On the Precipice of Hard Work: Taboo Challenges of University Life

University lifestyle is outwardly and undeniably demanding. There is a requirement for rigorous diligence, the ability to absorb a wealth of content and detail, opportunities for international study, life-long friendships and fantastic career prospects. But beyond this, students must come to terms with several harsh, brutal truths; some of which are far more prevalent and concerning for undergrads. I believe my familiarity with various personal challenges may elucidate some of these realities.

Perhaps the most prevalent psychological encounter for students is adjusting to the life of a university student. Even for those who appear to smoothly transition, several difficult obstacles must be addressed. Indeed, there is an essential need to balance – students can often be suddenly confronted with endless time, and little plan for what to do with such time. For me, this incited a hollowness to my daily routine.

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“Many shy away from communication and transparency, due to fear of appearing weak, spineless or soft.”

Simultaneously, fitting in also becomes an immediate preoccupation. You can assume a new identity, entertain new experiences, excel, fail; there is potential for each of these possibilities at university. It’s something that people may or may not have mastered in high school, or even from early primary school.

But it’s so materially different at university.

I lived at Mannix College for my first academic year, in 2017. I – subject to my perception of my circumstances at the time – struggled, daily and significantly. At college, you are indeed, to quote William Henley, the master of your fate and you are awarded full autonomy in all your duties. I loved my time at Mannix College and I hold fond memories and friendships that were founded in those halls. But, for those who have never spent a night in a boarding house, the college routine can be very overwhelming. Sure, I maintained a 4.0 GPA; sure, I received awards for my grades; sure, I stood out in my classes. But did I focus on building relationships? Was I content with my social outreach? Were “heck yeah!” or “sure!” my usual responses to social invites? No. I lived in a textbook and I – therefore – became one.

Having reflected upon that, where do we go from here? My open and immediate advice is to talk to people. Many shy away from communication and transparency, due to fear of appearing weak, spineless or soft.

“For males particularly, there is a familiar historical convention to leave personal psychological matters unsaid, to, rather, bury these issues deep down away. I urge nobody to do this, unless you are prepared for a life of internal anxiety that can envelope your later life.”

Talk to someone. Call your parents. Meet with a friend. Write it down. Tangibly project your emotions out into the world with no fear of inviting social labels and intention to be heard. Because more than we realise and often contrary to our perception, somebody is usually listening and willing help.

Every student faces different circumstances; everyone is perceptually separate, even only slightly. And if there was a universal remedy to these issues, it would be identified by now. Take time to understand yourself and don’t be afraid to go slowly. Perhaps, even only for a few, it’s a matter of private perspective.

Look within – be patient – remember that there are greater forces behind you in this life.


Patrick Stratmann (Guest Contribution)

Patrick Stratmann is a 2nd year Bachelor of Law’s (Hons)/Bachelor of Arts student, presently working as a paralegal at Youthlaw. He is currently developing a freelance documentary, ‘Exploits of a Freshman’, that explores the mental health challenges of first year students directly transitioning from Year 12. Find him on Instagram @patstrat30

Interview with Emma Heuston: Partner at LegalVision & Flexible Work Pioneer

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?

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Image Supplied: Happy, healthy and productive in Byron Bay, QLD

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)

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 

 

 

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)