The realisation of finishing law finally hit me as I sat outside the examination room with my Kiwi exchange friend Tessa waiting to be called in. It was my final ever assessment, an oral exam lasting 15 minutes. That’s how it is done at the University of Copenhagen, a far cry from the 2-3 hour written exams that were the norm back home in Sydney. It almost felt like cheating, to pass the final hurdle with such ease. Almost.
Exchange has been a fitting (and relaxing!) finish to five years of law. So what is it all worth it?
For reasons I will elaborate in a future entry, I do not want to become a lawyer. To put it shortly, my cynicism has grown as I learnt more about law and the practice of law. This replaced the ignorance coupled with naive idealism that probably characterised my view for the first couple of years.
But to answer the question, yes absolutely I think it was worth pursuing for five years a law degree I am not even going to ‘use’. And here’s why:
1. The People
Far and away the most important thing I will take from my law degree is the relationships. Five years and numerous classes make a fertile ground for forming friendships. Contrast this to my Arts degree in which I have one (albeit very good) friend in my three years. I’d like to think that my cohort, the Class of 2011, is an especially cool bunch. It seems that the younger guys have become increasingly competitive and results-focused. Maybe it is a sign of the times or maybe that’s just my irrational superiority speaking. Probably both.
In any case, the law students I know tend to be really darn intelligent, articulate and funny — but everyone knows when it’s time to knuckle down. It’s a crazy thought that guys I know will be the future politicians, judges and captains of industry. That’s pretty cool — I will know what they were really like even as they spin their image for the public.
2. The Education
So how was the legal education at Sydney Law School, supposedly one of the ‘best’ in Australia? Certainly we have many eminent teachers, although I feel that we learn more history and theory than our cousins in UNSW and UTS. In any case I don’t really think what we learn in class about specific provisions and cases matter all that much, since as a practising lawyer you’ll be picking things up on the job (Now there’s an interesting topic for future pondering).
What I’m more grateful for are the generalised knowledge and skills you learn. It is important to be aware of our legal institutions and the nature of our democracy. It is important to be able to question and critique the system. This is vital if we want to be fully engaged citizens with an interest in improving how our society functions.
I am also glad for legal writing, ie, writing in plain English. I remember the spiel Dr Belinda Smith gave in our Foundations of Law class about how we should write — simply, succinctly, no embellishments or big words. This was a tough thing to hear for a kid fresh out of high school, who thought he was da bomb for his beautiful and profound revelations on Cloudstreet and Rosenguild/Hamlet in HSC Advanced English. As the years went by and word limits for assignments became smaller and stricter, I was forced to adapt and, in doing so, vastly improved my written communication skills.
Restrictions breed creativity. It is much easier to disgorge a whole lot of crap than to present the essentials in a clear and understandable way. In fact, you could say that I love word limits.* To all those who whined and cried over them – buck up! I hope you realise how good it was for you.
Now if only drafters of legislation and (many) judges would impose word limits on themselves. I miss the days when you can deliver judgment in six pages instead of 368.
3. The Opportunities
Lastly I am thankful to my law degree for the amazing opportunities it has given me, andthrough them, the ability to grow and mature. Being on the crew for several Law Revues was really great — it’s exciting and rewarding to be working on a creative endeavour while enjoying ourselves immensely in the process. I even marshalled up the cojones to audition in 4th year. Even though I didn’t make the cast, I will always be proud to have tried out.
Doing law has also exposed me to some pretty cool employment opportunities. I spent an enjoyable year working for the wisecracking Robert Minter in his boutique law office in the city as well as getting a gig with Information Integrity Solutions. This is great because I needed all the funds I could get for…
Exchange! In late June I stepped outside of China/Australia for the first time in my life. And what an experience it has been (More on this in later instalments). I believe things happen for a reason and without doing law, NONE of this would have been possible. I probably wouldn’t even have started blogging. So that’s how my law degree begat… everything. Pretty cool huh?
* For important stuff that is. Ie, no word limit for this blog 🙂