The Law and Institutional Opacity

By Max Ferguson

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

On September 4th, an esteemed colleague wrote compellingly in this publication about the ethical shortcomings of today’s legal profession. I wish to add my voice in support of his message and advocate that we as law students take a more active role in our own lives to reform the status quo.

I have a request for everyone reading this. Take a moment to reflect, if you would, on the kind of institutions you wish to see around you. If you ran the world, would institutions be opaque or transparent? Responsive to the wishes of the powerful or the powerless? I think most of us, steeped in the invigorating elixir of justice, reflexively know the answer to these questions.

It is almost a truism, that no institution, regardless of function, can operate justly without being accountable to the communities it serves. This is as true for public libraries as it is for police forces.

I will be first to admit that the publication I lead, De Minimis, has come in for its fair share of criticism over the years. That is why I, along with my hearty crew, the Editorial Board, are doing all we can to make our ethical position utterly, unimpeachably transparent. Our new constitution, which we have worked on over the course of this year, places us under a positive obligation to be transparent with the MLS community. We recognise that holding ourselves up to the scrutiny of our peers is the surest path to reassuring our critics, and ultimately to improving our own decision-making.

This does not mean we will never make mistakes. However, it does mean that we will be accountable for our mistakes. Anyone who believes we have acted improperly is empowered to investigate themselves, and help us put things to rights. We do not see radical transparency as a threat to our institution. On the contrary, it is an essential tool that will allow us, and those who come after, to govern De Minimis in a way that maximises our value to the MLS community.

So, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I am writing today to make a similar request of everyone reading this. If you are a student, whether JD or MLM, you are entitled to join the MULSS (who run this fine magazine), and have a say in how it is governed. In 2022, it is time that the MULSS, as the single most influential group at the law school, makes radical transparency a priority. I propose that we, the Members, move to ensure our representative body holds itself to the highest possible standard.

Now, I hasten to add, this is not to say that anyone involved with the MULSS this year, or in years past, has ever done anything less than their duty. On the contrary, I believe this past year’s committee is deserving of a warm commendation for how they have performed under incredibly trying circumstances.

However, it is simply a fact that institutions tend not to like scrutiny. Furthermore, our MULSS is not like most other associations. It tends to be led by highly intelligent, ambitious people, who almost invariably go on to lead impressive careers. For years, this committee-to-career pipeline has raised questions about how the MULSS operates, and has been a constant flashpoint of criticism.

By holding the MULSS up to scrutiny, we can put to bed suggestions of impropriety, and hopefully call a halt to the bitter infighting which at times has spilled out onto the pages of my beloved newspaper. It’s not entirely seemly for us to continue the bickering some of us have witnessed for years now. Rather, we should be united in our contempt for the med kids, who have profited from our division for long enough.

Therefore, I hope that we all can cooperate on improving the transparency of the MULSS in the weeks and months ahead. A great starting point would be to publish the minutes of Committee meetings, as well as financial information, perhaps to the JD Community section of Canvas. A relatively simple, secure move, which would go a long way to reassuring critics that we are genuine in wanting to heal the MLS community.

As the author of The Quality of Justice eloquently noted, the titans of the law professed shock at Dyson Heydon’s disgusting crimes. However, the fact Heydon could keep his actions hidden for so long is a scandal in itself. Numerous other examples make my case for me: the banking royal commission, the aged care royal commission, and the royal commission into child sexual abuse – all demonstrate what happens when sensible, educated people, such as ourselves, hold themselves above transparency.

The fact that a perception of unaccountability can persist in our own student body, even absent any actual wrongdoing, is hugely detrimental to us all. It erodes the bonds of trust and camaraderie which ought to bind us closely together through this baptism-by-fire that is law school. Once again, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Of course, we study in dreary Melbourne, so we shall have to settle for the second best disinfectant: radical transparency.

As the newest cohort entering the legal industry, we have the opportunity to change the profession from the ground up. If you believe, as I strongly do, that the culture of impunity in the highest echelons of the law needs to change, then we need to live our values from the very start of our careers. That begins by not accepting opacity, on principle, even if you don’t feel you have much of a stake in the MULSS, or even the law school. Unimpeachable ethics are nothing less than our duty.

According to the MULSS website, all Members are entitled to the minutes of Committee Meetings and General Meetings. Currently, Members should email the Secretary at to request a copy of the minutes. Emails must state the Member’s University of Melbourne Student Number, and originate from the Member’s University email address. This adheres to statutory prescriptions under s 53 of the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 (Vic).

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