After a year of struggling to reach that elusive enter score, of living out of a backpack or of making more coffees and serving more pizzas than we ever thought we would, the first year Law class of 2016 has made it to the ANU. No matter where you have come from – whether you are the school leaver, the gap year taker or the mature age student who has all the impressive things to say in class – we are all connected by the decision to study Law at what, if Schmidt has his way, will soon be the Ivy League institution of Australia. I’m not sure about you but I did feel a little like Elle Woods, when on my first day I optimistically whipped out my new Kikki K notebook and pen ready to tackle the tort of trespass. Oh how stylish and accomplished I felt, before this strange sound began to take over the Coombs Theatre…Clackity, clack clack, clacky clicky – the aggressive sound of 250 pairs of hands manically typing away as each slide changed. It was unnerving to say the least and I realized that my poor pen and paper just couldn’t keep up. So while the first few weeks of Law School consisted of me fumbling around to find a new method of note taking, it also consisted of many a night where I considered if this course was the right one for me. They call it ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – the feeling that by some complete mistake we have ended up in this place, studying fancy Latin phrases such as ratio decideni and obiter dictum (that in theory sound so easy to find but in fact seem to be hiding from me when I read a 20-page case).
So in these moments of panic, I have found myself reflecting on the reasons that we have chosen this degree in the first place. Is it because Elle Woods made it look so easy? Or because Mathew McConaughy made being a lawyer look so badass in ‘Lincoln Lawyer”? While I have to admit that the romanticized image of being a Law student certainly influenced my decision to some extent, we all know that this kind of commitment requires so much more than that. It’s easy to say that we want to make a difference in the world, but it is my strong belief that those who study, practice and teach Law can and do make a difference every single day. We are the advocates, the peace keepers, the arguers, and we uphold the order in our society which makes social cohesion possible every day. I’m not saying that other degrees can’t and don’t do this, because they do, in fact majority of Law students I know have chosen another degree along side it for this very reason. The law is very broad and thus allows us all to make an impact on a broad range of areas. Whether you’re studying Science, Actuarial Studies, Development Studies or International Security Studies like me, we are all inevitably going to make some sort of impact somewhere down the track, and I think that is a really exciting thing. Did I want to practice law when I got here? I had no idea. Do I want to practice law now? I still have no idea, but what I do know is that the ANU doesn’t pigeon hole law into either corporate or court room practice. There are so many ways to use the skills and experiences that a Law degree will give us, and I am excited for where that will take me.
What did I expect from first year Law? Lots of work, competition and dry content. Sounds great doesn’t it? While in my mind the end goal of attaining a law degree compensated for these less than ideal expectations, I will admit that I was very nervous. What I have encountered however has gone above and beyond what I envisaged. I personally have found my classmates to be engaged, inspiring and encouraging. We all like achieving here, but I am glad that for the most part, we are happy to do it together without giving false notes or hiding textbooks. It has been less intense in some aspects than I thought and more in others, for example; having a half an hour discussion in Torts about the inner workings of a sheep’s mind (“it all depends on whether the sheep choses to eat the food”) is a pretty relaxed way to start the Torts, while the intense and heart pumping race to refresh our screens at exactly 5pm in order to secure the optimum tutorial time was certainly unexpected.
And then, there is living in Canberra. ANU has heavily increased its publicity over the last few years and I would argue that its portrayal is, for the most part, very honest. The academics here are second to none; I loved being able to tell my family that my MEAS1001 lecturer was on Q&A a few weeks ago, or that the guest speaker at my Unilodge Commencement night has four Masters degrees. There is never really a typical day at ANU; mine have ranged from visits to the German embassy, to pizza nights with the LSS, to networking events with ASIO, DFAT and ASIS. Being the National University has many advantages and it is up to us to take them up and get the most out of the next five years. On the other hand, some days have been spent alone in my room, desperately trying to watch a 2-hour lecture in 30 minutes while simultaneously cleaning my room, cooking dinner and writing this article. And that’s okay too. I would recommend the study of Law, the ANU and the university experience to anyone who is interested because at the end of the day, we are all in this together (cue high school musical breakout) and it’s a pretty amazing place to be.