Taking the Long Road to LawBy Karly Banks in VCE
17th of January 2018
If you’re interested, I recently wrote a forum post on the differences between undergraduate law and postgraduate law. Feel free to ask any questions – you can find the post in this thread!
I first fell in love with the idea of making law my career when I was in Year 10, taking VCE Legal Studies as my first 1/2 subject. I had a former lawyer for a teacher, loved the content of the subject, and could see myself in a corporate suit, with a swipe card for a 20 story building in the city, and a pair of sky-high black heels to clack through the lobby in.
(I, in retrospect, had perhaps romanticised the idea a little bit. Particularly because I can’t walk in heels.)
Before this moment, I had always had my heart set on teaching primary school, something that my family had always told me would really suit me as a career.
So, when it came time to submit my preferences two years later, even though I had further developed a love of the law, there was a part of me that wasn’t quite ready to let go of my dream of being ‘Miss Banks’. This is what eventually led me to take the ‘long road to law’ (even though it’s not that much longer than doing a straight undergraduate law degree). I applied for, and was accepted into, the Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, beginning what has come to be referred to as the ‘Melbourne Model’.
I was supported in my decision, but there was an air of doubt that a few people had, considering I received the marks to get into law straight away at other universities. Why wasn’t I just going straight into the degree that I wanted to get into? My plan, at this point, was to do the Bachelor of ARts and then undertake the Juris Doctor (JD, the postgraduate law degree at Melbourne Uni), unless the wind blew me back towards teaching.
For years later, I’ve just completed my first year of the JD. Here, I have put together some thoughts for you about why the long road to law is useful, and also the benefits of undertaking law at a postgraduate level.
Why would you spend three years to get to where you want to be?
Just in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, the wind did not blow me back to teaching. In fact, the three years I spent doing my Arts degree cemented further my conviction that I wanted to be in the law. And THAT is why I took the long road. Because I’m so utterly convinced now, that this is what I want to do with my life.
I no longer have that niggle in the back of my mind that I want a classroom full of 20 students on a daily basis.
Law is not a degree for the faint of heart. Law is not a backup plan, it’s not a degree that you do because you think you should. And I wholeheartedly believe that the drop-out rate in law degrees is so high, because so many students graduate Year 12 with the idea that law is one of those things that they should do, and so they study law for a year before realising that they don’t have the passion for it that they need.
“… the Bachelor of Arts was the best three years of my life.”
To do well in a law degree, you have to WANT to put in the late nights, the weekend work, the hours over textbooks. You have to WANT to give up the occasional social gathering, reduce your work hours a bit, submit yourself to coffee. The only way that you can do those things, and not burn out, is to have a passion for the law, and a love for the work you are doing. If you aren’t sure that the law is where you want to be, you will either burn out, or you won’t be able to put in the work necessary to get the grades that you need.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that the Bachelor of Arts was the best three years of my life. They’ll tell you that I will argue for the usefulness of an arts degree until I am blue in the face. And I will do that not only for the arts degree itself, but also for the confidence it gave me in the career path I am now heading towards.
Yes, you probably (unless you’re a 99.95 ATAR student) won’t be guaranteed entry into your postgrad law degree of choice if you do a broader undergrad degree. You’ll have to sit the LSAT, have a good average, and in some cases write a killer cover letter. Those couple of months where you’re not sure if you’ve made a terrible mistake by not accepting your undergrad law offer when you got it? Nerve-wracking. But, if you’re not 100% sure of your choice when you graduate high school, those negatives are totally outweighed by the calm confidence you will feel when you have complete and utter certainty about your career path.
But isn’t a postgrad law degree harder/more competitive/full of people who have already worked in the law/not really a university experience?
A postgrad law degree is shorter than an undergraduate law degree, yes. But the subjects that you have to take are exactly the same – they are referred to as the “Priestley 11”, and are compulsory for every law student who wants to practise in Victoria, regardless of where, and what law degree, they studied.
I would even take the stand that a postgraduate law degree is less competitive than your standard law degree. The people I have met and been in class with have all already found their feet at a tertiary institution, or they have work experience, and are all 21 or older. This, in general, makes them mature enough to know that spending three years together in a small building is only going to be doable if we support each other. The support I have received not only from student services, but from my fellow JD students, has been astronomical, and one of the main reasons that I enjoy spending 90% of my life inside the law building at Melbourne Uni. (Plus, there’s a great coffee shop just around the corner. Not to mention TERRIFIC sushi.)
“I would even take the stand that a postgraduate law degree is less competitive than your standard law degree.”
As for the idea that you don’t get the same experience doing the postgraduate law degree? Spend a weekend away on Law Camp with the Law Students’ Society (LSS) and then come back to me…
But seriously, the LSS is the most brilliant group of people ever. They throw some great parties, have some great support services, and as someone who has been involved now in both an undergraduate and a postgraduate student society, I can tell you there is no difference in the “university experience” that you get from either.
If I could go back, I would not have made a different decision. Doing postgrad law means you’ve given yourself a few more years to decide that law is what you want to do. You’re committed, you’re passionate, and you’ll be surrounded by people who are the same. Not to mention, you’ll already know what’s expected from you in a tertiary institution, which will be a godsend in your first semester.
There is already so much pressure on high school graduates to immediately make a decision about what they want to do with their lives. Don’t put more pressure on yourself if you don’t have to. Take your time – your future career will thank you for it.