First impressions

Nine first-year Victoria students are enjoying the excitement and challenges of studying Law with assistance from Victoria Law’s new School Leaver Scholarships. The scholarships are worth $5,000 each and are provided through the Victoria Foundation from generous donations from alumni.

First year students Ben Julian and Jasmine Cox

Scholarship recipient Ben Julian says he chose Victoria because of the reputation of its Faculty of Law and the support he was offered from Disability Services for his dyslexia. “The team here have been amazing… they offer services like reader-writers for exams and tests, and I can go to them whenever I need assistance.”

Ben says the scholarship has made his transition to university life smoother than it would have been otherwise.

“It just takes a lot of that stress off… I’ve wanted to study Law for years and the scholarship makes it a lot easier.”

Ben’s favourite class so far has been LAWS122 (Introduction to Case Law), which he says offers compelling insights into how law evolves over time.

“It’s a great way to see how common law works in New Zealand and the Commonwealth, and how a law that starts in 1887 in England has developed all the way through our courts to play a part in a case that could be happening today.”

One of his strongest memories so far has been seeing senior lecturer Dr Grant Morris performing his annual law-themed song—this year to the theme tune from Moana.

He says he’s enjoyed the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds through his studies. “That’s the great thing about scholarships in general—they allow people who have so many different life experiences and points of view to come here, and everyone gets a broader picture. You develop empathy that way.

“This year has confirmed for me that I’ve made the right choice—I’m genuinely interested in what I’m learning.”

Fellow scholarship recipient Jasmine Cox says her experience of first-year Law has also been exciting—if a little scary at times.

Originally from Tauranga, she says there was never any doubt in her mind about choosing Victoria.

“I’d heard a lot about the Law School, and being so close to Parliament was the thing that clinched it because I study Politics as well.”

She says receiving the scholarship was a welcome surprise. “I was absolutely stoked when I got it. It gave me an incentive to push myself and do well in first year.”

Transitioning from high school to the university learning environment came as a bit of a shock at first, says Jasmine.

“My first lectures were terrifying—especially the Law ones! Being told that you would be asked questions randomly in front of 300 other people—it was really scary.”

She says the first time she was called on as part of the Socratic Method was an experience she won’t forget.

“I was very lucky and I got the answer right—but the lecturer came back to me later because the girl beside me didn’t know an answer—and I didn’t know it either!”

Despite some initial speed bumps, Jasmine has really enjoyed her first-year Law classes, and eventually found herself raising her hand to offer answers even before she was called on. After her studies she plans to work for a non-governmental organisation such as Amnesty International, and later hopes to work in the diplomatic corps.

“I’ve always been keen on doing missionary-type things and helping out in whatever way I can—I’d like to use my Law degree more for going to remote places in the world and giving legal aid rather than going into the corporate world.”

Having almost completed first year, Jasmine is feeling positive about the next stage of her studies.

“It’s going to be interesting—I’m going to have to work hard but I’m looking forward to it.”

1985

Claire Baylis shares her impressions of first-year Law from more than 30 years ago.

“My first year in law school was 1985 and in March of that year [then Labour MP] Fran Wilde introduced the Homosexual Law Reform Bill. One of my tutors was an ex-police officer, and he came out in the Dominion newspaper and spoke about his experiences as a gay man.

“In tutorials he discussed the law as an instrument of social change. For me, it was an awakening to the fact that law is not neutral and objective but reflects societal norms and values. It’s probably what sparked my interest in feminist legal theory.

“If I could go back in time, I would tell my first-year self to engage fully as a student—socially and culturally, but also intellectually. I’d say go along to court and sit in on some trials, read about different areas of law, go to Parliament, read fiction about law and legal theory.

“Right from first year, Law teaches you a critical way of thinking and analysing material which has helped me in lots of facets of my life.

“The Socratic style of teaching used in many Law lectures taught me to think on my feet, be confident in speaking up—and also to hide at the back of the lecture theatre from David McLauchlan if I wasn’t fully prepared!”