Australasian Law Teachers Association

Promoting Excellence in Legal Academic Teaching and Research

2010 ALTA conference


Power, Regulation and Responsibility: Lawyers in Times of Transition'


4 to 7 July 2010 


Persistent rain failed to dampen the enjoyment of the 2010 ALTA Conference hosted by the Faculty of Law and the Department of Commercial Law of The University of Auckland from 4 to 7 July. The ALTA Conference last came to Auckland in 1983.

The Conference commenced with an elegant reception in the Owen G Glenn Building foyer on the Sunday night. Monday, the first business day of the conference, began with a traditional Maori powhiri on the University’s Waipapa Marae. The powhiri was conducted by Maori students from the Faculty of Law who not only welcomed, but entertained with their waiata, dance, haka and confidence in the Maori language.

The day reflected the multicultural nature of New Zealand society by ending with a Pacific Island themed dinner in the University’s Fale Pasifika. The Fale is built in the dominant exposed round beam style of a Samoan meeting house. The highlight of the evening was a bracket of vibrant drumming and colourful dancing from the University’s Cook Island Dance Group.

Between the powhiri and the dinner the business sessions of the day were built around the conference theme: “Power, regulation and responsibility; lawyers in times of transition”. The Chief Justice of New Zealand, Dame Sian Elias, and Professor Jeremy Waldron of New York University Law School and Chichele Professor-Elect of Social and Political Theory, Oxford University, presented papers at the first plenary session. Both papers built off the principle of the rule of law.

The Chief Justice spoke to a provocative title: “‘Law, Like Love’; why ‘guardians of the law’s rationality’ fail to satisfy”. Dame Sian reminded the legal academy of its value to the wider legal community:

“Academic lawyers have a greater freedom than others involved in the development of the law. In particular they have the freedom to identify the questions that must be asked... If the common law is properly to be seen as a method of change, the health of our law schools as producers of legal literature is now critical to the common law as a system. The advantages of academic input are also captured in statute law reform processes, where also the remorseless treadmill impacts on the ability of practitioners to contribute as effectively as formerly”.

Professor Waldron was concerned with the responsibility that the rule of law imposes on lawyers as advisers to government: 

”... the Rule of Law should constrain lawyers in everything they do for their clients and for whatever moral goal or goals of social justice they are pursuing: they should pursue these aims through the Rule of Law, not around it, or in spite of it... Government lawyers should not be in the business of looking for pockets of unregulated discretion or loopholes in such regulations as do exist. They should not be advising their political bosses that they are entitled to avoid the impact of legal constraint where it is ambiguous or unclear”.

The Publishers’ Plenary on the Monday afternoon saw a trans-Tasman panel chaired by Professor Brian Opeskin (Macquarie Law School) address the issues around the interface between the legal academy and law reform bodies.

The responsibilities of legal advisers to government, and how law teachers may best train such advisers, was picked up again at the Tuesday Plenary by Robert Orr QC, Chief General Counsel, Australian Government Solicitor and Dr David Collins QC, the Solicitor-General of New Zealand. Both men, as the respective heads in Australia and New Zealand of the large teams of lawyers providing advice to government, were in a good position to identify the expertise and skills they expected in their colleagues. In step with Jeremy Waldron of the day before, Dr Collins said:

“... [T]he most critical principle is a requirement that public sector lawyers act in the interests of the public. This is an obligation closely associated with the rule of law... [T]he call for unconditional enthusiasm for a client’s interests... does not sit happily with at least some general conceptions of the role and responsibilities of contemporary government lawyers and that as such, the zealousness obligation ought to be tempered for lawyers employed in the public sector”.

The LexisNexis conference dinner was held on the Tuesday evening at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron Club Rooms on the harbour edge. The LexisNexis  ALTA Law Teaching Awards were presented and Auckland Crown Solicitor, Simon Moore SC, delivered an entertaining after dinner speech. Those with energy still to burn enjoyed a vigorous bracket of dancing at the end of the evening.

At the final plenary session on the Wednesday, Professor Mary Keyes of Griffiths Law School addressed “Globalisation’s challenge to legal education and private law” and Dr Robert Joseph of Waikato Law School addressed “Power, regulation and responsibility in a 21st Century Maori governance context”. The respective perspectives of the private lawyer and the Maori lawyer brought a complementary balance to the strong traditional public law orientation of the plenary sessions of the previous two days.

An extensive interest group programme was at the heart of the conference. Twenty-eight different interest groups met in 49 sessions to hear the presentation of 142 papers. The Legal Education Interest Group led with 21 papers. Across the substantive law papers presented, 58 fell within private law and 60 within public law. Engaging paper titles included: “Wherever you hang your hat may be home, but is it ‘residential accommodation’ for GST purposes?”; “It’s just a game? Law’s reach in the virtual worlds” and “Skulls full of mush: reflections upon ‘thinking like a lawyer’ as a threshold concept”. The interest group programme was the culmination of not only an immense amount of research and writing by presenters, but also the result of a lot of work by the interest group conveners and the conference committee interest group co-ordinators.

In all the conference was a vigorous three days of intellectual stimulation, learning, friend making and fun for the 224 law teachers (from 47 law schools) and others who attended. The conference was greatly helped by the generous support of ten publisher and law firm sponsors: LexisNexis; Russell McVeagh; Routledge; Thomson Reuters; CCH; The Federation Press; DLA Phillips Fox; Palgrave Macmillan and Oxford University Press.

Bruce Harris
Conference Secretary, University of Auckland 2010

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