Speech by Professor Philip Evans,
Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, 4th April 2023
Mr Darren Smith – Executive Principal – Sheridan Institute of Higher Education Commissioner Finlay, Professor Moens and Professor Zimmermann.
Firstly I wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community and pay my respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here this evening. Whilst we are here to formally open the Law library and acknowledge the contribution of Professor Moens to legal education, to use a legal analogy, the contribution of Professor Moens is “so obvious it goes without saying” and has been detailed by previous speakers. It is really left to me to just say congratulations on the recognition of your valued contribution.
However as Professor Moens has often acknowledged in the many years, I have known him he has not done this alone. He has done this with the longstanding support of his wife Dr Edith Moens who is with us this evening.
This evening I want to briefly mention three things:
- Why law libraries are so important in legal education
- The important role of the law librarian in legal education; and
- Do we need another Law School?
Why law libraries are so important in legal education
It is well acknowledged that law libraries are critically important in legal education but also fundamental in supporting the justice system, by making legal information accessible to all, which is extremely important in maintaining a democratic society.
This is acknowledged by the Council of Australian Law Deans Law School Standards states;
The law library has a distinctive role in the university and is appropriately described as the “lawyer’s laboratory” and can be regarded as similar to the need for scientists to have essential equipment in a laboratory setting. The vital role of the Law Library in the Law Schools research, teaching and service can be achieved, not only through a physical library but through the availability of an active and engaged law librarian.
But regardless of any administrative requirement as legal educators we are well aware of the impact of law libraries. Their impact is immeasurable, a fact which is not always appreciated by Vice Chancellors who often look covetously at the physical space and attempt to impose some online alternative.
While Online resources provide an important aspect in both legal education and practice, there are significant advantages in using printed materials. In fact, in recent years, print books generally have seen a resurgence.
Recent research indicates that;
1. You absorb more information from a print book.
Readers of print books absorb and remember more of the content than readers of e-books do. Also print readers scored higher in other areas, such as empathy, immersion in the book, and understanding of the narrative. Scientists believe this effect is related to the tactile sensation of holding a book in your hands.
2. Print books are easier on the eyes.
Considering that many tasks require us to stare at a computer screen all day, it’s wise to give your eyes a break whenever you can. Electronic books can cause screen fatigue, which may lead to blurred vision, redness, dryness and irritation.
Anyone who has to read 80 law assignments on screen can certainly relate to that.
3. With print books you’re less likely to get distracted.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who read e-books and information from computer screens tend to get side-tracked more easily. Digital readers tend to spend more time browsing (and digressing) than actually processing what
they’re reading. And with a print book, there’s no chance of getting distracted by links or heading down an internet rabbit hole.
In my own case I start browsing for articles dealing with the effect of COVID on commercial contracts and somehow end up reading about electric vehicles!
4. Print books amplify the joy of reading.
A recent international study showed that 92% of students preferred actual books that they can hold and touch and leaf through whenever they please.
The Law Librarian
However, more importantly than the physical resources in the Law Library, is the role of the law librarian. As mentioned earlier the importance of the law librarian is specifically referred to in the Council of Australian Law Deans Standards.
Law school academics train lawyers, but so do law librarians. They play an important role in helping law students gain new knowledge by quickly referring them to current legal resources and research platforms.
Secondly law librarians regularly assist academic staff in keeping up with new developments regarding the law and legal research allowing us to be more efficient with their time.
The work that law librarians perform assists not only in saving time and resources, but allows us to access information quickly and efficiently. They are often the first port of call in supplying the information that is needed to understand an issue or commence a research project.
On a personal note if you were to ask me who have been the most influential in helping me in my legal studies and later as a law academic (apart from my wife Diane) it has been the law librarians.
And I refer with appreciation to Anne Greenshields, the former Murdoch University Law School Law Librarian, and Mr Bruce Bott, who for many years was the Law Librarian at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
I have had the opportunity to meet and talk to the Sheridan Law Librarian Lizelle Smith. Apart from being highly qualified academic librarian (amongst other things) it was clear that Lizelle had a passion for her role and will be invaluable in assisting both students and staff.
Lizelle more than clearly satisfies the Council of Australian Law Deans Standards that a Law School must have an active and engaged law librarian.
Do we need another Law School?
Before I finish I would like consider another question that is being asked in the legal community. That is: Do we need another Law School?
The question is not so much do we need another law school but do we need a different law school? Yes we do. We need a law school;
- Where pastoral care is not just words on a mission statement but is the foundation of the law school.
- Where the elective units ensure there are a variety of topics available that reflect not only contemporary legal issues and particular legal specialties but also the moral issues in such a way as to prioritize ends that are worth pursuing, together with the right rules, and obligations that ought to govern human conduct in a Christian context.
- Where teaching staff are skilled in communication, listening, collaboration, adaptability, and more importantly empathy and patience and where they value real-world learning, commitment to ethical practices and a lifelong love of learning.
I have had the opportunity of reading the proposed LLB course structure and content and to meet some of the Sheridan staff and also work with Professor Zimmermann for some years. Under Professor Zimmermann’s guidance I am sure we will see those values reflected here to ensure that Sheridan law graduates will be…
- Lovers of Truth
- Seekers of Wisdom
- Innovative Thinkers
- Effective Communicators; and
- Independent Learners
And I would also add that empathy is the most important aspect of the legal practice.
This was brought home to me a few years ago when I was asked to appear before the Senate Committee Inquiry into Insolvency in the Construction Industry.
When I had completed my submissions, Senator Cameron, who was the Chair of the Committee, commented that the Committee had noted the work I had done in helping the industry be aware of its contractual rights and obligations
But had I ever considered the personal effects resulting from insolvency. That is the depression, the mental breakdowns, the marital breakdowns and suicides.
I was embarrassed to reply that I had not. But I do now. In all my lectures I stress that applying the law to the facts is only one of the issues in assisting clients and litigation is the last resort.
My closing submissions
In typical legal practice I would like to make four closing submission. The authority being my desk diary! They are as follow;
- “There is no greater calling than to teach”
- “No lawyer can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.”
- Firstly let lawyers be polite. If they know something of the law so much the better.
- Books are the most quiet and constant of friends. They are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors and the most patient of teachers.
Thank you once again for the opportunity of being here this evening.
Professor Philip Evans is Consultant and Professor of Law in the Faculty of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia. In past senior roles he was Dean in the School of Law at Murdoch University and Associate Dean in the School of Law at the University of Notre Dame Australia. This paper was presented by him as a speaker at the Ceremonial Opening of Professor Gabriël A. Moens Law Library in the Sheridan Institute of Higher Education, Perth/WA, on April 4, 2023