The Importance of Individualism: A Conversation with Demetrio Zema from Law Squared

If you are looking down the barrel of another 3 – 4 years of law school, it can be difficult to digest the seemingly long road ahead and to question how anyone gets through it.

The institutions which educate us are designed to create an elite group of students, the best of the best for them to gain traction and recognition as a leading alumni or a certain institution. This inevitably breeds competitiveness amongst students.

The subject matter we deal with is philosophically complex and morally obtuse. From the get go, its hard to know where you stand in your education and career development and this can lead to substantial self doubt. Are you tracking well? Are your grades good enough? Are they better than the person’s next to you? Are you even good enough to be here?

If you are planning on coming out the other end happy and intact, you need to come into university every year in the proper frame of mind. In this article, I write about a conversation Ashley and I had with Demetrio Zema, the founder of Law Squared. As the young founder of a law firm built on more humanistic principles of empathy and individual freedom, Demetrio certainly did not tread the beaten path. In this conversation, Demetrio revealed several of his thoughts about university education and his own self-doubt and ways to combat same.

I hope that fleshing out some of these ideas can help each of us re-frame the way we think about our university lives and the “road to our degree”. We want you to view this journey as a positive and influential step toward bigger goals.


Focus on your own lane

Demetrio did not start out wanting to be a lawyer. During university, he wanted to be a diplomat. By not wanting to go down the traditional lawyer path, this actually freed him from a lot of the competitive stress that bind law students such as applying for clerkships, internships and even articles (or now known as traineeships). He built himself up as the type of person he wanted to be, not what he thought would make him more qualified than everyone else. He focused on developing his own skill-set and this is what set him apart from those around him.

The importance of this lies in the simple fact that there are many different paths that lead to the same destination, and one is not better than the other simply because everyone else is doing it. Focus on your own lane and you will discover that you avoid the traffic in the other ones.

Just because you can do everything, that doesn’t mean you should

The connected nature of our social lives can be a powerful tool if used consciously and intelligently, however it can also be a huge source of achievement-anxiety. We are constantly exposed to other people’s achievements, breakthroughs, eureka-moments and award ceremonies. I know from my own experiences that, if I am not careful, using LinkedIn can just lead me to comparing myself to everyone around me and feeling awful because everyone seems to be doing something better with their life. It’s the Instagram of the professional world, showcasing the best of your life and leaving off anything that might not showcase “the best” (we’ve all taken 100 photos of the same object or view “for the gram” to capture our viewers attention). We all know our social media feeds are anything but the reality that sits behind most peoples lives.

What follows this feeling is the itch to take on more responsibilities and to “better” yourself and to “one up” what someone else has done or is doing. I know a number of students who feel as though taking on that extra roll, or that extra job, or that extra internship, will subside the feeling of mediocrity. Demetrio points out that this feeling can follow you into your working life and can persistently nag you unless you consciously do something about it. As an insurance lawyer, he worked extraneous hours and took on more and more stress because he felt like that’s what he “had to do”. If you spend your university life constantly trying to constantly “do better” and “achieve more” to climb the ladder, than this can carry through to your working life habits.

Demetrio revealed that ultimately, his personal and mental health was jeopardised and therefore when an opportunity arose, he decided to step outside the traditional law career path. Demetrio is a big believer in creating your own journey based on your own values and your own aspirations. Start with introspection. What do you value? What gives you real satisfaction and causes you to feel good about what you are doing? It shouldn’t be what your friends are doing, or what values/expectations your family have set. It shouldn’t be charity work simply because someone you admire did it, and it shouldn’t be learning to code because that’s what LawyersWeekly said to do. Once you have an idea of what you value, you can begin to visualise where you want to go. Demetrio pointed out that there will always be opportunities outside of the traditional law pathway, if you have the resolve to trust and back yourself.

Stay grounded

If you identified that a law degree is a necessary step toward a bigger goal, but are struggling with the idea of forcing yourself through law school, Demetrio has some words for you.

“You can see law school as a means to an end, or you can see it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, learn more about the profession and to use the time to decide whether pursuing a legal career (either traditional or non-traditional law) is for you”

At the end of the day, your degree is just the start of your career journey. Yes law is a stressful degree, however working as a lawyer is equally if not more stressful and therefore as future lawyers, we need to learn to manage stress and expectations. Law School gives you the foundations for your career, it might not give you all of the tools nor does it give you a blue print on how to be a lawyer, but it does provide the foundational knowledge of an industry plagued with disruption and exciting opportunities.

Getting through law school isn’t about the shiny certificate you get given at the end, it’s about providing you with the foundational skills, to become a lawyer. Remember, you are more than a law student, you are a friend, a son, a daughter and countless other, more important things. Focus on what makes you happy and gives you purpose right now, and trust that the rest will inevitably follow.

By Christian Lane; co-edited with Demetrio Zema 

Demetrio Zema is the Founder and Director of
Law Squared a specialised commercial law and litigation firm focussed on working with high growth businesses and ASX listed companies.

Named “Australia’s most innovative law firm”, Law Squared takes an entrepreneurial approach to the provision of legal services, by offering a model of partnering with its clients as risk advisers to protect them against future risk and to partner with them to advance their business.

In 2018, Demetrio was nominated as Law Firm Leader of the Year (<200 employees) in the Australasian Law Awards and named the winner of the Lawyers Weekly 30 under 30 in Commercial Law, and the Law Institute of Victoria Rising Star. Demetrio and Law Squared have also been listed on the Lexis Nexus Legal Innovation Index.

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Your story is important and your experiences are valuable. If you have a story about your time in law school that you believe will help others, we’d love to hear it!

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