Presented by Judge Josh Wilson at Deakin University, Geelong Waterfront Campus - 21 February 2019

Deakin University
Geelong Waterfront Campus

Use your degree – Make a difference

Graduates’ Commencement Address, February 2019


His Honour Judge Josh Wilson QC
LLM, PhD, Professor of Law Deakin University
Judge, Federal Circuit Court of Australia

  1. University council member Mr Peter Niblett, Deputy Vice Chancellor Global Engagement professor Gary Smith, academic staff, distinguished guests, graduands, family and friends.
  2. Congratulations to you all upon your very significant achievement in graduating this day from this magnificent academic institution.
  3. We share in the personal achievement you have attained today. For many your success today is to be measured against considerable personal adversity. For that we salute you. For your loved ones who share in your triumph today. The wider community of Deakin academics joins you in rejoicing in the success of your graduation. University success is a very special event in any person’s life.
  4. Today I invite you to focus on where you presently stand on this stage of life and how this exact moment in your personal journey opens up so many possibilities for you.
  5. My theme today is for you to use your degree – make a difference.
  6. Deakin University prides itself in the fact that since its formation as comparatively recently as 1974 Deakin has placed itself in the world’s top 200 universities, with its law school in the top 100 world wide putting it in the top two per cent of universities worldwide. Based on QS Global World Ranking Deakin University degrees confer high-quality education and excellent employment prospects. In this precise setting I watched my eldest daughter receive her Arts/Law degree, my nephew the same, my son-in-law receive his Commerce degree and I had the honour of receiving my PhD here. This is a very fine institution. You are entitled to be very proud of the fact that you now join a long list of distinguished persons on whom degrees have been conferred from this great place of learning.
  7. Conferrals of today’s degrees are timely. The legal world has never before needed leadership and integrity. Never before has the need been more pressing for the practice of the law to be properly counterbalanced by morality. Practices bearing moribund propriety must be subordinated to ethical and commercially upright practices. Profit at all costs must yield to profit derived from commercially prudent yet equitable transactions. Deakin graduates in law have never been better placed to shape the whole of Australia’s legal landscape. You are demonstrably clever enough to rise to the challenge. Now is your time to make a difference.
  8. We enter an epoch of unprecedented challenges, legally and ethically. The legal landscape has certainly evolved in the last 40 years since I first entered the law. In my undergraduate years protesters campaigned against the hanging of Ronald Ryan. Nowadays, under very strict medical and legal circumstances assisted death is permissible.
  9. Among the many dilemmas to unfold will be stem cell technology, presently in its infancy. Thorny ethical issues will arise from stem cell research. These human embryonic cells that have the potential to develop into a human being will be destroyed in the research project. Major ethical issues will abound from that. Issues emerging from those matters will certainly challenge the brightest and best of today’s graduates. The Australian Law Reform Commission will certainly wish to hear from you.
  10. A practice emerged in the 1950s in the USA of undertaking a law degree but never using it in the practice of the law. Steadily and incrementally the practice has increased in the USA. Its effects are being felt now in Australia. Whereas in the US, a law degree is described as a generic degree, in Australia persons with a law degree have the benefit that it opens doors in very many fields. You don’t need to practice in a firm or at the Bar! You can provide legal services for large accountancy firms, in journalism, in recruitment, in politics, in management consulting and in wealth management investment banking as well as in fields of influence such as public interest advocacy. The scope is wide, mixed and varied. The opportunities are plentiful. The future is very rosy.
  11. Students and practitioners alike often ask me where I see the growth areas in the practice of the law. In my own view, it strikes me that there are three main growth areas. The first is what some call “real people law” meaning activities that touch and concern everyday people in their everyday lives – family law, wills and estates, criminal law and workplace law. The second is commercial activity – large and small. The third is public law or law relating to government-based activities especially regulatory law.
  12. Deakin University has already stamped out a commanding presence for business and law graduates. Many partners in major international law firms have Deakin degrees. But my personal prediction is the place for Deakin graduates in the burgeoning expansion in regulatory activities of public law. One can immediately see opportunities in the fields of revenue, Australian Securities and Investments Commission, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and all other financial and prudential regulators, in the health, migration, import/export fields of international trade, even freedom of information. The proliferation of state and federal bureaucracies is now so great that very many opportunities presently exist and more will follow. As a sitting member of a federal court, in a short time I have witnessed an explosion in the amount of public law that comes before me for determination. That will only continue.
  13. Next week, Chief Justice Alstergren, Justice Robson and I, all on the Deakin University Advisory Board, will give a twilight lecture to Deakin final year students called Judges on Ethics. Ethical behaviour is at the vanguard of your professional life the moment you begin to practise law. Yes, the rules are strict but you must know them. Victoria’s legal profession has been shrouded in darkness with the revelations of the conduct of Lawyer X. I am pleased to tell you Lawyer X was not a Deakin graduate! Yet her activities, if the allegations are found to be true, do tend to bring the profession into disrepute. That is not for you. You are better than that. Be proud of your Deakin degree.
  14. The naysayers will tell the timorous souls to abandon all hope of a successful career using a law degree. They will say there are too many lawyers. I wholeheartedly disagree. The moment for you all to shine is now upon you. Go into your careers with the backing of an excellent degree from an outstanding university. Use your degree, make a difference.
  15. Above all, in whatever professional calling you find yourself, ensure that yours is a worthwhile and ethical calling.

21 February 2019
His Honour Judge Josh Wilson QC