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Spotlight on Prof Jan McDonald

What inspires you about teaching and interacting with students in Law?

The law can be such a powerful tool for good. I want students to learn how to use this potential but also to equip them with the skills to advocate for reform when the law creates barriers, injustice, or perverse outcomes.

I still enjoy that moment when I’m teaching when I see the “penny drop” with a student for whom complex legal issues have suddenly fallen into place.

What do you believe to be the most important skills and attributes that Law graduates must acquire for a contemporary legal career?

Critical thinking – has always been important and will become more so in times of heightened social, environmental and economic change

Ability to work with diverse clients, professions/stakeholders. There aren’t [m]any problems that can be solved through law alone. Learning how to identify who else should be around the table then really engaging with them are critical skills.

Research skills – like society, the law is dynamic. In law school, you learn the rules in place at the time, but it is critical to be able to find out accurately and efficiently how those laws have changed.

How long have you been with the University of Tasmania and what are your career highlights so far?

I’ve been at the Law school since 2011.

I’ve had the opportunity to work at a range of Australian universities, with all sorts of highlights (and few lowlights!). While at Griffith University I led a team that won $30million funding from the Commonwealth Government to establish a national research centre focussing on climate change adaptation. Setting that centre up was certainly a highlight. Working at UTAS has given me a great opportunity to work with colleagues in IMAS, Geography and Natural Sciences on a whole range of research that demands multidisciplinary perspectives. But I also get a huge thrill every time a past student gets in touch to say that they are now working in environmental or climate law in part due to having studied with me – it’s immensely satisfying to feel like I have had a positive influence on someone’s career path.

What is your area of research expertise and why is it important?

I specialise in the laws that govern how we adapt to the impacts of climate change. I hope the importance of this field is self-evident. Climate change will bring slow shifts and more extreme events that are likely to affect every aspect of Australia’s environment, economy and society. Law is not the answer to all of the problems, but well-designed laws can help reduce our exposure to climate impacts and enhance adaptive capacity.

Published on: 14 Jul 2022 2:01pm