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.