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 

 

 

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)

 

 

 

 

So you’ve got into Monash Law: A Dos and Don’ts list for First Years

Firstly, congratulations!

If you are reading this, you have been accepted into Monash Law; one of the most prestigious and well renowned law courses in the country! Welcome to the beginning of one of the most incredible, wild and exciting periods of your life. So now that you’re in, you’re probably staring down the barrel of a 5-6 year degree wondering what the hell you are doing? Well, the good news is you are not alone!

At some stage in our lives we have all been first years and although it is probably the most daunting year of your university life, it is unarguably the most exciting and rewarding. A lot of choices and decisions you make in first year can in fact shape your future years. So take our advice, the more you put in now, the more you will get out of your degree later down the track. It’s worth it!

In order to help you navigate yourself through your first few weeks at Monash Law, we have developed a dos and don’ts list that we would have liked to read during our first years. In saying this, it is not an exhaustive list, and of course, prioritise what lecturers and tutors say when it comes to work related points! At the end of the day, they are the ones with more experience.

Dos

  1. Go to your FOL lectures
  2. Make an effort – go to first year activities
  3. Try to form a study group early
  4. Engage in university life beyond law, find something you are passionate about i.e a sports team or orchestra
  5. Reach out if you are struggling with mental health – we have a section on this website devoted to ways you can do this
  6. Do your notes lecture by lecture – try and form a systematic way of collecting notes and saving them
  7. Law school is hard, accept this and be OK with the fact that your marks may not always be perfect
  8. Contact lecturers and tutors if you need help, although you might not know them like your high school teachers, they will always respond to your emails
  9. Get involved in all that Monash Law has to offer, why not try the moot, client interview, negotiations? First year dinner? hell yeah!

Don’ts

  1. Isolate yourself
  2. Sit by yourself in lectures- everyone else is new too
  3. Do all the readings 😉 – this is an important one. Some of us may be superman and manage to read and digest every single relevant case to a topic before the lecture, but most us are not! At best, revise some pages of the textbook to get a broad understanding of an issue or point of law. Otherwise, the lecturers will almost always summarise relevant cases for you in lectures
  4. Stress out if your not happy with your marks, first year is about finding what works for you and this may not always be successful
  5. Don’t think you’ll be super motivated and set all your classes at 8am… chances are you will probably end up ditching all of them
  6. Don’t cram… law is a subject that requires practise and thorough understanding

Speaking from experience, we all wish we could go back to our first year, not only to reset our GPA’s but so that we could relive the find and exciting times it provides. So our advice is not to take yourself too seriously and enjoy the journey.

Our Recommended Activities 

First-year activities you should get involved in:

  • First Year Dinner – this is a night just for you! It’s a great way to get together with all of your Law buddies and make some new ones!

  • Peer Mentor Program – this is a great way to get free academic support whilst building up a social network (could even lead to the creation of a study group yay)

  • LSS events – the LSS (Law Student Society) organise a range of activities great for first-years. These activities range from free barbeques to running groups.

  • Law Ball – when the year is coming to an end Law Ball is a great opportunity to have fun with your friends. Get all dressed up and enjoy the night with friends and make new friends!

Written by Claudia Opie & Dian Liu (Co-founders)