The Honourable Justice Susan Kenny is Melbourne Law School’s newest judge in residence. An alumnus of the Law School, Justice Kenny now sits on the Federal Court of Australia, and has taken up the judge in residence role whilst on leave from the bench.
Having served as a judge since 1998, Justice Kenny hopes that the new position will enable her to engage with a variety of legal topics without being confined, as judges are, to the particular question in issue. She is also looking forward to engaging with new ideas and doing some writing of her own while taking a break from her demanding judicial schedule.
Justice Kenny has enjoyed sitting in on Philosophical Foundations of Law and Deals in Asia, and will be sitting in on other subjects including Legal Ethics and Administrative Law. She has had her open chambers sessions over the past two weeks and will also be judging some of this year’s Mooting Competition.
Being one of the first female judges appointed, Justice Kenny is glad that the judiciary is moving toward gender equality. She said that being the only female judge created the presumption that her voice represented all women, but now that female judges are more common, each is able to be recognised for their own personal opinion, rather than viewed as typifying the female perspective.
However, Justice Kenny also noted that whilst the judiciary has become more gender diverse, this variety has not yet been reflected in the barristers and solicitors who appear before her. Although talented female lawyers are not in short supply, the problem seems to be that firms inexplicably seem to prefer male barristers to their female counterparts. She warned that although the profession is getting better, young female lawyers may find it tougher than they think to break through, particularly in some fields such as Intellectual Property.
When asked what advice or insight she would most like to pass on to law students, Justice Kenny says that students should choose subjects and career paths that they find interesting, not just the ones they perceive to be practical or that are “the accepted thing to do”. The importance of working relationships with your colleagues and teachers was also stressed, and Justice Kenny said that these relationships would become more valuable in your professional careers than you might think.
Justice Kenny also commented about how the Law School had changed since she had graduated. She noted that backgrounds and ages of students was remarkably more diverse. The wealth of information that the digital age had made available to law students was also one of the biggest changes, along with the significant increase in international opportunities. However, not all of it has changed for the better: Justice Kenny said that students she had spoken to were very concerned about their future job prospects, and that such anxiety did not plague law students during her own studies.