In my penultimate year of law school, all of my friends and classmates were applying for summer clerkships with commercial law firms. I wasn’t sure if I should do it too (partly because I wasn’t sure I would be offered one).
Eventually, my friend Mitch convinced me to apply. It’s a great professional opportunity, he said, and the worst that can happen is you do it and hate it for 12 weeks.
I applied. I got a clerkship. And, lo and behold, I hated it for 12 weeks.
In hindsight, I should have known that I never really wanted to be a commercial lawyer. I was sucked in by what my mates were all wanting to do, thinking it was what was also required of me if ever I wanted to succeed as a legal professional. But, ultimately I just wasn’t interested in the same way that others were, which meant of course that I was never going to be any good at it.
What I realised, as a result of that experience, was that I should do something I actually liked, which I thus could be good at.
I’m not slagging off commercial law. It’s an excellent and necessary area of law, that brings both meaning and motivation to scores of lawyers. It just wasn’t for me.
I often get asked by law students for recommendations about career choices. My answer is always the same one I would give to high school students who are trying to figure out what to do once they finish year 12: do whatever you want.
This is easier said than done, of course. And what we want will often be clouded by our social and educational environments. But even a cursory dive into and reflection on our innermost gifts, values and passions can give rise to a preferred course of action moving forward.
Ask yourself: do you love what you’re doing? Or do you love the idea of it?
I love the work I’m currently doing. I pick and choose my own research and writing projects, I liaise with different people every day, I get to wear whatever I want to work, I dictate my own hours, and people pay for my opinion. It’s super cool.
It does its downsides; I sometimes will work a full day without talking to anyone, which can be lonely. And I have to do all of my own finances and administration, which is terrible news for someone who can barely count and tolerate triviality respectively.
More to the point, I am motivated to get out of bed each day and do my work, because I feel inspired by it and see the potential for me to make a tangible difference and contribution with whatever project I might be working on that day. I don’t just love the idea of my work…I love it too.
Overwhelmingly, the good outweighs the bad. And, let’s be honest – EVERY job has its bad parts. You just have to weigh up if that badness is a necessary evil to allow you to do what you want, or if it’s the job itself.
If you have the same attitude regarding your own work, then good for you! 10 points to Gryffindor. But if you’re doing your work because you think you should be, or you’re applying for a job because you like the idea of it, then you need to re-evaluate where you’re headed.
Bear in mind the following when thinking about your vocational direction:
* Nobody knows you better than the person who stares back at you in the mirror. You, and you alone, are best placed to know what you like and would feel inspired by. Trust your own judgment.
* Where necessary, talk to people. Ask as many friends, family members, mentors and colleagues about their career choices, what works and doesn’t work, and learn from their experiences. Soak up as much information as you can and try to picture yourself in different workplaces, before deciding on what fits best.
* You’ll never be good at it if you don’t like it. You’re much more likely to succeed at something if you’re passionate about and motivated by it. Doing something for the sake of It makes you more likely to coast through.
* Nothing is irrevocable. If you’re not sure about the path you’ve chosen, it doesn’t have to set the tone for the rest of your career. Do what you need to in order to feel secure and stable, but remember that you can always change direction.
* Don’t discount any options that even remotely spark your interest. Keep an open mind about different avenues you can take while narrowing down your shortlist of potential paths.
* AND…not having a clue is not a problem. I’m 29, and still don’t necessarily know if I’m going in the right direction. But I love what I’m doing today…and, for me, that’s a good enough start.
Jerome Doraisamy is a 30-year-old lawyer and writer from Sydney, NSW. He left legal practice after stints in commercial firms, academia and research, and a major federal government inquiry, to publish his first book, The Wellness Doctrines for Law Students and Young Lawyers, in October 2015. It peaked at #2 on iTunes and has been sold, in both paperback and eBook form, on all six continents.
He currently works as a journalist for Lawyers Weekly and Wellness Daily, and is also an adjunct law lecturer at The University of Western Australia. In his spare time, Jerome is an active blogger, reader, podcast listener and cake baker, and also plays multiple team sports every week, including indoor soccer, touch football and mixed netball. The Wellness Doctrines for High School Students is his second book, and was published in May 2018.
Growing up in a small town in regional Victoria it was normal (if not expected) that you knew everyone’s name at school, you knew what their parents did and what they were doing on the weekend. Fast forward few years and I found myself moving to Melbourne to attend Monash and I didn’t know what to expect.
It recently dawned on me that throughout year 12 I had my ‘eyes on the prize’ of getting into Law school and was so focused on going to university that I totally dismissed the fact that moving to the city would be as much as a lifestyle change as it has proved to be.
I would describe my first few months in Melbourne as a roller-coaster ride. When I first moved onto campus I was filled with excitement and eagerness to explore this new city, I was excited to be out of my small town (although I did love it) and was looking forward to creating a new life for myself and making the most of all the opportunities Monash and Melbourne had to offer.
“A few weeks later and this initial wave of excitement had worn off and I found myself feeling like a very small fish in a very big pond. I was not used to knowing no one. I started to feel like I was a mere number at university and that nobody really cared – this was a tough time.”
Yet, after a few calls back home I found myself back on the roller-coaster and this time with a new outlook; It is okay not to know where you stand, just focus on yourself and enjoy the ride. From this point on I embraced the fact that I was a needle in a haystack full of other students-with a fair few of them coming from small towns just like myself. I no longer felt lonely and isolated, I now relished in the wealth of opportunities and exciting things to that you can only get here in the city.
Here are a few tips/words of advice that I wish I had been given before embarking on my journey:
Uni life extends far beyond the grey sphere of Clayton. Make it your mission to actually venture into the city and explore all it has to offer.
Embrace the city
Like many things in life, it is often best if you embrace your circumstances and enjoy it! Really venture out into the city and see all it has to offer, some suggestions of cool things to do include; going to the Queen Victoria market, go shopping down Bourke Street and maybe even go to the Melbourne Zoo!
It’s okay to struggle
Don’t be afraid to admit that you are struggling with the lifestyle adjustment – I certainly did!
If you’ee feeling homesick, call home
I found that one of the best things I could do when I was feeling a bit down was to call my parents. Not only was it good to catch up with them but they also provided he reassurance I needed.
Try to find people in a similar position
Find comfort in people that are going through the same difficulties as you as it often feels good to talk to somebody. Maybe even browse a few of the articles we have in our International Students section- we talk a lot about fitting into a new place.
Most importantly, stay true to your roots
Its very easy to get caught up in Uni life and living in the city, especially in your first year. My most important words of advice it to stay true to yourself and make the effort to visit home and engage in the community that you grew up in. For instance, if you don’t live too far a drive away you might stay connected (or even play for) your local football/netball team.
In this instalment of our interview series we had the pleasure of interviewing Emma Heuston, Practice Leader (Partner equivalent) at LegalVision and Australian pioneer of the flexible worker movement. Or, as it is fondly nicknamed, the Tracksuit Economy.
‘Flexible work’ can be described as giving employees the choice and freedom to choose how long as well as where and when they can work. As lawyers are nearly four times as likely to be depressed as other professionals, being able to choose the parameters of your working life can be a liberating and life-changing freedom. As well as raising a family and smashing the glass ceiling, Emma is also the published author of “The Tracksuit Economy”, where she discusses her passion for re-framing the way we work and why she believes flexible work is the way of the future.
In this interview Christian asks Emma about her thoughts on the way technology is impacting employment and wellbeing in the legal sector, social justice and gender diversity, and what she thinks law students should strive for if they want a happy, healthy and fulfilling career in the law.
Hi Emma, thanks for agreeing to this interview! Could you share a little bit about your journey through law school? Do you think that law school prepares us adequately for the trials and tribulations of a legal career?
I went to law school from 1996 – 1999 (as part of my combined Bachelor of Arts/ Bachelor of Laws degree at University of New England, Armidale). At the time I went to law school it was very theory based, with very little practical application, aside from the odd moot court and my regular volunteering at the Local Community Legal Service towards the end of my degree.
Given this was 20 years ago, I understand things have changed somewhat, as my marking of subjects like “Legal Drafting” at UNE in recent years have shown. In all honesty I felt law school taught me the skills to look up legal questions I didn’t know. However, it did not teach me how to deal with difficult clients, how to deal with information from family law or crime cases or to manage the priorities of day to day legal practice. While my Professional Legal Practice course at College of Law NSW went some way to bridging these gaps, most of my learning was “on the job” in the first couple of years of practice, which I spent in the small town of Scone in the NSW Upper Hunter Valley.
What general advice could you give university students who are excited by the prospect of ‘NewLaw’ and interested in working in trailblazing firms such as LegalVision?
Context: LegalVision is often cited as an Australian pioneer of the ‘NewLaw’ disruption happening in the legal sector. Considering that quality legal experience is increasingly harder to obtain, it appears that “soft skills” such as emotional intelligence (EQ) and tech skills are now becoming important for employability.
Competition is fierce for spots at LegalVision (and for graduate jobs in general). Candidates need to stand out from the crowd and show they not only have the legal skills but are not afraid to deal with clients or find solutions for problems. For example, many of our employees started as part time content writers or paralegals during their final years of study who have showed promise and been promoted into graduate roles.
All LegalVision graduate candidates enter the firm through our “client care” team and help clients who call in or contact us online. They are the first point of call many of the LegalVision clients have with the firm and must be personable, empathetic and willing and able to solve problems.
Do you think that ‘NewLaw’ changes to the legal sector, such as flexible working and anti-hierarchical organisational structures, could go some way to solving some of the social justice problems we face in our profession?
Context: A national report by the Law Council in 2016 found that almost one in four female lawyers have been subjected to sexual harassment in Australia. The traditional hierarchical structure of law firms has been cited as an enabler of this behaviour. Namely, senior lawyers and partners can take advantage of the power disparity that exists between themselves and junior lawyers to engage in inappropriate sexual behaviour.
New law and advents such as working remotely do help flatten out the hierarchical power structure of traditional law firms. For example, our use of tech at LegalVision means there are no secretaries employed. The firm culture also ensures we treat the CEO as we would firm juniors. That being said, while this certainly assists the disruption of the traditional old school law firm mentality, only deep seated cultural change and education in schools and universities will make a big difference. For example, while ever scandals such as hazing and sexual abuse continue in university colleges, the fact that the students responsible for that discrimination at university enter the workforce will mean the legacy continues into the workforce
Do you think that the mainstream implementation of flexible working procedures and conditions could help talented female lawyers and professionals to stay in their careers?
Context: In your book, you mention how flexible working conditions were incredibly important for you while you juggled the demands of a law career and a young family. You cited that you often struggled with the unfair demands of the legal institutions you worked in. For example, you mention how opposing parties would purposefully schedule important hearings and meeting on days they knew you had put aside for your family. It has often been argued that certain parts of the legal institutions we work in are not designed for women who want to raise a family whilst progressing in their career.
I firmly believe making the entire legal system (and the entire corporate system) more flexible would assist everyone. Not just talented women, but talented men who would like to be more part of their day to day family life. The NSW Land and Environment court is taking steps to achieve this by offering paperless trials. It is my hope other courts will catch on. Additionally, education of the legal profession is important. It is crucial that it is understood just because someone has young children or wants to work part time for any other lifestyle or health reason that it does not make them weak or a “bad lawyer”
In 2017 the Law Society found that only 23% of women in the legal industry become equity partners. Do you think that flexible work could be important to increasing representation of women in senior positions in the legal industry?
I certainly think it will help. However, it is not the ONLY reason. The law industry is largely still a “boys club” and women are over represented in areas considered “soft areas” like family law and under-represented in IP law or corporate law. The other issue to grapple with in this regard is the question of whether being an equity partner is a reflection of a traditional law firm attitude.
Perhaps women want different things and part of that flexibility is to pursue other interests alongside law. For example, in my instance although I am partner equivalent level at a law firm I work 3 days a week and use the other 2 days to pursue my own interests as an author and pushing the flexible work agenda.
How soon do you think university students can begin to ask for flexible working conditions? If it is something that must wait until we have obtained experience in a workplace, what else can we do to ensure that we are balancing our work commitments with a consideration for our wellbeing?
Context: In your book you discuss the importance of letting employers know when we want flexible working conditions. However, as law students we are already desperate for any work experience we can get and will happily settle for unpaid research projects and internships.
My view is that graduates and university students must be realistic. As a graduate it would benefit you to work in the office with a lawyer supervising you in person. However, the good thing is that more firms are offering flexibility, for example Corrs Chambers Westgarth have removed billable hours recently and added an extra week on their annual leave entitlements for employees while McCabe Curwood have removed the restrictions for lawyers to wear business attire – yet neither of these things mean graduates can work part time or from home.
LegalVision offers flexibility in terms of projects that lawyers work on – for example it is possible to work on marketing and law or tech and law or project management for a large corporation utilising document automation via the LegalVision tech team. Further, LegalVision offer yoga classes and training/ fitness classes plus things such as Growth leave to pursue other non-legal or personal interests. In my view ALL of these things constitute flexibility, even though they may not necessarily be part time or remote work. It is about re-framing what graduates want to view as flexibility.
What general words of encouragement can you give our readers who have or are going through their own ‘trigger events’ now?
Context: You have talked about how a ‘trigger event’ is often what gets people to break the unhealthy patterns of their lives and make things better for themselves. Law students are increasingly suffering from debilitating mental illnesses while we prepare a competitive job market. You have clearly demonstrated that personal commitments can be balanced with career aspirations.
Remember that there is an easier way and while you may be able to do everything, you don’t have to do everything. To that end, prioritise what is important and let the rest fall away. Though you may receive a few rejections in the search for a legal role, it may be a blessing in disguise and you will find your way eventually. The important thing is to stay curious and true to your core values. Also, be respectful and work hard, it will earn you a lot of respect in your chosen career.
If you have enjoyed this interview and want to learn more about Emma and other Australian pioneers of flexible working, you can find her book “The Tracksuit Economy” here!
Interview conducted by Christian Lane (Co-founder)
Co-founders Yan and Priya have had the privilege of interviewing Reiko Okazaki. Reiko is an incredible example of an international student succeeding in a new country. She is a barrister at the Victorian Bar, a Lecturer and Teaching Associate at Monash University for Property Law, Equity and Australian Legal Reasoning and Methods, and a Director of Football Federation Victoria.
While Reiko was born and raised in Japan, her journey of learning the law and building a career in an unfamiliar place and can teach us much about integration and living away from home. She has also provided some career and studying advice for how to get the most out of your law degree.
Hey Reiko, could you give us a brief introduction of yourself and how you came to be a lecturer at Monash?
I was born and raised in Japan, but I have also lived in California and Guangzhou when I was younger. Going back to Japan after living abroad, I had a hard time fitting in the Japanese culture and society because children especially girls would get in trouble for asking too many questions. I went back to US to be enrolled in a boarding school in the east coast when I was 15. Afterwards, I went back to Japan for my undergraduate law degree and finished a master degree in law in UCLA. I sat the bar exam in New York and practiced there for a very short while because I realised it would be easier to obtain permanent residency independently in Melbourne. In America, even though I spent half of my life there, there was no way to migrate without being tied to an employer. I converted my qualifications, got admitted and went straight to the bar as I was drawn to the independence, autonomy and flexibility of being a barrister.
What made you want to study law?
That’s a good question. It is partly because growing up in US, lawyers are a big part of culture as it is a litigious society. I was also living in L.A during the OJ Simpson and Rodney King riot. Here’s this funny story. When I was in a prep school, there was one kid who pushed another kid and then the kid said “my daddy is going to sue you” and I went home to ask my parents what that meant. In the third grade I was an argumentative child, a teacher also poked fun that I should be a lawyer. Although I had never met a real lawyer, it was a profession that a lot of people talked about. When I was in high school I took advanced US history which was a university level course and it was taught very creatively. We had the chance to pretend to be the founders of the US and write the constitution which I really enjoyed. That kind of got me to think about doing law. So when I was thinking of what to major in, I chose law partly because I was interested in it for all those reasons but also because it is a degree that qualifies you for something like sitting the bar. Also, I used to work in journalism which I found was something that you could teach yourself and learn by practice. But law was something that you need professional guidance as it was a different way of thinking and very specific. Hence, I thought that law was a worthwhile degree in that sense.
Have you ever had any doubts or regrets at any point of time in your career?
Not really in terms of big regrets but there is pressure inherently coming from the profession of being a barrister. Your job is dealing with litigations and your client will never truly be happy even if you try your best. In the first place they are already facing problems which is why they came to you. In some sense, you are helping them because they are better off, it’s just that, and that is the problem with wellbeing in the legal practice, it is that there are no winners really. Ultimately our job is to help our client make the best decision, but we also have to assist the court. These all have ultimately contributed to the lack of happiness and joy in the workplace.
Basically, I like what I’m doing at the moment and I don’t have many doubts nor regrets. I am really grateful for this opportunity to teach because there is much better energy. Inherently there is a lot of pessimism and perfectionist state which is detrimental, and you can easily be jaded because the cases are about people who only look out for themselves and backstab others, but we need to look at the bigger picture and know that in other places where there is no rule of law and it is even much worse.
Why do you choose to teach equity?
In US, equity is not separate, it is incorporated in the other fields. The more orthodox the court is, the more creative argument has to be. It is the area I enjoy and it could get both very theoretical and commercially relevant.
How to balance between pressure from work and study
There is a lot of work to stay on top of and readings etc. In terms of the results, I have never had the best grades and that is ok. I understand that you guys need great average score to secure clerkship positions. You may not get the job you want initially and it’s not the end of the world. Law school does not completely mirror the real life. There are still a lot of opportunities to make it up. For example, A lot of people told me that I had to work as a solicitor first for a couple of years so that I could build up connections etc. However, I did not listen those advice and I chose to believe in myself because I know myself the best. Being perfect in school doesn’t really guarantee long term success. That being said, you will definitely work hard in law school and never expect to achieve success by cramming before the exams.
If I had bad exam result, instead of forgetting about it, I would find out why I did bad. There are many reasons that lead to an unsatisfactory result. For example, wrong exam strategies are a common mistake that a lot of people make. Ask for assistance. eg. Lib teaches research etc. It’s never too late to take advantage of these resources and brush up on these skills.
“When it comes to mental health and well-being, the hardest thing to practice is to be authentic. Some people might think they should always conform to and excel in the ways that they are always told. You shouldn’t steer away from what you really are and your distinct styles. Sometimes you really need to ask yourself ‘is this really what you want?’ Think about what you want and how you want to be perceived. Although it sounds a bit idealistic, you will feel motivated for the long run and never feel jaded.”
Is there anything you wish you did in law school
I don’t have many regrets. Law school is a very different way of reading and thinking etc. I was a journalist while studying. I also did minor in media studies. Hence she did non-law sub and writing. During masters I studied electives as well such as critical racial theory. Good to have other things going on other than law.
Tips for international students
Even though everyone is different, background of international students has more stigma. You need a lot of civic freedom to do all these work. In US, it’s culturally acceptable to see a therapist etc. In Japan you can’t even say you’re seeing a mental health profession. Sometimes it is hard for international students because they are not raised to talk about these things. They are usually far from family and they don’t have a great network to seek help from.
I have this idealised vision of how the world could be a better place; if everyone just had a little more empathy for others. Granted, some may need more than others, but the sentiment is the same; that if we just put ourselves in other’s positions, we might be better people. We might understand each other better and be less likely to compete, destroy and hurt. But it’s idealisation and that’s all. Even I can’t maintain this all the time; even as someone who thinks about it constantly. After all, we’re only human – imperfect and governed by subconscious biases we don’t even know we have.
I like to think I’m self-aware. I reflect on my actions and am willing to be self-critical and decide if I could have done something better. I try to know and understand my faults and shortcomings in a constructive way- a way that would allow me to avoid inflicting them on others. Again, this is inconsistent, but at least I try. And I think this is critical when it comes to empathy.
Part of being an empathetic person is having a heightened emotional awareness, but also being able reflect on the sort of person you are. To know your strengths and weaknesses, what you do well and can offer others, and what stresses you or you feel uncomfortable doing. This is part of understanding your own emotions; as complex, nuanced and fickle as they can be. Even accepting that about yourself is important.
Any person can bestow sympathy. Sympathy is simply sharing feelings. Imagine it as two people passing feelings back and forth. There is a reciprocity, a cognitive understanding that someone is in pain or is suffering. You don’t necessarily need self-awareness or developed understanding of self or emotions to have sympathy for someone.
And I’ll be frank. I hate sympathy.
Sympathy is not a bad word or sentiment, and it comes from a good place, but just imagine empathy as an extended version of the sympathy; a deeper and more meaningful version. It’s taking it one giant step further and saying, I feel your pain. You don’t need to understand it, but you feel it. Sympathy is stand offish; at arms-length, an unwillingness to really open yourself up and experience what the other person might be feeling. There is a distance with sympathy and it disconnects people further. Whereas empathy is a warm hug.
Not everyone can be empathetic. It’s a vulnerable place to be; you need to really listen to others and show that you understand by holding their pain inside next to yours. Unlike sympathy, you’re not simply passing it back and forth, it’s not a cognitive understanding. It’s an emotional one; you’re feeling their pain and you’re feeling it because you’re connecting it with your own pain. And that’s the beauty of being empathetic, that by being vulnerable we relate to others and we can connect meaningfully.
We cannot connect with others meaningfully if we simply stand back and feel sympathy for someone else. Empathy isn’t about having the answers either, but you’ll listen and sit with them. You will feel it with them.
As pressure mounts, we tend to become more introspective and self centred. I’m not suggesting this is a callous thing, but rather a very normal human response. It’s self preservation when we’re stressed or overwhelmed. It’s very easy to lose sight of others in our struggle to get ourselves to the metaphoric finish line. I do it. You do it.
But if you’re willing to accept this about yourself, you may be a little better equipped next time to not forget that whilst you are your greatest advocate, the people around you are critical to your success too. We cannot thrive as individuals. We are social beings and flourish in supportive and collegial contexts.
I suspect a lot of workplace and educational spaces feel competitive and stressful. Even when collaboration and unity is encouraged, we tend to feel like those around us are our direct competitors. And whilst achievements and accolades may be the objective measure of success, those are fleeting. Your character is what you should anchor your success to.
When I was a high school English teacher, I was preparing my Year 12 students for their final HSC exams one year. It was a strong cohort, but like every group in life, there is a top and a bottom. Instead of enjoying their lofty position as the brightest students in the year, they decided to set up study pods with the weaker students. They would meet in small groups and share notes, thesis statements and quotations. They explained concepts and texts and helped them to improve their essay writing. These students didn’t see the success of their peers as a threat, but instead knew that helping everyone succeed was the ultimate success for everyone.
This is such a beautiful example of how empathy can help us be better- By using your emotions to connect with others and help them understand that where they are is okay. And you’re there to help.
This something we can all do a little more of.
Georgia Simmons (Guest Feature)
Georgia Simmons is the founder of Little Thoughts Co., a company dedicated to helping people reach out to those on need. She believes empathy is the most important thing in this world and is she could take away the suffering of others she would – or at the very least, make them feel less alone and that they will be okay. When she’s not worrying about all these things, she’s most likely with her husband, Jared, and her dog, Jerry, relaxing on the couch with a glass of wine.
You can find Georgia and her beautiful Empathy cards and Mail Service at Little Thoughts Co.or on her Instagram: @littlethoughtsco
Depression has always popped up in waves throughout my life, but never has it flattened me like it did in 2016. Two years ago, Depression reared its ugly head and tried to stamp me out with a vengeance. It isolated me from community. It belted out lies in my head and heart telling me I was unworthy and unlovable. It cut me off from every good thing I had ever known and told me to stay insignificant.
It took a lot of fighting, a lot of friends refusing to give up on me, and a whole lot of faith to drag me out of that storm. Sometimes the lies do creep back in my head, and there are days where the heaviness on my heart and the fog in my mind threaten to drag me back down. But for the most part, Depression no longer has his hold on me.
When I got the courage to speak about the darkness that happened in 2016, people inevitably say to me “I would never have guessed because you looked so happy” or “You looked like you were doing fine so I didn’t think I needed to reach out.”
The truth is, I did an amazing job putting on a brave face and a smile to the world because it hurt too much to confide in people who wouldn’t understand. But secretly, I was dying on the inside. When I finally confided to my friends about it – the ones I always thought were doing ‘just fine’ and were ‘successful’- they told me that they too were suffering through their own darkness.
Here’s the thing: everyone is going through some secret struggle. Everyone is nursing a wound or fighting a battle you know nothing about. I don’t want to be someone who just assumes my friends are doing just fine because all they’re posting are highlights of their life. It might not be our job to be a caretaker to all of our friends. But it is our job as supporters and lovers of those we care about to remind them that they do have a place in this world and they do belong.
Depression wins by making people feel isolated. So be the person who reaches out and says “Hey, I see you. You aren’t alone.” Let this day be a reminder that we humans need each other. Life is hard. Uni is hard. But we don’t have to carry the burden all on our own.
Listen in: If someone reaches out to you out of the blue, it could mean they’ve worked up the courage to confide in you about their struggles. Listen actively and try to provide a safe space for your friend to talk about their darkness. Respond with empathy and understanding. Sometimes all we need is to feel heard and understood.
Check in with your friends: Simple messages like ‘How’s week 8 going for you?’ or ‘What’s been happening lately?’ can sometimes be enough to make a person feel seen and cared for. If a friend you haven’t seen in a while pops into your mind, just take 1 minute out of your day to send them a message.
Encourage baby steps: Those who are experiencing darkness often don’t feel like they have the strength to move forward. Sometimes all they need is for someone to take initiative by saying “Let’s do something fun and get you out of your head for a bit” or “I’ll help you make your first counselling appointment.”
Remember that this is more than a day. This is more than a catchy slogan, a picture we re-post, and a once a year status. We should always be supporting and uplifting our friends and our family. We should care enough about them to not be deceived by their online presence, and actually say in real life ‘ Are you ok?’ Your words might just be the lifeline someone needs to step out of their darkness.
Have you ever done anything because you thought it is what you should be doing? It came to me right after I met up with a friend – the question that lingered at the back of my mind and had me re-evaluating everything I was doing in my life.
In law school, it is inevitable that we compare ourselves to people around us, regardless of whether we know them personally or not. We put people on pedestals without seeing behind their mask into their struggles or failures. In fact, some of the most accomplished people I’ve known are only where they are at because they’ve experienced numerous setbacks and learnt how to deal with them.
On the outside, my friend was one of those students who succeeded in anything she did – she was extremely involved in clubs, sociable, decent grades and even a job at a law firm. However, the reality was that she has failed 2 units, struggled with her choice of degree and has faced mental health issues.
For her, coming straight out of a high pressure environment from being in a selective High School and being thrown in the throes of law school meant she did not have time to process what she wanted. Coming from an Asian migrant background, there is additional pressure to follow your parents’ wishes and aim to please them. This was what led her to a degree in Comm/Law instead of Arts/Law. This set the stage for her to feel as though she was an imposter in a world of high flyers. Her fear of not being good enough caused her to join extra-curriculars and enrol in units that she thought she had to do as opposed to what she wanted to do. By trying to conform, she thought she could create this insulating bubble that would comfort her, but instead she had imprisoned herself, and had thrown away the key.
Ultimately, this inability to cope with her choices while feeling like a sell out sent her spiraling to rock bottom. Yet, that was the wake up call she needed to change her approach towards life. It was even more confronting for her to accept that she had an issue as she came from an Asian/migrant background where depression is seen as a weakness.
Your journey in law school is a personal journey and should not be dictated by anyone else. It is about enriching your own personal human experience and doing things borne out of your passions.
How she got through it
The first step is always admitting there is a problem and committing to recovery. However, just because someone else may be encountering similar issues doesn’t mean you should make an excuse for yourself to neglect your mental health. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t think of yourself as less of a person for seeking help.
Have a good relationship with a psychologist and follow the recommendations made by them. Make the most of services offered at Monash.
Know that recovery takes a long time. Understand that being in the right headspace doesn’t mean you never get triggered, but you learn how to be less affected by your triggers.
Trial and error. Everyone is different and just because something works for someone doesn’t mean it will work for you. For some, going to the gym make be a mood booster, but for her, it contributed to her anxiety and made her more self-conscious.
Give thought to what you like doing and want to do. Personalise your recovery to your needs.
Rediscover your hobbies and interests.
What her journey can teach all of us
Her journey towards recovery gave her the chance to reflect on qualities that contributed to her leadership skills. Part of being a leader is to be able to shed light into one’s own vulnerabilities to start conversations and connect with others. Admitting your failures doesn’t mean you are a failure but shows your strength in opening up to others. The legal profession is one that has a high likelihood of depression and anxiety, but for her, having dealt with mental health issues means that she is able to better manage it in future. It took most of her young adulthood to recover and realise that failure is just relative to today. Let’s be honest, in 10 year’s time, no one is going to criticise your abilities as a lawyer simply because you failed a unit in law school.
For her, the experience of wanting to give up but persevering nonetheless, only fuelled her desire to be a lawyer and gave her the resilience that is needed in this profession. For example, despite being rejected from clerkships, she has managed to find a job in law that aligns with her interest of innovation and social impact. (There are many other pathways and fields in law other than commercial law and you shouldn’t do it simply because everyone else is. You are not a failure for going off the beaten track and being brave enough to seek out your own proverbial north star. It is important to find your strengths and passions. Have the strength to forge your own path and don’t view that as being second best.
We all have our own path and we need to believe that we will reach the end ultimately. Just because the road may be longer and bumpier for some of us, don’t detour and take the road everyone takes. There is no one definite path that is destined for success. Remember that we all have different destinations and every experience, good and bad, matters immensely.
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are conditioned to believe that success is everything.
At school we are praised for winning races at sports day or for successfully learning a new song on the piano. We desire to be elected onto the Prefect team and to receive a high enough ATAR to do our dream course at university because this means we have succeeded. We are taught to admire successful people, to aspire to be the best we can be, to not settle for anything less than success whether it be academic, financial or personal. I grew up in this bubble of success – one of those annoying people who seemed to succeed at everything I put my mind to. And then I took Property A in the first semester of my second year of my Arts/Law degree.
The girl who always succeeded failed dramatically, receiving the pitiful grade of 42% and my irrational mind declared the world to be over.
After bawling my eyes out in the fresh fruit section of the grocery store upon checking my results, my emotions began to roll in. I was mind-blowingly disappointed that my hours and hours of hard work throughout the entire semester hadn’t paid off. I was beyond frustrated that I would have to re-sit the entire unit and that this would hold me back from learning new and exciting things in a degree I was genuinely so passionate about. But then failing triggered something in me that was more than just mere frustration and disappointment.
Without going into the gory details of what else was happening in my little world, the next year of my life was by far the most challenging. Failing Property A was just the start of a bunch of shit that sent my mental health in a rapid downward spiral, sort of like a burnt tornado potato. Most people don’t know this because I maintain (a seriously damaging) façade of being on top of the world 24/7.
This in itself is a product of my desire to succeed because I am so desperate to prove to myself and everyone else around me that I am happy and thriving and that my life is all sunshine and rainbows.
It took me months to finally work through my emotions to realise what was wrong and what I needed to do to fix it.
It was as simple as this: I had never learnt how to fail.
I didn’t know how to cope with disappointment or rejection or loss or any other negative emotion because I had never felt them properly before. So when I was suddenly confronted with a bunch of different and overwhelming circumstances all at once (failing Property A being one of then), I was feeling all these horrible things simultaneously and I had no way of managing them.
After 21 years of spinning around the sun, I literally had to teach myself from scratch how to deal with negativity. I did this by throwing myself into situations where I would inevitably feel all those emotions that until now had been so foreign to me. I tried sports I knew I would suck at. I opened my heart to relationships that I knew would end. I moved overseas for a year and failed disastrously a hundred times over by 1) accidentally ordering meat dishes at restaurants (which as a vegetarian on a budget, is never fun), 2) going to the wrong airport and spending 180 euros on a taxi to make my flight and 3) getting disastrously lost when I ignored the suggested route on google maps, time and time again.
Every time I have failed at something, I have learnt more about myself and how to get through it. Here are just some of the things I now know for sure:
Failing doesn’t make you a failure. Failing just makes you human.
Nobody really cares when you fail except you, so take embarrassment out of the emotional equation and focus on dealing with everything else to get through it.
If you did your best and still failed then it’s not actually failing at all so don’t be so hard on yourself.
Perspective is everything. Will failing this matter in 5 weeks time? How about 5 months? Or 5 years? Probably not. You’ve failed. It is done. Let it go.
If you have failed, I promise that you will be okay. The sun will come up tomorrow, Trump will unfortunately still be President, avocados will be too expensive and you will come out of this experience a better person.
Here comes the cheesy bit. If you haven’t failed – please don’t be afraid of it. It might just change the way you view the world, like it has for me. Failing has taught me to say yes to everything without fear of failure. I now say yes to living in a way the old me was too afraid to try because I know now that I can overcome whatever comes my way. In this way, failing is better than the endorphins you feel at the end of a run, the excitement of free donuts at uni on a rainy day, the feeling of making a friend laugh with a stupid dad joke. Failing is fantastic.
PS – I got a killer grade in Property B.
Rebecca Jaffe (Contributor)
Rebecca Jaffe is a fourth year Arts/Law student who is currently on exchange in Tilburg, The Netherlands. When she isn’t laughing at her own horrendous jokes or dropping truth-bombs of wisdom you can probably find her in the back of a library with the most impressive study snacks in the building. Find her on Insta @becjaffe
I remember since I was little I had been dreaming about becoming an International lawyer, travelling between different countries, freeing refugees.
However, the reality of pursuing law at university and a legal career are completely different. First if you want to enter into law as an undergraduate, you need a 95 or 99 plus ATAR, plus many universities do not offer only Bachelor in law anymore, you need to combine it with an Art or Science degree for instance. At University of Melbourne, which is one of most prestigious universities, they do not offer an LLB degree anymore, instead they offer a Juris Doctor (JD), a master level law degree after you have completed an undergraduate, in any discipline with a decent grade. Also, I need to mention that in order to be considered a place at Melbourne Law School, you will need to sit LSAT unless you are exempted, for most of us we would have to sit LSAT.
Unfortunate for me, I did not have an ultra high ATAR score which prevented me from getting into group-of-eight law school after year 12. Being a kid from traditional Asian family, my parents would not allow me to go into a less well-known uni to do law so my only option was to do something else. I ended up doing a Bachelor of business (marketing) and then a master in Banking and Finance at Monash University, I worked very hard during those years and managed to finish my master half a year early with top grades in the class, while being offered a PhD in finance. Nevertheless, my dream in becoming a lawyer never dies and I made a tough decision, to do law after my master in business.
Like mentioned before, choosing to do law is not as easy as it seems to be. I applied for Melbourne Law School’s JD course and sat LSAT twice, still could not attain the marks they needed. This test is widely used in North America where they have tutors and classes to teach students how to do the test, whereas here in Australia little help is available and we had to study on our own. I also disagree with testing students before them even having studied any legal knowledge, therefore I also applied to Monash JD program. To my surprise, they offered me a place soon and of course I accepted it immediately with pleasure.
After you began studying law you will find it’s entirely different from any other disciplines, the amount of reading and studying is no joke, perhaps if you have studied Arts or Humanities you will find it an easier transition, but for me as a business student and an international, it’s extremely hard. I remember my lecturer in Public law had warned us about this, saying international students would often need to work harder. This became the story of my life. I literally had to spend twice the amount of time studying the same thing as local students and had to study harder, just to get the same marks as others.
I don’t know if it’s because all those years of constant studying or grief from losing my grandpa, but anxiety and depression finally caught up with me when I went home on holiday in China. I had an anxiety attack and thought I was going to die. My parents were so worried for me and had to admit me to mental hospital the next day. I was diagnosed and prescribed anti-depressants. Since then I have been taking them for a year or so. After the two episodes I have had, it made me prioritise my health before anything, especially my mental health.
Fortunate for me, my school has offered me tremendous help in counselling, providing extra academic help etc. I am able to cope with my workload and mental conditions.
“To all the people coping with mental conditions and studying law, do know that you are not alone and there are people out there who care. When I went to see my GP and psychologist they told me about beyond blue and mental heath service help line, these are numbers to call when you are not feeling right.”
Currently I am in my second year of law school and have been managing mental condition for a year and half, the way I see it is this, all the exams and assignments and panic attacks are trying to teach me something, resilience. It’s what’s needed once you become lawyer and facing the real world, because more than likely you are not going to “win” every case, negotiation or mooting. You need resilience to tackle these challenges and becoming a real strong lawyer. For now, me and my psychologist are working on ‘mindfulness’, it’s a strategy that helps with daily challenges we are all facing today, redirecting random thoughts back to present, focusing on the beautiful present.
I want to say that I appreciate all the obstacles I had to overcome, they made me grow stronger and smarter, into the person I am today.
Hanwen Liu (Contributor)
Hanwen Liu is a second year JD student studying at Monash University and a part-time beauty consultant for Shiseido. He has been living and studying in Australia for more than ten years and hold a Bachelor of business (Marketing) from RMIT, Master in Banking and Finance finishing half year early from Monash, besides his current law degree. He also has an interest in languages, he speaks English and Mandarin fluently and has studied French, Japanese and Spanish.
As we attempt to get through the 5+ years at Uni, many of us may wrestle with thoughts about whether or not to practice as a lawyer after Uni, and where else a law degree may be useful.
We understand the struggle, so we decided to chat with Monash Arts/Law Alumni, and co-founder of Matcha Maiden, Sarah Holloway! This lawyer turned ‘funtreprenuer’ has definitely thrived in both the Law and Business life after she left her job as an M&A lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons to turn her amazing health food side-hustle into a full-blown global business!
This feature is for anyone who has struggled with juggling the Work-Uni life, those who have doubts about their degree, and inspiration that you can be a lawyer and fulfill your creative aspirations as well!
Hey Sarah, thanks for catching up with us! Could you share a little bit about your journey going into Law School?
All through my school life, I was interested in a little bit of everything and never really had my eye on one single career. I have always loved keeping a jam-packed extracurricular schedule, so I indulged a very broad range of interests in music, sport, dance, and the arts. By the time I finished high school, I still hadn’t narrowed down my career focus and wanted to keep as many doors open as possible, so I chose law because it seemed to be a very versatile degree with many different pathways that would teach you skills you could use no matter where you ended up. I also figured that if I never had a big career epiphany, being a lawyer was still a secure and respectable option that in itself could lead to many different areas of law, lifestyles, countries, and contexts.
I also paired law with an Arts degree to be able to keep up with my languages and to mix up the heavier law subjects with some creative humanities units. This also gave me a reason to head off on multiple exchanges during my uni studies as travel is one of my great loves! While there were definitely parts of my degree that I enjoyed more or less than others, I never really doubted the utility of studying law particularly because you get more and more exposure to the different things you can do with it. I also noticed that my critical thinking, time management, and other valuable life skills developed as a result of the intensive study. I also didn’t really become any clearer on what I wanted to do, so it made sense to continue with something sensible while I figured it out.
As you know, Uni can be an incredibly stressful time and can lead to many students experiencing depression and anxiety. What is your advice for anyone struggling with this while going through Uni?
Especially in this day and age, depression and anxiety are surprisingly common and thankfully it’s becoming more socially acceptable to talk about. We live in such an information-dense, high-pressure time and it’s natural for students (particularly A type, OCD, perfectionist students like most law students) to feel the effects of that physically and psychologically.
Anxiety, in particular, is absolutely something I have and still struggle with, but it’s very manageable if you do your research and stay in tune with yourself. I think the most important thing is to talk to trusted people around you about it for support and care. A problem shared is a problem halved and it’s so important to have good people around you. Do some research too on the many resources that are around these days for young people. I do a lot of yoga, meditate twice daily and walk at least 30 minutes every day, all of which are known to help anxiety symptoms.
There is no shame in accepting things can get really tough, it’s just how you go about it dealing with the symptoms when they do.
What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t know what they want to do with their law degree?
That most people don’t and it doesn’t matter one bit. I still don’t really know exactly what I want to do and that’s just part of the journey! It’s better to be doing something than nothing, and gaining experience in the workforce (whether or not it’s in your relevant area) is going to teach you about yourself, the world and what does and doesn’t suit you-you can’t know until you start! So just because you’re not sure you want to be a lawyer, doesn’t mean you’re not exactly where you should be. If I’d started a business when I first graduated, I wouldn’t have had any of the skills or experience I needed to keep it afloat. I would have been too immature and without practical experience or professional resilience.
There’s pretty much nowhere in the world that a law degree isn’t recognised and appreciated for teaching you certain skills and self-management, so it will NEVER be irrelevant. Just keep at it and learn as much as you can, because you never know how much it will be useful to you later on. I’d also highly recommend talking to as many people as you can to see the paths they’ve ended up on and learn about the pathways that are even possible.
Many of us start off thinking it’s just lawyer or non-lawyer but there’s a HUGE gray area in between!
You are a successful entrepreneur and co-founder of an amazing health food business! How did you take that leap from being a full-time corporate lawyer to running your very own business?
Very much by accident actually! Which is why I’m a huge supporter of the idea that you don’t have to know where you going or plan everything 5 years in advance, you sometimes just have to go with the flow and equip yourself as best you can until the next adventure lands on your doorstep. I came back from a charity expedition to Rwanda with a parasite and got quite sick so was banned from coffee as it was too harsh on my adrenals. At the time I was in M&A at King & Wood Mallesons and was a 10 cups a day kind of girl! Luckily I got sent to the firm’s headquarters in Hong Kong where matcha was much more readily available and I discovered it was a much healthier form of caffeination that still gave me energy but without any jitters or crash of coffee.
When I came home, I couldn’t really find it anywhere so decided to get some online – like many businesses, it literally all began on Google! We could only get 10kg which was way too much, so the idea came up for my partner Nic and I to sell some as a creative side project just as an experiment. We sold out in a week completely unexpectedly, so it’s been matcha madness since then! I left my job six months later when Urban Outfitters in the US found us through Instagram and ordered a huge amount of matcha that we couldn’t fulfill without someone going full time. It was definitely a big, scary life decision but also an easy one – while Law would always be there, the matcha rush might not be.
Sometimes you have to take a risk and see what happens!
It was actually an even bigger decision because at the time I had secured a Judge’s Associateship with Justice Kiefel (now the Chief Justice) of the High Court to start a few months later. So it really was a matter of a fork in the road where the two options were mutually exclusive. Self-doubt nearly overcame me many a time but my favourite quote got me through – doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
I always feel like if a dream doesn’t work out it has to be because you tried, not because you were too scared to. You have to give yourself the chance to succeed rather than always assuming you’ll fail. Because often you’ll prove yourself wrong! We’re all capable of more than we know, we’re just very happy in comfort zones (but that’s not where the magic happens!)
Law students are known to be Type A personalities who attempt to heap tons of work experience and extracurriculars on their plate. How do you deal with the stress and pressure in your work life- back when you were a lawyer, and now as a business woman?
Interestingly, I found it easier at the firm in hindsight than I do now. Even with the long hours and occasional weekends, employment comes with boundaries and structure that actually helps the body be able to know when it needs to be on and when it can rest.
After a year of experimenting, I got into a good routine in the second and third year of making sure I fitted in some exercise at lunchtimes, got outside everyday even just to walk around the block and made time for meditation. Once I left the firm, however, I thought “oh yay, I’m moving into wellness and can do yoga all day, everyday – I’ll be the picture of health!” The irony of running a wellness business though is that you’re so passionate about it that your own wellness takes a back seat. There’s no difference between weekends and weekdays, there’s no sick leave or public holidays or hierarchy or rules to help you tell the difference between work, rest and play. Working with your partner too means there’s even more of a smoosh together of your personal and business worlds. So it’s taken a while to adjust to that new environment and MANY a lesson have been learned along the way.
It’s still a balancing act that I’m not exactly on top of, but putting in some basic boundaries again has helped a lot. Sundays are no phone days, we try to switch off after 9pm, we don’t work from home all day every day and we make sure to exercise throughout the week. We take little weekend trips to get out of town where we can and I still meditate regularly which is one of my greatest tools. Again, we get it wrong often and I burn out every now and then, but it’s all a work in progress!
On that same note, what do you believe are the first signs of burnout and how have you tried to avoid it?
I think that’s the big step – we all need to learn what our thresholds are as they’re different for everyone. The problem is the signs are there, but there’s so much noise in our worlds these days that we ignore them. My big lesson has been becoming more in tune with my body and mind so that I can react quicker before it’s too late. My tell-tale signs are my glands going up, I sometimes get a mouth ulcer or two, and my anxiety flares up again.
The key in those moments is not to think “oh I’ll just push through a few more days”, but to react immediately as your body is FAR smarter than you are.
So now, I’ll move back meetings or skip the gym, up my water, sleep earlier and try to knock it over the first time. It’s a constant battle in my mind between progress-driven crazy business woman versus sleepy yogi who loves resting!
What is one wellness tip you really advocate?
Meditation! It can be frustrating, takes time, and often won’t feel “worth it” but over time it has become my most valuable skill. My mind goes far too fast for my body and meditation forces me to stop to let everything catch up. It’s that gap that causes the burn out and the world moves way too fast for what our bodies are built for. Meditation really helps me resist the “glorification of busy” and the need for urgency when nothing, really, is urgent if you’re not a paramedic or a surgeon!
The other thing is pampering – it seems indulgent but really, it can be a HUGE health-promoting exercise that really enhances productivity and wellness. I do regular facials, massage and baths and they keep me on track. It’s hard to “wind down” and if you can find something like a massage that fast-tracks your relaxation, embrace it!
Serial! I’m a sucker for crime!
Favourite brunch spot?
Books you’re currently reading?
I haven’t been! I’ve been Netflix binging instead!
Thanks for your time and words of wisdom Sarah! We can’t wait to see what else you do in the Matcha world!