University of Melbourne Magazine

Law School celebrates 160th: Verdict of History

  • In 2017, the University is celebrating 160 years of legal education. Melbourne Law School will mark this milestone with a series of flagship events.

    The University's main building in the 1860s, where MLS was established (University of Melbourne Archives, 1993.0036.00001)

    The University’s main building in the 1860s, where MLS was established (University of Melbourne Archives, 1993.0036.00001)

    In its 160 years, Melbourne Law School has made a rich and lasting contribution to Australian life, politics and law. Its distinguished alumni include four prime ministers (Deakin, Menzies, Holt and Gillard), two governors-general, a Victorian premier, four chief justices, including arguably the nation’s greatest jurist, Sir Owen Dixon, and the first woman to practise as a lawyer in Australia, Grata Flos Greig.

    Offering Australia’s first law course, MLS was established in 1857 by the University of Melbourne’s founding chancellor, Sir Redmond Barry. It began in what was then the University’s main building, later known as the Old Quadrangle, and initially had no lecture rooms of its own, using instead the Mathematical and Natural Sciences rooms.

    With the school’s creation, Victoria became one of the first places in the common law world where lawyers were required to complete part of their training at university. In 1873, a reorganisation created the Faculty of Law, the University’s first faculty, to oversee the school’s academic activities.

    Initially offering the degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD), the University from 1881 awarded a Master of Laws (LLM) to honours graduates. Between 1883 and 1895, a two-year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) course was made available to students who had completed a Bachelor of Arts.

    Alumni and former Prime Minister Julia Gillard

    In 1884, as links with the practising profession and courts grew, classes and lectures in several subjects shifted to what is now the Supreme Court in William Street.

    Federation in 1901 transformed Australian constitutional law and MLS led the way. The then dean, Professor William Harrison Moore, became one of the country’s leading constitutional authorities, advising governments and governors-general.

    The years after the Second World War saw great expansion of MLS, establishing, in the words of former dean and alumnus Sir Zelman Cowen, “new horizons for Australian law schools”.

    Housed since 2002 in purpose-built premises in Pelham Street, MLS is ranked No.1 in the Asia Pacific in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings by Subject (2017).