Law graduate Marryum Kahloon (pictured) flew in from Paris to attend an awards ceremony in Canberra for recipients of the 2017 Fulbright scholarship last week. She is one of four legal scholars who will travel to the US next year to pursue their academic interests at an American university.
Speaking to Lawyers Weekly about an unconventional career path, which started long before Ms Kahloon graduated with first-class honours in law in 2015, the Bond University graduate broke down her pragmatic approach.
She said that unlike the legal market in Europe, Australians tend to be isolated from the rest of the world in terms of exposure to many opportunities up for the taking.
For this reason, Ms Kahloon advised new law graduates to look further afield and also ask their wider network about the breadth of opportunities for educational and professional development out there.
“If you’re trying to do something that is not the traditional career track, you really have to go search and speak to other people who are in the area,” Ms Kahloon said.
“And the other thing is, don’t discount yourself. People don’t apply for things because they don’t think they’ll get them, but you never know what firms or organisations are looking for and you will never know unless you put your name forward,” she said.
Just a few weeks ago the 23-year-old Queenslander relocated from Australia to France, where she is currently undertaking a six-month traineeship in the Paris office of Magic Circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
As one of about eight other trainees working in the firm’s Paris-based public international law practice, she said most of those in her group already had masters degrees or PhDs to their name.
“Trainees will either stay on [with the firm] afterwards, or go and work for another firm in the area, because Paris is kind of a hub for international arbitration particularly,” Ms Kahloon said.
“I had worked in a couple of firms in Australia through clerkships and then paralegal work while I was studying. But there wasn’t really an opportunity that I found to do public law work at a junior level. Freshfields takes cases to the ICJ (International Court of Justice). They do a lot of international arbitration, and they do European Court of Human Rights cases,” she said.
“What attracted me [to the trainee program] was really the public international law side of it.”
Ms Kahloon applied for the prestigious Australian-American Fulbright exchange program last year, in the hope of winning a scholarship to pursue an LLM at Columbia University in New York. The Fulbright Commission sent word that she had been successful just a few days shy of Christmas Day.
The young lawyer is now planning to be in New York from August of this year. Her 10-month studies will focus on public international law and refugee law, and she plans to one day work for an NGO or intergovernmental organisation which deals with regional migration issues.
“My area of interest is working within the Asia-Pacific and seeing how, as a region, we can deal with migration flows. Because there isn’t really a coordinated strategy at the moment and when we do encounter sudden mass flows of people, it’s often dealt with on an ad-hoc basis,” Ms Kahloon said.
“There’s a couple of organisations that do work within the Asia-Pacific region, that operate across countries that I’d be interested in perhaps working with some of them,” she said.
Last year, Ms Kahloon served as an associate to Justice Margaret McMurdo AO, president of the Queensland Court of Appeal, who will retire from the bench later this month. She described her time working for the judge as formative and said it had been a real honour to be one of the last full associates to such an eminent woman in the law.
“That was just like a dream job for me. As a student, I had really looked up to President McMurdo,” Ms Kahloon said.
“Working in the Court of Appeal is really interesting because you do such a big diversity of cases. On the same day, we could be sitting in on criminal appeals, and then really complicated civil appeals as well.
“And working with your judge and going through that judgment writing process; seeing how these legal ideas develop; being asked for your opinion sometimes – it was just an incredible experience and very formative for me,” she said.
Ms Kahloon added that the associateship, as like other extra-curricular pursuits, was an important way to put her law degree into perspective. She has also interned with Amnesty International, been a young ambassador for Unicef Australia, and worked with a gender equality campaign led by Plan International.
“Through university, I made a really concerted effort to always try to be working in a volunteer capacity or doing some kind of part-time work where I was involved with an organisation that was doing something that was social justice related,” Ms Kahloon said.
“I've found that it is really easy to be overwhelmed by law. Because there are so many expectations on law students today, it was important for me to constantly remember why I chose to study law – this is what I’m interested about and this is the capacity that law has to make a difference,” she said.
It has been a big ride for the 23-year-old so far and she is only starting to spread her wings. But with the support of her parents and pressing forward with her vision for social justice, anything is possible.
“It was difficult to explain to my parents why I wasn’t following the conventional career path and why I don’t have a real job yet,” Ms Kahloon said.
“They've been very proud, I hope. They know that this is what I want to do, and they are very supportive in that respect,” she said.
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