Paul Akon has been a law lecturer at the University of New England School of Law for 15 years and has recently notched up 50 years with a practising certificate. A long-term member of the Law Society of NSW, he has practised law in both Sydney and Regional NSW. His career has included three and a half years with the NSW Police Legal Services as a senior lawyer. While there, he received a Commissioner’s citation, the first civilian to receive the award.
The University of New England describes you as “one of the icons” of its law school. What do you enjoy the most about teaching today’s future lawyers?
Passing on my knowledge and experience of legal practice to students. Just about all law schools have some practitioners on staff. I teach at the vocational end of the legal studies spectrum: legal writing and drafting, advocacy, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), conveyancing, and local government law.
Did you always want to be a lawyer?
No; I had always wanted to be a farmer and grazier. However, my Greek migrant father persuaded me to consider law.
How have you seen the challenges of the pandemic play out in your teaching?
I missed the face-to-face collegiality. But one thing that surprised me was the varying effect on colleagues working remotely on their productivity. Many informed me their productivity had risen while working remotely.
Is the future bright, or uncertain, for lawyers of tomorrow?
The legal profession is very resilient. I think the future is bright for the lawyers of tomorrow. But, lawyers will have to be even more flexible and adaptable than we baby boomers have learnt to be.
What has surprised you most during your career?
How good it was to work in the public sector. I have worked as a lawyer in the NSW Police Legal Services, NSW Department of Environment and the Aboriginal Legal Service. Ideally, all lawyers should have experience in both the public and private sectors. Each sector has a lot to teach the other.
What law subject do you think is the hardest (and would your students agree?)
Bryan Pape (of Pape v Commissioner of Taxation (2009) designed our compulsory advocacy module as a bridge between university and the profession. Students say this is their hardest encounter. Bryan relished this reputation, which has continued since his demise. I’ve now taught advocacy since 2010.
How have you seen the law keep step with developments in technology?
In 1969, I began my articles at JN Gammell & Co 70 Pitt Street, Sydney. From my first day, I had a stenographer. In fact, she was a former court reporter. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d need to learn keyboard skills. In 2000, I began at NSW Police Legal Services as a senior lawyer. There, I somewhat surprisingly (and very slowly) had to do all my word processing on a keyboard, albeit with two fingers. And at age 75, I haven’t had a stenographer since then!