Volume 9, Issue 12
Feeling overwhelmed by the workload at law school? Questioning whether you even want to practice? Wondering where else this hard-earned and expensive degree can get you?
These are just a few of the questions floating around my head as SWOTVAC looms. So I sat down with Nick Reece to get some advice on how to handle the stresses of law school and discuss and how his law degree helped him throughout his career.
Nick Reece started working as a solicitor after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts/Law. After working as a journalist for the Australian Financial Review, Nick worked as Premier Steve Bracks’ Director of Economic Policy, Premier John Brumby’s Head of Policy, and PM Julia Gillard’s Director of Strategy. Nick is now the University of Melbourne Strategy Director.
Nick, I know you have had a highly successful career and a very busy one at that. What advice would you give to law students on how to handle stress?
Well, I would start by saying that many people think that the life of the student is a carefree one. In fact, the life of the student is quite stressful. But what I would say to students is that even though you might not know it, the stress you experience as a student in many ways will prepare you for the stress that comes in later life.
I do find cycling a great source of stress relief and I try to ride my bike to work when I can. And look, as I’ve gotten further into my career I’ve learnt to keep things in perspective. So the sorts of things that earlier on in my life would have caused me sleepless nights, now I’ll sleep like a baby dealing with them.
While we are on the topic of your career change from law to journalism, was this something you had in mind when you were in law school?
Well I mean, they [writing and law] had always been equal passions. I loved studying law, and I’m so glad I got the opportunity. I also enjoyed writing and I used to write articles for the student newspaper and edited the law school journal. I was working as a solicitor at Maurice Blackburn and I saw that the Australian Financial Review were advertising for cadetships and I thought this would be an interesting thing to go for - so I submitted an application and lo and behold they ended up offering me the job.
I really agonised over the decision but thought I could always come back to the law. So I jumped into journalism and I really loved it. But my law degree actually set me up really well to be a good writer and a good communicator because it teaches you a methodology around argument and how to look at an argument from your opponent’s perspective. You know, there are some deep philosophical underpinnings to the law which you might not appreciate while you’re studying it. But, when you then get into your career you realise you’ve got all these tools and methods for approaching problems which your law degree has taught you - almost in an unwitting way.
From journalism I moved into government and politics.
Was your career move into politics planned?
That had actually arisen because friends of mine from law school were working in politics and when the Labor Government unexpectedly got elected in 1999 they rang me to offer me a job in the public service. The Treasurer was looking for someone someone who was good at explaining economic concepts and legal concepts and because I had worked at the Australian Financial Review, I was offered this position as the press secretary. I jumped into that and really loved it and then I spent the next 13 years of my career working in various government roles.
Can you tell me about an opportunity that you decided not to take during your career that you are glad you turned down?
Well, when I left Julia Gillard’s office I had an opportunity to work for a very large Australian corporation. Instead, I decided to take up a position at the University of Melbourne and I am certain that I am a much happier person than I would have been had I taken that other job. The University is a public institution and I like to think that we do really good things in education and in research and in giving back to the community. So I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of that. That has been the case throughout my whole career: I’ve actually never done a job for the money, I’ve always done it because I believe in what the organisation does and I believe in the person I am working for.
Finally, what advice can you give to law students?
My advice to law students would be to make the most of the full suite of opportunities that are available to you when you are at university. So get involved in clubs and societies, use your time at university to explore things in life because you will find it a lot harder to do later in life. I didn’t study journalism at university, I just volunteered to write articles for the student newspaper and that awoke a passion in me that I had for doing that. So it is really about thinking outside the lecture theatre, thinking about all the opportunities that are available to you while you’re here. Don’t become a narrow ‘study-bot.’ Make sure you make the most of the opportunities you have here and have fun as well. It is such as great time in life to have some fun.
Tess McPhail is a first-year JD Student
The rest of this week's *bumper* issue:
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