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.

 

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)