When I was getting started in my law degree, there were a handful of things that would have been great to be aware of, writes Daphne Fong.
Beginning your law school journey can be both exciting and overwhelming. As I enter my fourth year of study at UNSW, I’ve found myself reflecting on the lessons and insights that would have benefited me during the early days and have decided to share the below tips to explore some practical insights that could have made those days a bit smoother.
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This is the perfect time to get involved. By this, I mean sign up to every mooting competition, join those subcommittees, get involved with your law society and attend law ball. By doing so, you will not only make new friends but also build up your résumé and skill set. Typically, during your first year, you’ll encounter relatively more straightforward “introductory” courses, necessitating less study time compared to subsequent years. Additionally, future employment commitments may arise, potentially limiting your availability for involvement at university. Obviously, you also don’t want to overload yourself, so ensure you assess what your capacity is like before taking on additional commitments.
- Say yes to every opportunity
As soon as I began university, I felt the pressure to find a job in the industry. My first term began in February 2021, and three months later, I began working as a clerk at a mid-sized personal injury firm. The experience was invaluable, the pay was poor, and I was happy to have gotten my foot in the door somewhere. I’ve now been working in law for almost three years. While it was a great opportunity, I still wonder what it would have been like to work part-time at a bar, earn those casual rates and travel – something I can no longer easily do. It can be incredibly hard not to compare yourself to your peers, but remember to go at your own pace and that you’ll have many years ahead to work in law.
- Don’t feel the need to rush into a job
They always say it’s not what you know, it’s who – which is true to a certain extent. After six years of high school, it can be hard to branch out from your usual social circle. Aside from the fact that there are some amazing and intelligent people within your cohort, there will come a time when you’re away sick and need to borrow someone’s notes, or you’re looking for a job and a friend from law school happens to work at the firm.
- Make as many friends as possible
The typical law student most likely achieved a high ATAR in high school, and therefore, many of us tend to be academically driven. I’ve generally seen two types of law students – those who continue that high school grind for academic excellence and those who have been accepted into university and now is the time to take a step back. I was one of the latter. I didn’t feel the need to be aiming for high distinctions, studying every day, and ensuring all my readings were completed on time. I also know students who were incredibly studious and would be disappointed with a distinction average. It’s true that employers are starting to place more of an emphasis on “soft skills” such as communication and teamwork, but if you’re aiming for a top-tier firm, you’ll need the marks to get your foot in the door in the first place. It’s all about balance.
- University marks matter (to a certain extent)
Knowing a student a year or two above you can come in very handy. You may be fortunate enough to already know someone, but if not, you can easily make friends with older students through your university law society, activities such as peer mentoring or social events. Often, they would have recently completed subjects that you are about to take, being in an excellent position to provide advice, old notes or help source a second-hand textbook.
- Find an older student
Navigating your journey through law school requires a delicate balance of seizing opportunities, pacing oneself, cultivating relationships, managing academic expectations, and seeking guidance from those who have trodden the path before.
Daphne Fong is a paralegal at Marque Lawyers and a law student at UNSW. She was the winner of the Law Student of the Year category at the 2023 Women in Law Awards.