Volume 10, Issue 7
A printed version of this open letter appeared outside the lift well on Open Day 2016. It was quickly taken down by University of Melbourne Staff. It details the experience and opinion of one third year JD student.
Dear Prospective MLS Student,
Welcome to the Law School.
I am a third year JD student in my final semester at Melbourne Law School. It’s a Sunday, and I am studying at the library - likely what you will be doing three out of four Sundays should you study law here. But before I open my textbooks I wanted to write some truths in the midst of the Open Day fervor so that you may make an informed decision to study law here, or not.
I can’t deny the Law School’s Instagram game has been strong of late, profiling many of my fellow law students, teachers, and friends. While I have enjoyed reading these posts, they fail to give a holistic view of studying law at MLS, which is understandable given they were prepared by the marketing team and presented in the form of a 140 character Tweet. I struggled to put a finger on why this bothered me at all at first. I talked to other students who agreed that the current MLS marketing campaign made them somewhat uneasy. None of us regret studying law at MLS: we each secured graduate positions at good law firms. But there was a joint desire to have known more on enrolment than we did in 2013.
What follows is what I wish I’d known and what I feel isn’t being told to you.
Truth number one: law school is tough, incredibly tough. Not just academically either, but socially, physically and mentally too.
MLS is a competitive environment (as has been written about previously in De Minimis). This competition isn’t necessarily the fault of the law school but a combination of factors which go beyond the scope of this letter. The bottom line is that you are going to spend a lot of your time studying. In the run up to exams, there will be periods where all you do is study, eat and sleep – every day for weeks. But the pressures of your life outside of law school will still be high; maintaining friendships and spending time with family becomes hard. For students who need to work, it will often be a choice between paying rent and having time to study for better marks. Start thinking about gaining legal experience early because you will be expected to have it in bucket loads by the time you graduate. Most students volunteer and work simultaneously alongside a full course load and undertake full time internships/clerkships/paid-work in each of the university breaks. I haven’t had a holiday longer than a fortnight in three years.
Truth two: the “International Opportunities” MLS promotes so hard may not live up to your expectations. As you walked in the building today you will have seen a large world map detailing some of those experiences. I represent one of those dots – but what the dot fails to say is that rather than facilitating this opportunity, the law school administration fought me every step of the way as I tried to undertake an international experience. International subjects, Global Lawyer and International Institutions, are extremely expensive to undertake. I applaud Professor Ian Malkin for setting up a scholarship of $1500 to assist students in this regard. My point is, please do not come here thinking international experience is a given – it’s not.
Truth three: Law school is financially rough - especially if you don’t get a Commonwealth Supported Place. Earlier this year, I received a letter from the University asking for $10,000 up front if I would like to complete my final semester of study because I had maxed out my $97,000 FEE-HELP loan (that’s on top of a $24,000 HECS debt). I split that payment across two credit cards and felt judged by the financial services team when I asked to do so. That’s approximately $120,000 of debt. My advice? speak to an accountant and work out what this debt means to your future quality of life. I wish I had. Entry level social justice warriors don’t get paid squat, if at all, so be prepared to suit up and tow the corporate line for a few years at least to pay this bad boy off. Also remember to add a cool $10,000 to that bill if you are unsuccessful in gaining a graduate position and need to fund your own Practical Legal Training.
Truth four: Practising law isn’t an automatic right of passage for graduating law students, google ‘fitness and character test Victoria’ to see what I mean. If you have a police record, Centrelink debt or academic misconduct in your closet, then I suggest speaking to someone about your actual chances of being a lawyer one day.
This long winded rant can be condensed into one take away: Don’t rely on information provided by MLS to make your decision – do your own research and, most importantly, speak to someone who has been through what you are applying to undertake.
Feel free to write this off as a tired bitter third year law student.
Cheers and Good luck.
Anon is a third year JD student
The rest of this week's issue: