Under the Pressure: A Personal Account of Struggling and Surviving

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.

An Anonymous Contribution 

 

 

Keys to Success: Tips & Advice for International Students

Do you ever feel disheartened whenever you hear people talk about their internship or job at a law firm? I think as law students, we have an inherently competitive nature and even more so for international students as there is more at stake. Although international students may be disadvantaged by the limited working hours and firms that do hire international law students, you do offer unique insights such as intercultural competence, an international education and eclectic experiences that sets you apart from local applicants. Understanding what makes you stand out and highlighting these skills is a key way to get your foot through the door.

Important things to note

  • Your student visa enables you to work up to 40 hours per fortnight during semester and unlimited hours during semester break
  • Not all firms accept international students, so it is good to do some research. The Social Justice & Equity Guide, which can be found outside the LSS office, offers a snapshot of some firms which do accept international students.

Here are some top insight tips from recruiters and international students who have secured internships and grad jobs.


1. Have a holistic degree

As international students, it is understandable to place a strong emphasis on your grades and prioritise studies since your aim of studying abroad is to get a degree. However, this is not only unhealthy for your mental health, it also fails to show your ability to multi-task and manage your time. Simply excelling at academic endeavours is insufficient to succeed in Australia’s dynamic environment. It is equally important to have a colourful extracurricular to demonstrate your leadership, time management, ability to work collaboratively and various other skills. Joining clubs, competitions and volunteering are some ways that indicate this. However, do not go crazy signing up for everything and overworking yourself. Pick 1-2 things that you are genuinely interested in and stick with that. This highlights your interest beyond studying law and also gives you an opportunity to destress and pursue something you like. It is also a great way to make new friends. So why not kill two birds with one stone – you get to impress recruiters and improve your mental wellbeing by taking time off studies.

2. Any experience is valuable

You do not need to intern at the Big 4 firms every summer to impress recruiters. What really stands out to them are the skills you have acquired or demonstrated, and your willingness to learn. Sure, stating you’ve done a summer internship at Allens may be impressive but sometimes smaller firms can be equally beneficial as you are more likely to get hands on experience. If you plan on interning in your home country, try not to focus too much on local top tier firms but rather pick a firm which specialises in a field you are interested in or an international firm such as Clifford Chance or Ashurst. This is because Australian firms may not be aware of the brand name of firms in your home country, however, they do recognise the experience. It is important to emphasise skills you acquired or demonstrated that is universal across law firms eg. Legal research.

If you are unable to secure an internship, fret not. Volunteering is another great way to learn and gain exposure in the legal scene. There are plenty of legal aid centres which provide amazing legal opportunities for students. Some suggestions include MOLs (obviously), asylum seeker centre and the Springvale Monash legal Service. The Victorian Bar also provides barrister shadowing or mentor opportunities for any law student, which are also great ways to gain exposure in the legal field. It is also offers valuable networking opportunities and insight.

3. Polish up your CV

Your CV is a reflection of you as a professional is a way you convey who you are and your capabilities to a potential firm before they meet you. This is why having an  updated, neat and well-written resume and cover letter is always a selling point, as it helps win half the battle of any application. It is also important to ensure your CV is tailored to the specific job that you are applying for. For example, if you are applying to be a paralegal, they may be less interested in your amazing customer service skills compared to a waitressing job. Monash also offers lots of tips and services to help ensure your CV is well-written. Careers connect usually has resume writing sessions and even appointments for someone to review your CV and cover letter, as well as mock interviews. This is also a good time to create a linkedin if you don’t have one

4. Be authentic

Although it may be too early to pick a specialty, try to identify some possibilities and pursue firms specialising in areas that genuinely interest you. Firms enjoy seeing students who are authentic and have passion as opposed to chasing another title to add to their CV. Try to highlight why the firm/area of law interests you, your plans in the future and how that firm fits into that plan. I’ve had friends email firms specialising their area of interest to ask for short unpaid work experience and managed to secure an internship. This evinces their desire for the experience as opposed to the position itself. It is also important not to be discouraged if you are rejected. Everyone experiences rejection, even the best of students. This is why pursuing your passion is key to staying motivated.

5. Networking

Networking is not only a great way to spot opportunities and build professional relationships, but it also helps you boost your self-confidence and social skills. More importantly, you can better understand a firm’s culture and what they are looking for. This gives you an insight on how you can position your cover letter as well as allow people within the firm to form a good image of you. Furthermore, it allows you to reconsider if the culture and work environment is suited to what you are looking for. Business matters aside, networking allows you to widen your social circle and meet people beyond your usual social demographic. You are able to build interpersonal skills and learn how to engage with people from diverse backgrounds which is also a quality that recruiters look out for. Many of these people can also provide insight that expands your knowledge and inform you of opportunities that you may not have discovered.

Ultimately, there is no magic formula for finding an internship. However, it is important to put yourself out there, try new opportunities that come out and attend events. Regardless of whether the events are social or professional, they offer you a chance to network and learn from people around you.

If you feel like you are being unfairly discriminated against in the work place, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman here.

Written by Priya Naresh Kumar (Co-founder)