Meet Michael Adams, the new head of UNE's Law School

Published 01 March 2019


I grew up in the south of England. My father was general manager of ACDelco. When he was part of an arbitration in London I was allowed to go up and sit in on the proceedings. I loved watching the interactions and the process, and that set my mind to becoming a lawyer.

I was a teenage DJ — we’re talking vinyl, because this is the 1970s — and earning quite good money, but perhaps not studying as hard as I might have for my A-Levels. However, thanks to a career adviser I got literally the last spot available in Lanchester Polytechnic, which is now Coventry University, studying Economics and Law.

I loved the Law, and I shared a house with two engineers who are still good friends. We sat down and worked out that instead of paying rent, we could pay down a mortgage on a four-bedroom house - which we did. When we sold that house on graduation, it set me up in a way that eventually established my wife and I in Sydney.

Why Law?

Corporate law really grabbed my attention. There’s a famous 1897 case, Salomon vs Salomon & Co, where it was determined that the company was separate and independent of the man. I love that all the prejudice and discrimination was removed — Salomon was a Jewish man in anti-Semitic times — to come up with a pure principle of law that was incorporated into statute and remains a backbone of our system today.

I still love how the law develops through case law and amendments to legislation. It is an honour to have drafted some laws and to have the opportunity to comment and explain those principles, as they affect everyone’s lives.


I moved to London to work as a corporate lawyer, and gained a scholarship to do my Masters at University College London. I picked up some part-time teaching, and found I really enjoyed being a kind of translator, taking these complex legal concepts and translating them into straightforward English.

I met my Australian wife-to-be on New Year's Eve in 1985, and we arrived in Australia in 1988. I had picked up a position in AMP as a corporate lawyer, but I also wrote to the Ku-ring-gai College of Advanced Education (to become University of Technology Sydney) asking for part-time teaching work. I wanted to keep my hand in at teaching.

They offered me a full-time job, at half the salary I had at AMP, but I decided to take it. I was there for 18 years. In 10 years and one day I rose from senior tutor to full professor.

I finished at UTS as Professor of Corporate Law, occupying the Perpetual Trustees Australia Chair of Financial Services Law, and as Deputy Dean of Research. Of my time at UTS, I think I was most proud of being awarded the Australian University Teacher of the Year for Law in 2000.

I had also become a consultant for the law firm Blake Dawson Waldron, and was president of the Corporate Law Teachers Association, the Australasian Law Teachers Association and an organisation now called the Governance Institute Australia. I had a lot of engagement with the law profession.

I began as Dean of Law at the University of Western Sydney in 2007. I stayed in that role for 10 years and six months, becoming the longest-serving Dean in Australia. Over that time we lifted the rankings of the UWS Law School, certainly in the Sydney market, and lifted the ATAR entry requirement from 90 to 98.

I did a major curriculum review, and helped introduce a major curriculum change in the “flipped classroom” — all lectures for first year students went online and all tutorials were held face-to-face.

In July 2017, I stepped down as Dean and had a marvellous sabbatical year, travelling the world and giving many talks, including at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg and Microsoft's head office in Seattle.

I stayed on the board of directors of a few charities, (John Mac Foundation and the anti-slavery organisation, the FreedomHub) but gave up my roles on the Legal Profession Admissions Board and Law Society Specialist Accreditation Board.

On my return I went back to being Professor of Law at WSU — until I got a call from UNE.


I was impressed by the can-do attitude here, and the friendliness and warmth I encountered. And I saw opportunity: the School of Law’s identity is not as strong as it might be given its 25-year history, and I thought I might be able to help lift its profile, helped by my own media exposure.

I think the School needs to find that fine balance between building a well-recognised Law school offering prestigious degrees, with the fact that law is woven through everything we do these days. And, of course, many of our students are doing double degrees.

The school is already known for agricultural law, and AgLaw Director, Professor Paul Martin, is very well respected. But we have some strength in intellectual property and international law, and our NDIS course is quite unique. We have room to grow in several directions

We’re appointing six new academics, and I look forward to being involved in their appointments and their fresh insights.

Finally, I look forward to developing new curriculum, especially in the role of law and technology (artificial intelligence and blockchain will impact the legal profession and I want UNE students to be ready) and to build opportunities for people to change their local environment, Australia and the world.

In this story: