Are you a Law School loser?

This article was originally published in De Minimis, Melbourne Law School’s student newspaper.

Hint: It’s a strong probability.

Why? Because in all likelihood, you’re a highly ambitious and highly competitive individual. An interference drawn partially because of your decision to study at Australia’s “best” law school, partially because law school itself is essentially an intellectual hunger games complete with a limited number of survivors (grad jobs), and partially because human beings have an inherent lust for distinctiveness.

Our collective competitiveness means we’re more likely to enter competitions – that’s why mooting, witness competition and negotiations have waiting lists; it drives us to apply for more legal jobs, more positions on law journals or MLS societies, more clerkship and (just to demonstrate how insanely competitive the legal profession is in this country) more volunteer positions; it motivates us to bail on friends to get in those few extra hours of study and skilfully evade security after 10pm so we can stick it out on level 3 after hours.

This hunger to take every opportunity that presents itself, means that, invariably, we confront rejection far more often than the ‘reasonable person’ we hear so much about in contract law. In short, we lose often. Which means that by definition, we, and by that I mean you, are a ‘loser’.

You want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that being a ‘loser’ is not, by any stretch of the imagination, something to be ashamed of. The bad news is, not many people in this institution seem to have gotten the message.

Maybe it’s that Melbourne defines itself by its #1 place in the Australian rankings, or that the student population is increasingly being herded towards jobs in the cut-throat commercial law sector, but there is a frightening lack of honesty in the way students talk nowadays. How they refuse to talk about the times they didn’t get the H1, didn’t get the internship or didn’t win a fucking award at the Oscars.

I have heard my peers flat out lie to one another about marks, application outcomes and career direction. Not to parents or teachers or firm representatives, but to their friends. Others flatly refuse to talk about certain subjects – the taboo around marks perhaps the most pertinent example.

It’s like losing – or more accurately not coming first – just isn’t in our vocabulary anymore, a notion that is terrifying given that, per the above, we do it a lot.

And this dialogue-of-deception isn’t limited to the students.

Speaking to Associate Professor Katy Barnett earlier this year she told me, about the response she had received from her peers when she told them a journal had declined to publish an article she’d submitted to them:

“Talking about this made people privately bring up instances where they had also failed, but couldn’t talk about it publicly in the same way that I had. Which made me think – why? Why can’t people talk publicly about the times they’ve been rejected?”

At the start of the semester 2, each of the JD classes will have its reasons to be anxious. The grad process is well underway for those students nearing the merciful end to the JD; clerkship mania has descended for those of us just passing the halfway mark; and the Hart-Fuller debate awaits those who have just begun.[1]

As the competition heats up, it’s important not to lose perspective. A large proportion of the 2014/15 JD student populace is going to apply for (grad or clerkship) positions, and a good percentage of us are going to come up short. Others will perform worse than they expected, and a few others will fall on the far left of the bell curve.

These eventualities are not something to be ashamed of, and we – the students of MLS – owe it to ourselves to combat this “culture of excellence” when it becomes corrosive.

Be kind, and honest, to your friends and to yourselves. And remember that doing poorly at law school is not the end of your career – legal or otherwise. Want proof?

Associate Professor Katy Barnett didn’t get articles in her grad year. You might remember her for being an esteemed academic, former solicitor for Freehills, and teaching you Trusts, Remedies and a buttload of Masters classes. Screw you unrealistic expectations.

Associate Dean Jeannie Patterson didn’t get accepted into law on her first try and failed her first interim assessments for contracts and torts. You might remember her for being the ASSOCIATE DEAN as well as a former solicitor at Mallesons, and recipient of numerous subject awards. Take that impenetrable job market.

The honourable Bronwyn Bishop failed 11 subjects at Law School and was deemed ineligible to finish her L.L.B. You might remember her for holding the third highest office in the Federal Parliament until last week. Anything is possible!

[1] DISCLAIMER: I absolute loved Legal Theory.

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