Volume 9, Issue 6
I would like to personally thank James Daff for his article in last week’s De Minimis, for his breakdown of the costings for the law ball this year. However, the price of admission to a ball is not just what is listed on the ticket. And what is at stake is not just one evening’s event.
I made a post on the JD 2014 Facebook page lamenting the expense of this year’s ball tickets. In truth, I thought the same thing the past two years, but simply did not attend. But as this is my third year I thought I should not miss out this time. However my frustration was misplaced. It is not the cost of the tickets that is the problem. It is that costs like these cannot be put onto HECS, so that future me can pay for them once I am the kind of person who has been to a fancy ball with a string quartet; once I am transformed.
Education is not just the “great equaliser”. It is transformative. Despite the incessant negativity coming from students and some lecturers about how there are no jobs and we’re already screwed if we haven’t done 15 unpaid internships before we started law school, the fact remains that people with degrees earn more than those who don’t. People with postgraduate degrees (particularly men) earn more in their lives than those with only a bachelor degree. But law gives us something more than money. When I told my Grandfather I got into law he wrote me a very moving letter. The gist of it was that as he was a fostered child and when he had to leave school at 14 to work he never would have dreamed that his grandchild would go onto study law. In his time that was absolutely unthinkable. But today, in Australia, if you are person like me, you can go to a mediocre public school, work hard, find your passion and go after one of the two biggest prestige professions: doctor or lawyer. You can go from being a cashed up bogan to being an upper middle class professional.
What I didn’t understand is that it doesn’t just take studying and doing well in class to really become a lawyer. You must adopt the maxim: “We are what we pretend to be.” If we want to have money, we must pretend to have it – buy nice clothes and suits and wear them to University, of all places, and undertake free work for experience at a time in our career when we can least afford to be working for free. In my rational mind I would never gather a group of my friends and say hey let’s go for a three course meal in Docklands; it’s $130, but it’s good value! I’d ask them to go to Chinatown for indecent amounts of dumplings with BYO, because that’s who I am right now: I’m a student, on a budget. But because it’s law school it feels justified. It is showing us the right way to be a professional, a lawyer, a success and someone with money.
If you are lucky enough to already have money and don’t feel a ball of anxiety in your gut every time you are told what law textbooks will cost this semester; if it is just as simple as “taking an extra shift at work” because you are someone with the flexibility to do that; if you are someone I’ve probably been jealous of for having amazing photos of places you go on holiday every break; if you are already turning up to law school with a bunch of people you knew from your private school, then this might seem to be a minor issue. It might not seem like one of the main points of attending law school.
But you might not be seeking the same kind of social and economic mobility through a law degree that others are. The law ball and other events like it are part of Melbourne Law School’s status and prestige, part of the whole package of the JD. They are part of something that we have not earned through money, but through work. So to be told at this juncture, “if you can’t afford it, don’t come”, is to be told that you don’t belong here.
Some people in my position have managed, admirably, to “take an extra shift at work”. But this is a solution which individualises a structural, class issue. We can’t solve structural issues through individuals acting unilaterally - inevitably, this will mean leaving some individuals behind.
Let us put law ball on HECS and let the riffraff in. We’ve made it this far.
Katy Hampson is a third-year JD student
The rest of this week’s issue of De Minimis:
More De Minimis - other articles like this: