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UH Law Center Prof Knake explores access to legal services in Australia as Fulbright Distinguished Scholar

Professor Renee Knake and her children, James and Grace, visit an animal sanctuary in Victoria, Australia.

Professor Renee Knake and her children, James and Grace, visit an animal sanctuary in Victoria, Australia.

Sept. 26, 2019 — Professor Renee Knake is back in the classroom at the University of Houston Law Center with new perspectives on the law after spending six months in Australia researching its legal system and lecturing as a Fulbright Distinguished Scholar.

Knake, the Law Center’s Joanne and Larry Doherty Chair in Legal Ethics and director of Outcomes and Assessments, was awarded the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In the Fulbright Scholar Program, Distinguished Chair Awards are considered the most esteemed designations.

From January through July, Knake researched Australian transformations in the availability of justice and legal ethics as part of an ongoing project, “Law Democratized: A Blueprint for Access to Justice.”

“Australia has been a wonderful laboratory for exploring innovations in the delivery of legal services,” Knake said. “There is a vibrant community of entrepreneurs, practitioners, scholars and students working to improve access to law for individuals and organizations.

“I’ve met with regulators, start-up founders, students, professors, solicitors, law deans, innovation counsel, judges and others, all willing to share ideas that help inform my research.”

Knake was featured in five articles and participated in 10 notable events while abroad, participating in talks and serving as keynote speaker for various educational and legal functions. A highlight was meeting with the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory to discuss her research.

“I also completed two book projects while there. One will be published by New York University Press in 2020, Shortlisted: Women in the Shadows of the Supreme Court. The second will be available in November, a casebook—Gender, Power, Law & Leadership (West Academic) — that includes work from Australian scholars whom I met during my time at RMIT University,” she said.

Knake’s two children joined her in Australia, and her fiancé went back and forth for frequent visits. They experienced instances of culture shock in reaction to topics of conversation and vocabulary.

“It’s common to hear discussions of American political issues, and American music plays everywhere,” she said. “While we all speak English, Australians use a lot of different words and phrases. One of our favorites is, ‘How are you going?’ instead of ‘How are you doing?’ Another that we love is ‘leave it with me’ rather than ‘I’ll take care of it.’ And then there’s ‘think outside the square’ instead of ‘think outside the box’!”

They also did much exploring while abroad, visiting places such as the Women’s Factory in Tasmania and the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, and they even attended the Australian Open and the Australian Grand Prix.

“We’ve seen lots of theater and concerts, taken walking tours, viewed aboriginal art, visited history and art museums and more,” she said.

Now back at the Law Center, Knake is introducing new views and considerations into her classes.

“A fresh perspective on legal ethics, innovations in the delivery of legal services, and issues surrounding gender disparity in positions of leadership and power in the legal profession,” will inform her research and teaching going forward, she said.

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