Vol 13 Issue 3
By Adrienne Ringin
I write this with one, nearly two Legal Ethics classes under my belt. Just being enrolled in such a class makes me an ethical philosopher by default, right? If this illustrious law school experience has taught me anything, it is that making spurious assumptions about my fellow students’ motivations is mandatory. If this is in a public forum - even better. With my accreditation laid bare, we shall proceed.
I understand that individuals come to this law school with varying motivations. In fact, we were asked about them on our orientation day back in 2016. Some raised their hands and stated their motivation was money. Others said that they were studying law others because they liked to win.But a fair few raised their hands, fresh faced and idealistic, and said they aspired to use their law degree help those in need. These were the class humanitarians.
The commencement of law school provided opportunities for the humanitarians to really showcase their morals. We were peppered with requests from organisations such as Refugee Legal, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Women’s Legal Service Victoria and Justice Connect to give one precious day of our time to help. And we did. Volunteer places in these organisations were filled by University of Melbourne students. The humanitarians felt fulfilled.
Then second year rolled around; the humanitarian façade fell and the ethical dilemma which is the feature of this article became apparent. With clerkships came the abandonment of principles and standards. Those volunteering at places like Refugee Legal and the ASRC simultaneously applied for clerkships with Clayton Utz, DLA Piper, Sparke Helmore or Minter Ellison. The controversy? Those firms regularly represent the government in migration cases and more likely than not, win them.
Clerkships are the highly competitive, sought-after gimmick that lures students with the promise of a graduate position. This is made even more lucrative by the recent statement of a particular politician who stated (I’m paraphrasing here) that law degrees have essentially become the new arts degree. I acknowledge that I am making numerous assumptions about applicants and volunteers, but frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn. I find it highly hypocritical to waltz through law school claiming you care about people but then apply for and complete a clerkship with a corporation who celebrates victory over a small cultural community in sub-Saharan Africa in an oil mining case. What on earth are these ‘humanitarians’ doing applying for such positions?
I have no doubt that there are numerous ways one might defend themselves against my claim. Such as: we can all be different types of lawyers; people can justify their actions to themselves any which way; and probably the best one – if I work for a couple of years in a corporate position then I can spend many more years helping those who really need it!
Save your justifications because I can assure you they fall on deaf ears. You do you, and if you can sleep at night then well done, you’ve figured out a way to quiet that voice that says things aren’t adding up. But for those approaching clerkships for this fabulous year of 2018: if you have a moral compass, take a good look at who you are applying to. Ask yourself if you would ever want to work in an environment which champions profit at the expense of the demise of a culture. After all,when we are thrown into the big wide world of real adulting, we are going to have to figure out where our moral imperatives lie - so why not start practising now?
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