Jobs 10

Law Teacher

After 2-3 years as a solicitor, I had an early mid-life crisis and went back to university (again!) to study something totally different.  This was Quixotic but probably emotionally necessary at the time.

To support myself, I obtained part time work teaching law at various universities.  In my time I taught at Sydney, UNSW, UWS and UTS, though mostly at Sydney.

Most of this was casual teaching, either as a tutor (correct term: Associate Lecturer) or lecturer.  It wasn’t that difficult to obtain such work at the time.  Law schools were expanding, but they were doing this on the back of a lot of casual teachers, and it has always been easier to obtain university teaching posts in professional faculties where there are other real and paying jobs out there to be had for the adept.

The subject I taught the most was Contracts.  This was relatively easy, especially as, when I taught it at Sydney at least, I was teaching almost exactly the same course as I had relatively recently studied myself.  Contracts is a relatively “black-letter” subject, though not perhaps as black-letter as students like to think it is or they are usually led to expect.  “Black-letter,” for the unitiated, is a term which is used to describe law or ways of teaching law which concentrate on it as a body of positive rules, as opposed to approaches which concentrate, for example, on the merit or otherwise of those rules, or their effect in actual operation, or a whole range of other possibilities.

The other substantive subject I taught was Equity.  This was much harder, or at least was so for me.  I won’t even try to encapsulate here what Equity as a subject is about.  It is sometimes said that whereas law (such as contracts) has rules, Equity (almost always with the capital “E” because it is not the same as “equity” as commonly understood, notwithstanding the maxim: “Equity is equity”) has principles.  I have now come to the view that, whilst you need to learn Equity at law school, it is not really a subject which can be taught because it requires a lot of experience and (for hard cases, at least) an up-to-the-minute acquaintance with prevailing judicial temperament.

I also taught more than my share of legal foundations/introductory jurisprudence courses.  Mostly, and especially when taught before students had any acquaintance with any body of substantive law, these were in my opinion a bit of a waste of time other than as a process of legal acculturation.  Jurisprudence, like youth, is wasted on the young.

In all this time, the biggest joke to me was the respect I would receive when people learnt I was teaching at a university.  The job didn’t feel like that at all.  The one thing I was acutely conscious of was how hard it was for me, as a part-time and indeed casual teacher, to match the expertise of salaried teachers who were paid much more (even allowing for their commitment to research) and who had the comparative luxury of researching in and teaching the same syllabus (marginally adjusted) for year after year.

Compared to school teaching, discipline was no longer an issue and one had the luxury of teaching relatively capable students.  Even so, there was a noticeable difference as a group between UWS students (selected from the top 10% or so of school leavers) and Sydney and UNSW students (selected from the top 1% or so).

Four years later, I returned to practice as a solicitor.  I almost landed a permanent teaching job at this time, but one of the members of the selection committee had been one of my teachers at College of Law a few years previously.  As a sometime teacher, I had noticed that the class was transfixed by a terrible pizza-grease stain on his trousers – boredom and the general structure of College of Law had this infantilizing effect on us.  When he became aware that something was wrong and asked what it was, I told him.  It just goes to show you should never be too careful whom you offend: I was told that the selection committee had been evenly divided and I harbour a strong suspicion that, even if not consciously remembered, this slight swung the balance against me.

Once I was back in the profession, I soon found I had neither the time nor the energy (nor, financially, the incentive) to undertake part-time teaching work, and my teaching career shortly after came to an end.   

3 Responses to “Jobs 10”

  1. Work 11 - hard work, worst jobs. « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] when I went back to university for other studies and supported myself as a music teacher and law teacher, there would always come a time over the Christmas/summer vacation when money got really tight.  […]

  2. David Tennis Pro Says:

    Hi. Can you explain more the noticeable difference between students of UWS and USYD/UNSW. thanks

    • marcellous Says:

      Look it is a long time ago so I can’t now be specific above remembered impressions which as I recall them ( details effaced) do not seem out of line with a combination of the difference between different top percentiles (social and academic self assurance) and (more questionably) allowing for contrary geographical corrections. The UNSW and USyd students were a better class of student on all the usual indicators. at least from a teacher’s point of view (which may be quite a limitation for other purposes).

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