Vol 11, Issue 11
I’m just about in my final weeks of the JD, and I’ve found myself developing an unhealthy habit – stalking people on LinkedIn. It began innocently enough: ‘Wonder what some other people in my cohort are up to outside of the course’, but it quickly spiralled into a panicked scrolling through the profiles of just about everyone I knew in the course. My conclusion? My god…..people are doing really, really well! And then the bitter afterthought. Why aren’t I doing as well?
My feelings of inadequacy have always been present throughout my studies in the JD. I failed a subject in the first year, and got pretty average grades for the rest. There was some other stuff going on in my life at the time, and I felt more concerned with just keeping my head above water than trying to go above and beyond. And yet I realised that people around me were embarking on their first steps in the legal profession: unpaid internships, working at community legal centres, shadowing an associate they happened to know. I mostly responded to this with a sort of vague curiosity, and some unjustly deserved snark. It definitely sounded interesting, but I was always more of a detached student, and reassured myself with the knowledge that I was studying law at Melbourne. My future success was assured, in some form or another. Good on other people for being more driven, but I was happy enough being a low-altitude flyer.
Then came my next steady realisation: the job market was far more grim than I had understood it to be in my happy ignorance. Maybe I wasn’t going to be able to slide into a graduate job in a government department, or complete my PLT and happily begin work at a smaller law firm. Is this why everyone was doing those internships? Why didn’t anybody let me in on the big secret?
It’s quite a confronting moment when you realise you’re not necessarily preordained for success. If anybody had asked me point-blank whether I felt I was, I would have of course laughed and played down my own achievements: ‘I’m at Melbourne, but I’m not a genius or anything, mate, really I’m happy to just keep on keeping on’. And yet there was something inside me that felt differently. A certain quiet confidence, that I was going to be just fine. Somewhere along the way I had internalised my acceptance into Melbourne and people’s kind flattery, and come to believe that, of course, I was a young man who was going places.
And then it hits you. It hits you when you put in 20 graduate applications, for government jobs, consultancies, large corporations, and find yourself rejected in the first round from nearly all of them. It hits you when you start reading threads on Whirlpool and articles online about how tough it is being a law graduate. It hits you when you look at your CV and you realise that you just don’t measure up: a lone internship, a lone extra-curricular placement. And it hits you when you realise that life isn’t going to take you back. To quote Cormac McCarthy, ‘You are now at the crossing. And you want to choose, but there is no choosing there. There's only accepting. The choosing was done a long time ago.’
And so, where does that bring me? Limping across the finish line of the JD, battered, bruised and disillusioned. I never thought that a degree from the most prestigious law school in the country would feel so worthless, and yet here I am. There isn’t any great truth to discover from this experience. No pithy quote about failures making you stronger. If I could impart any wisdom it would only be these two parting thoughts.
To the first years happening to be reading: Get out there now. Hit the pavement. Internships, CLC’s, placements, competitions. Not next semester. Not next year. Now. We live in an incredibly competitive, stress-filled cutthroat environment, but merely acknowledging that isn’t enough. You need to accept that you live in this world, that you are not special, and that it will not change for you. You need to adapt, or you will not survive. Secondly, you should probably stop looking for the ‘point of it all’. As I said, there is no great lesson in my experience here. You could say that the point is there is no point. If you can accept that the world isn’t waiting on you, that the universe doesn’t owe you a thing, then hopefully you can begin to strive for something better.
Jesse Cowie is a fourth-year JD student
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