Nurturing the next generation
Professor Jill McKeough
(Words by Jerome Doraisamy, photograph by David Field)
Educators across the board find engagement with law students to be an incredibly challenging yet rewarding endeavour. For Professor Jill McKeough, that challenge and its rewards has brought enormous joy and meaning to a legal career that many of those same students would envy.
“One of the things I’ve always liked about my job is that I felt it was valuable because I was helping other people to get educated and get themselves a career,” she said.
“I believe that studying law helps people understand the way the world works, and so many of the graduates I’ve taught have then gone out and subsequently helped shape Australia and the world.”
She’s not exaggerating. Both directly and indirectly, Professor McKeough has nurtured would-be lawyers at the Sydney-based law school who have since gone on to manage multimillion dollar start-up businesses and internationally-recognised charities, as well as graduates who advise high profile politicians at both the state and federal level. And those are just the ones I know of off the top of my head.
For someone who always wanted to the leader of a big, successful company, serving as dean at UTS proved itself to be an ideal institutional role. And while the constraints of regulated higher education often gave rise to a feeling of “having one hand tied behind your back”, being able to run that business and be immersed in the administrative and educational matters meant McKeough could implement real change and influence future legal professionals.
Such change was inevitable, she deduced, upon her first seating at the dean’s desk.
“One of the things I found when I arrived there was I that I didn’t think the curriculum was serving students as well as it could have done, and so we did a really major review of the curriculum,” she explained.
“I went out and talked to a lot of law firms about what it is that they are looking for in a law graduate and what should a curriculum have in it – we shaped a whole new curriculum around that.”
But revamping the educational environment also meant approaching students in an accommodating but not casual fashion, in order for students to garner the right experience.
“I think being respectful of students is something professionals can learn – I always went into the classroom completely prepared, and I worked very hard to make sure the students had a really good experience in class,” she advised.
“But you’re their teacher, not their friend –it shouldn’t be a casual thing if it is your vocation.”
Her passion for engagement has also seen her delve into hobbies that require similar intellectual and psychological diligence, but which serve to offer a mindful escape through which greater value can be gleaned from her vocation.
“I love reading – I think learning to read is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given,” she said.
“I also like sewing and gardening – having a spring garden appear is lovely. I appreciate engaging the brain with these tasks.”
But it is the long term and far-reaching benefit gleaned by students who have benefited from her visionary tutelage that has ultimately brought the most purpose to her legal career.
“People still come up to me and say, ‘I’ve used your book at law school and I found it really useful’, and I’ve had people come up to me at conferences and in the streets,” she reflected.
“I think that contribution to student learning has been my greatest achievement in law.”
Jill McKeough is a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney. She previously served as dean of the faculty from 2005 to 2013, and was the commissioner in charge of copyright reference for the Australian Law Reform Commission. More information on Jill’s professional background can be found here: http://www.uts.edu.au/staff/jill.mckeough
Copyright Doraisamy and Field 2016