As a contract law academic who continues to work in the legal industry, Dr Ryan Catterwell is confident UQ law graduates will continue to enjoy a wealth of opportunities in the future.
Dr Catterwell knows that in any instance of change, those with a strategy to adapt and prosper will invariably emerge better off than those who simply decry potential pitfalls.
As a lecturer at the UQ Law School, Dr Catterwell sees plenty of reasons to stay abreast of current developments in the industry.
“There’s a significant current focus in commercial law about what can be done using technology,” he says.
“Clients are looking for law firms to provide more efficient services and a lot of law firms are looking at what can be done by using logic systems or machine learning – they are looking at using technology to further enhance their work product.
“We are seeing that in the case of contract review, for due diligence, and with respect to reviewing documents for litigation, for example. There’s a big focus on what can be done, using technology, to make more efficient, better legal services. I think that’s going to be a focus of the legal industry and law students over the next few years.”
Far from it being doom-and-gloom, Dr Catterwell believes that rationally analysing the role of technology in law opens up some interesting and potentially prosperous trains of thought.
“There is that whole idea that machines will replace lawyers, but I think we need to think practically,” says Dr Catterwell.
“Can you train a machine to exercise judgement or to determine whether something is ‘reasonable’ – a common and important touchstone in law?
“It seems to me there are many things a lawyer does, like building relationships with clients and solving complex problems, that present serious obstacles when trying to automate legal services.”
Dr Catterwell – who continues to practise commercial law, part-time, with a leading global firm – is well-versed in matters ranging from private and commercial law to contract theory, legal interpretation, logic and technology.
Combining his theoretical knowledge and practical experience, he also draws on his background of having practised in a litigious, advisory and transactional capacity.
“Being taught by somebody who still has a role in the commercial sphere tends to help students, I feel,” Dr Catterwell says.
“Plus, it lends itself to developing greater trust at the outset of the relationship.
“Sometimes I’ll give the students little insights as to what it’s like inside a law firm. In other situations, I’ll think up hypotheticals that match things I’ve seen in practice.
“When you practise alongside teaching, what you witness inevitably helps your ability to inform students. It is symbiotic though – a two-way street – and the more I teach students about contract law, the more it adds to my experiences in my professional life, which I appreciate.”
It’s that camaraderie and development of rapport which continues to see Dr Catterwell enjoying his role at UQ.
“I really enjoy engaging with and helping students along the path of being able to reason through a problem,” he says.
“It’s just fun, to be honest. In a classroom seminar setting, it’s fun. Maybe it’s tense the first few weeks, but everyone loosens up and then there’s collaboration and jokes and it’s an enjoyable atmosphere.
“I try to emphasise getting involved: engage with the subject matter, engage with your fellow students, engage with your lecturers.”
Own the unknown with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from UQ.