explain why) or ask me to make further amendments to remove anything in it that you believe could be used to identify you.

If you do participate and change your mind at any time – before, after or even during the interview – you can pull out. You do not have to tell me why, and I will destroy any record of the interview if there is one.

I’d like to participate in an interview. How do I contact you?

You can contact me:

I have some more questions…

If you have any questions about my research or the interview, you can read the full information sheet here.

The ethical aspects of this research have been approved by the ANU Human Research Ethics Committee (Protocol 2019/593) and received cross-institutional approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Canberra (HREC – 2218). If you have any concerns or complaints about how this research has been conducted, please contact the Ethics Manager, The ANU Human Research Ethics Committee, Telephone: +61 2 6125 3427, Email: