The New Knowledge Economy and the Transformation of the Law Discipline

27 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2014 Last revised: 26 Mar 2014

Date Written: January 7, 2014


This paper examines the dramatic increase in the number of law students in Australia over the past two decades. The transformation of legal education can be attributed to the neoliberal turn, the embrace of the new knowledge economy, the adoption of a user pays philosophy for higher education, the low cost of law courses and consumer demand.

While the profession might have muttered that 'there were too many lawyers', it did little to inhibit the explosion in numbers. The profession itself has experienced substantial growth and subsequent transformation as a result of competition policy. The paper will briefly consider the emergence of innovative structures, including multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs), incorporated legal practices (ILPs), listing on the stock exchange and the emergence of global law firms.

What is perhaps most distinctive about the Australian scenario is that less than half of all law graduates go into legal practice; the other half is readily absorbed into government, the corporate sector, the not-for-profit sector and a host of other occupations. Furthermore, while legal practice and alternative destinations have been dynamic sites of legal employment, this growth has been largely concentrated in metropolitan centres. In fact, the evidence suggests that there may not be enough lawyers to service rural, regional and remote (RRR) areas. Although the word 'lawyer' is a broad term with many meanings, the evidence suggests that the 'too many lawyers' refrain does not apply in Australia.

Keywords: Legal education; legal profession; competition policy; Australia

Suggested Citation

Thornton, Margaret, The New Knowledge Economy and the Transformation of the Law Discipline (January 7, 2014). International Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 19, No. 265-281, 2012; ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 14-23. Available at SSRN:

Margaret Thornton (Contact Author)

ANU College of Law ( email )

Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 0200

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