Law schools value Distinguished Visiting Fellowship

New Zealand’s law schools have gained huge benefit from a Law Foundation programme enabling them to host a distinguished international scholar for up to two months each year.

Law school deans point out that the value of the Distinguished Visitor Fellowship extends to the wider profession, from exposure to the visitors’ experience and insight and from the reputational benefit New Zealand gains when they return to their home countries.

Started in 1998, the Fellowship is rotated around New Zealand’s six law schools. The visitors meet the faculties, then deliver staff and student seminars and public lectures at each law school.

Recent recipients include:

  • Columbia University copyright law expert Professor Jane Ginsberg (2014)
  • the first President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers (2013)
  • Oxford University law Professor Andrew Ashworth (2012)
  • Sydney University environmental law Emeritus Professor Ben Boer (2011), and
  • former Chairman of the UK Criminal Cases Review Commission Professor Graham Zellick (2010).

Otago University Law Faculty Dean Mark Henaghan says the Distinguished Visitor Fellowship makes a “massive contribution” to legal life in New Zealand.

“It works in two highly important ways. The visitors have all been of high quality and they bring their depth of experience, whether it be in criminal law (Professor Ashworth), the workings of the courts (Lord Phillips) or the significance of tribunals (Professor Zellick). This stimulates debate, not only across all the law faculties but across the profession, the judiciary and the policy makers.

“The other major benefit is that the visitors learn a great deal about the New Zealand legal system and take back to their countries the particular strengths we have. New Zealand’s legal system is put on to the international map, which is very important for our economy,” he says.

Former Waikato University Law Dean Professor Bradford Morse says the fellowship is especially beneficial to law schools outside the major centres, as many eminent legal visitors might not normally travel more widely in New Zealand.

“It’s hugely beneficial when the PhD student’s research topic overlaps with their areas of expertise. For example, some of our students working in criminal law got huge benefit out of the visit by Professor Ashworth. They can also participate in larger core paper lectures, for example in criminal law. And we can arrange informal events involving the wider profession, for example lunch and discussion with District Court judges,” he says.

Professor Morse also highlights the reputational benefit gained by the schools.

“When elite judges and scholars like Dame Hazel Genn and Lord Phillips talk to their colleagues about the quality of their experience in New Zealand, that helps brand New Zealand for our graduates looking for employment overseas and for overseas scholars looking to study here.

“Five of New Zealand’s law schools are ranked in the top 100 world-wide. Part of that is because of the positive reputational image of New Zealand legal education and New Zealand lawyers. The Fellowship programme helps enhance that,” he says.

Recently retired Victoria University Law Dean Professor Tony Smith says he strongly supports the fellowship: “It enables exposure on a regular basis of our faculty to scholars and jurists of the highest international character, and enhances the reputation of New Zealand as a country of serious legal scholarship.”

He noted that finding participants who were able to spend extended time in New Zealand could be challenging, but was invariably worthwhile despite the work involved.

“I hope that the Trustees of the Foundation will continue to look upon this as an activity of continuing importance to the academic life of the nation, and will continue to support it.”

The former Dean of AUT University’s Law School Professor Ian Eagles says the Fellowship programme is an important event on the School’s calendar.

“The chance to host renowned international legal experts at public lectures at AUT has been immensely valuable for Law School staff, students, academic colleagues and friends in the judiciary and profession.

“But of equal or greater value has been the opportunity to mix informally and converse with some of the world’s leading thinkers on contemporary legal issues. That has certainly been the case with each of the visitors in the past three years.”

Full list of NZLF Distinguished Visiting Fellows

The New Zealand Law Foundation Distinguished Visitor Fellowship is worth up to $40,000 each year. Selection is by invitation, and is done by law school deans in conjunction with the Law Foundation.

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