Alumni stories
James Goudkamp

Dr James Goudkamp


Grad Hat Blue Bachelor of Science (Distinction) / Bachelor of Laws (Hons) (UOW) 2003 | Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (UOW) 2005

For many, achieving success in the world of academia can take years; even a lifetime. Not so for University of Wollongong (UOW) alumnus Dr James Goudkamp, who – little more than a decade after graduating from his bachelor’s degree – has risen to the rank of Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the prestigious University of Oxford.

His impressive career curve has been, in part, guided by a strong sense of direction and purpose; it’s no accident that he’s managed to achieve so much in such a short time. This focus on striving towards a goal is something the London-based alumnus is passing on to the next generation through his ongoing association with UOW’s School of Law. It’s a connection that he says means a great deal to him. “I go back once a year and speak to the students in Wollongong, and offer to speak with them by Skype, and to help them with their career plans. Some of them are interested in postgrad study. I enjoy connecting with students in this way.”

Goudkamp is well-placed to advise on the possibilities that postgraduate study can bring. After completing his dual undergraduate degree in law and science at UOW – finishing at the top of his class and with the University Medal in Law – and a subsequent Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice, he took up an 18-month tenure as an associate lecturer in UOW’s School of Law. A one year post as Associate to the Honourable Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG in the High Court of Australia followed, before he headed for England to read for the Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford, under scholarships from the Oxford and the Oxford-Australia Scholarship Funds. It was to be the first of four Oxford qualifications to date, subsequently adding two master’s degrees and a doctorate to his portfolio of achievements.

Oxford seemed a natural choice for Goudkamp, who is principally interested in the expansive area of tort law – concerned with the rights and obligations between private individuals. “I always wanted to go and study overseas,” he recalls.

“Oxford has a reputation for being particularly strong in my area of law, and that was probably a decisive influence. I got very lucky being accepted, I got lucky with some funding as well, and those circumstances really combined to make the decision extremely easy.”

While the Oxford of the imagination – deep traditions, bicycles and robust debating – certainly exists, he says for the most part it is just like any other university, particularly when it comes to the roles and responsibilities of an academic. His first class as a student, though, was something of a culture shock, and left a lasting impression. “The teaching system is quite different there (at Oxford) in many ways from virtually everywhere else on the planet,” he explains. “The classes that I had were one-on-one classes, so I would meet with my professor on a one-to-one basis, and the man I was meeting with happened to be – by a considerable margin – the world authority in the area.”

“It was pretty special getting to sit down with him. I knew very little about the subject; he'd done the subject for about 60 years, and he knew everything and more about it, and to sit in a room and argue about the material with him… I would spend 40 or 50 hours getting ready for each one hour class with him. You needed to be across the material or it was painfully obvious immediately if you weren't.”

Goudkamp’s entry to tertiary studies came via the University of Wollongong College pathway, spending a year there in preparation for his UOW undergraduate degree. “I could see the utility of the things that I was being taught at the college immediately,” he recalls. “It was great preparation for embarking on university education. You get exposure at the College to the sorts of things that you will be doing in your first few months at university. I felt I had a significant head start in many ways.”

Oxford University

It’s an advantage he has put to very good use. Since leaving Australian shores, Goudkamp has worked variously as a lecturer, tutor and research fellow at several of Oxford’s well-known colleges, and alongside his current role as Associate Professor in the law faculty, is a Fellow of Keble College. He also holds or has held a number of key visiting and honorary appointments, including with the National University of Singapore, Harvard Law School, University of Western Australia, and his much-loved alma mater, UOW.

“Many of the best teachers that I have been able to learn from were at Wollongong, and I am still reasonably regularly in touch with them,” he says. “I get to come back to Australia regularly, and come to Wollongong whenever I am back in Australia.”

As well as the extensive impact he is making as a teacher, Goudkamp shares his considerable expertise with students, researchers and practicing professionals as a widely published author of peer-reviewed and practitioner publications. A paperback edition of his text Tort Law Defences (Hart Publishing, Oxford) – a descendant of his doctoral thesis – is due for release this year.

Beyond the world of academia, he is admitted as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of New South Wales and a barrister and solicitor in the High Court of Australia, and continues to act as Special Counsel to Sydney law firm Stacks/Goudkamp Pty Ltd. He was made an Academic Fellow of the Inner Temple – one of the four Inns of Court in London – in 2013, and is an advisor to the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Third) on the Law of Torts to the Person.

Despite this impressive career trajectory – and all at just 35 years of age – Goudkamp remains really quite humble. “A lot happens in ten years, and I think the rate of change happens more quickly early in your career,” he says. “There has been a lot of luck involved, but I am very content with how things have worked out.”

Grad Hat Blue Degrees

Bachelor of Science (Distinction) / Bachelor of Laws (Hons) (UOW) 2003

Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (UOW) 2005

Bachelor of Civil Law (Distinction) (Oxford) 2007

Master of Philosophy in Law (Distinction) (Oxford) 2008

Doctor of Philosophy (Oxford) 2011

Master of Arts (Oxford) 2012