Interview with Reiko Okazaki: Victorian Barrister & Monash Law Lecturer

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?

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Reiko is also a member of the Equality and Diversity Committee. The reason she joined was because she believes that you should always stand up to sexism and racism.

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.

Interview conducted by Yan & Priya (Co-founders)

What doing Law means for an International Student

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) 40651309_529407660834137_3729428323407757312_n

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.

You can reach him at hliu140@student.monash.edu.

 

Interview with Francis Qi: International Student and Graduate at Hunt & Hunt

This exciting interview series was conducted by one of our co-founders Yan, and takes us through how Francis Qi recently received his graduate offer from Hunt & Hunt. Over the next three videos, Francis shares his personal experience in integration, seeking employment and further advice for international students.

Part I: Integration & Motivation

Inspired by the BBC tv series “Silk”, Francis talked about his motives for a career in law. After moving to Melbourne, he realised that the biggest problem for himself was to speak English precisely and eloquently. To tackle this, he shared his personal tips on mastering the language and how to speak with confidence. He believed the best way of integration is to participate in various competitions and seminars and work closely with other students.

Part II: Employability & Succeeding in the Law

To gain relevant work experience and figure out his interesting fields of law, Francis started in Castan Centre of Human Rights and then moved to work as a legal assistant in a suburban law practice. He also gave us some tips on improving employability and standing out in the recruitment process. Besides work, he has been volunteering in various occasions, including Monash Open Day, mooting competition and Victoria Bar events. Finally, he offered his guidance on succeeding in mooting competitions.

Part III: Advice for Exams & Assessment

Understanding the difficulty in maintaining strong academic performance, Francis shares his own way dealing with pressure from study and exams. Also, he recommended a few interesting law electives, followed by his final advice for international students.

Interview conducted by Priya and Yan (Co-founders)

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)

 

 

 

 

Living in the Most Liveable City: Places and Faces to check out

Although your priority for moving to Melbourne is to study, there is more to life than holing yourself up in the law library and reading never-ending pages of Kirby’s dissent. Go out and explore. You’re going to be here for the next 4 years minimally, so why not make it your home. Spend a day soaking up the culture or just venture into a new suburb (trust me, most of them are much more fun than clayton). Even if you are a local, why not pretend to be a tourist and enjoy things from a different perspective. Melbourne is constantly ranked as one of the most livable cities and it is not hard to see why. There is always something to do!


Things to Do

Within Melbourne

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The Summer Night Markets – Perfect for a tipsy adventure through the city with friends

Experience Melbourne’s hyped up cafe scene with some friends or go to the National Gallery and soak up some culture. I personally love going to the various festivals and markets that are around. One favorite is the South Melbourne Market which is filled with tons of unique stalls ranging from ethically sourced clothing to crafted kitchen utensils. It also sells, in my opinion, the best croissants from Agathe patisserie.

Another fun, and more unique option is to check out the Old Melbourne Goal. The historical building is a monument of capital punishment, with 133 people being hanged there.

Fun fact: you can experience a modern-day arrest procedure and be on the other side of the law. Another historic place is the Abbotsford Convent , which if you’re feeling sporty enough is an hour bike ride away from the city. The convent was an orphanage and aged care facility in the 1800s. Today, it is a gallery featuring the work of local artist. The garden grounds is also great for a picnic.

Engage in some local sports spirit by attending an AFL match. The Essendon Football Club has a Globall program which introduces international students to the Football culture. It is a perfect way to meet new friends, visit iconic sporting grounds and score some free tickets.

Within Victoria

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Wilsons Promontory – a beautiful, rugged and untouched swath of hiking territory, perfect for the summer break

If you’re feeling more adventurous, head on a road trip with some friends or join a tour and make some new friends. Southwest from Geelong is the famous Great Ocean Road. Embark on a scenic drive along the precipice of coastal cliffs and enjoy the sea breeze. Trust me, the views itself will help you forget about all your stress. If you are an animal lover, there are also tons of sanctuaries around Melbourne. Alternatively, you can head to Phillip Island, just 3 hours out of Melbourne. There is also the chance to surf, swim and watch fur seals other than the penguins. Or if you’re a wine lover, head over to Yarra valley.

In Uni

There are tons of clubs and societies in Monash ranging from academic to political to social welfare. Dedicate some time to something you are passionate about. It is not only a great way to make friends, but will also give you a sense of purpose in life and see that we don’t only have to focus on grades. Even if you don’t join a club, keep an eye out for events! They are constantly organising activities that allow you to catch a breather and have fun.

International students are automatically members of Monash University International Students Service (MUISS). They have free access to the MUISS lounge, located on Level 1 of Campus Centre (21 Chancellors Walk), next to Radio Monash and opposite Sir John’s. Amenities in the lounge include sofas, beanbags, microwaves, a fridge and television. It is a great place to hang out with your friends and socialise with fellow international students, open from morning until evening every weekday

Non-residential colleges

Students living on-campus at Monash enjoy a range of social and academic advantages. However, don’t feel as though you’re missing out because NRC aim to provide the same benefits to students living off-campus. Some of the benefits of an enhanced student engagement and experience include:

  • social engagement and support
  • leadership and mentoring from senior students and college support teams
  • access to a range of programs including social, sporting, academic and cultural.

There are three colleges at Caulfield campus (Pegasus, Phoenix and Auriga), three at Clayton campus (Orion, Centaurus and Ursa) and Aquila College at Peninsula campus. Each college has 250 student members and 20 college advisors (higher-year students acting as mentors) and three members of the academic staff in leadership positions. This is the perfect opportunity to make friends and destress!

And Always Remember

There is more to life than competing in the rat race. Take time to appreciate the things around you and stop to smell the roses (literally). Sometimes, the best thing to do is just to immerse yourself in something non-academic that you enjoy. Stop overthinking and start exploring!

Written by Priya Naresh Kumar (Co-founder)