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LEAD Law scholarships

Class of 2022: reflections from recipients of the LEAD Law Scholarship

Study tips
Published 15 Nov, 2021  ·  7-minute read

As The University of Queensland approaches the graduation of the first cohort of Leadership, Excellence and Diversity (LEAD) Scholarship recipients in 2022, we asked 4 of the scholars to reflect on what studying law with the support of their scholarship has meant to them.

From moving to Brisbane to facing challenges during high school, these students explain how the financial and mentorship support from the scholarship has opened opportunities for their future careers as lawyers.

The LEAD Scholarship program is funded by the University of Queensland Endowment Fund (UQef), which was established in 2008 by Wotif.com founders Andrew Brice and Graeme Wood. The LEAD Scholarship program began in 2016 and has already provided over $2.2 million of donations to support students who have experienced educational, social and/or financial disadvantage. Recipients receive $8000 per year for up to 5 years, a dedicated academic mentor, a unique support network and a non-residential membership at a UQ college – helping them succeed while studying at UQ's prestigious TC Beirne School of Law.

Lucas Steger

"I've not heard of anywhere else where you can get that level of support." - Lucas Steger
  • Degree: Bachelor of Laws (Honours) / Bachelor of Arts (Criminology and Political Science)
  • From: Biloela State High School
  • Area of interest: Criminal law
  • Scholarship value: “Mentors and a community that has your back”

Moving to the big smoke from the small town of Biloela in Central Queensland, Lucas Steger appreciates a community that has your back.

“Coming to UQ for the first time, I remember I had to pinch myself a couple of times – law school was just completely unfamiliar,” he says.

“I had just left school and was away from my hometown. I had also just moved into college on campus, so it was a big culture shock.”

Commencing a degree surrounded by a network that acknowledges the huge step from high school to tertiary education is paramount – a valuable addition to the scholarship that Lucas appreciates.

“Once I got here, leaning on Matt and Caitlin – my academic mentors – during the transition was just so helpful,” he says.

“I’ve not heard of anywhere else where you can get that level of support.”

“Being able to go to dedicated academics who have done it all before for advice and support, and who are looking out for you consistently, it’s priceless.”

“They constantly check in on us, ensuring our mental health is strong and that we’re accessing any support we might need, academically and holistically,” says Lucas.

LEAD scholarship recipient Lucas Steger

Coming from a small rural Queensland town, and an even smaller high school cohort, Lucas’s final year of schooling was severely disrupted when two of his classmates passed away, sending a wave of grief through the community.

Later, he and his classmates were lumped with another hurdle: a school fire that took out major facilities on campus.

“Schooling was disrupted to say the least,” says Lucas.

Identifying that he wanted to pursue law from a young age, Lucas was hugely dependant on his Year 12 results to gain entry into law school. But with such unforeseen impacts in those last 12 months, his learning certainly took a hit.

The way in which the LEAD Scholarship takes into account personal circumstance ensures the UQ Law School doesn’t allow exceptional students like Lucas to fall through the cracks.

“It's just been a real blessing. It really isn’t an exaggeration to say that without [the scholarship], I wouldn’t be here.”

Michelle O’Grady

"Things as simple as moving out of home and travelling overseas - these are things I never could have done before." - Michelle O-Grady
  • Degree: Bachelor of Laws (Honours) / Bachelor of Economics
  • From: Springfield Public School
  • Area of interest: Criminal law
  • Scholarship value: “The ability to seize co-curricular opportunities”

As the first member in her family to attend university, inaugural scholar and Bachelor of Laws (Hons) / Bachelor of Economics student Michelle O’Grady remembers the opportunities she’s accessed alongside her studies at UQ.

“If you're someone who doesn't have money or financial funding, it really dictates your university experience,” she says.

“It becomes really difficult to take opportunities that run alongside your degree. You want to take risks and adventures, but you just don't have the resources to.”

With the financial support of the LEAD Scholarship, Michelle was able to take the pressure off the costs of living and instead dive headfirst into co-curricular opportunities which would otherwise have stolen her time away from part-time work.

Throughout her degree, Michelle became a research assistant and later a paralegal with LawRight (secured via placement through the UQ Pro Bono Centre), contributing to a Guardianship and Administration toolkit.

Law scholarship recipient Michelle O'Grady

More recently, Michelle has been spending her weekdays at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), completing their coveted work placement program – another opportunity she would have had to skip without the support of the scholarship.

“I’ve been able to not only take career opportunities like the ODPP [a 4-week full-time placement] without added financial stressors, but also life experiences that have made me who I am today,” says Michelle.

“Things as simple as moving out of home and travelling overseas – these are things I never could have done before.”

Michelle is also expected to complete a consultancy placement with KPMG later in the year.

Securing a LEAD Scholarship isn’t just about the financial security that’s afforded. It allows students to pursue the curriculum to its full extent without overextending in part-time work.

“When you transition from school to university, it’s very challenging to find a community, and not everyone finds it immediately,” Michelle says.

“Meeting other recipients who understood my background, as well as having mentors from day one, really helped me through my journey.”

Sam Skinner

"It has been a really great opportunity to get to know what it's like in one of the big firms." - Sam Skinner
  • Degree: Bachelor of Laws (Honours) / Bachelor of Arts (Psychology)
  • From: Biloela State High School
  • Area of interest: Commercial law
  • Scholarship value: “Networking and access to unique opportunities”

During his time with UQ, Sam Skinner worked hard to secure a position as a research clerk with top-tier law firm MinterEllison – an achievement he says he is quite proud of during his time here.

“It has been a really great opportunity to get to know what it's like in one of the big firms,” he says.

“To see the stuff that I'm learning put into practice has been so rewarding. There's a massive difference between learning the law and putting it in practice, and I now know this is where I want to end up.”

Sam remembers this wasn’t always the case though.

Being largely alone in his interest in the law, aside from his high school best mate Lucas, pursuing his studies felt isolated.

LEAD scholarship recipient Sam Skinner

As one of the only people in his family or friendship circle to ever consider studying law, he notes that without the support of his legal studies teacher Ms Donohoe, he might not have made it to UQ.

“Rural public schools don’t have debating or mooting, and my family and friends – while very supportive – have very different career interests than me,” says Sam.

“My dad is an operator at the power station, my mum is a teacher in early childhood development, and my sister is a registered music therapist.”

“I was lucky enough to have my legal studies teacher to bring this scholarship to my attention. I was also able to complete work experience at a solicitor's firm and at the Cleveland Magistrates Court in Brisbane with her help.”

“Combining all these experiences, I knew then that this was where I wanted to commit the rest of my life,” says Sam.

Michaela Gyasi-Agyei

"I noticed the injustices happening around the world, and I wanted to have the knowledge and skills to address those issues." - Michaela Gyasi-Agyei
  • Degree: Bachelor of Laws (Honours) / Bachelor of Economics
  • From: Mansfield State High School
  • Area of interest: Commercial law
  • Scholarship value: “Dual-degree capabilities”

Michaela Gyasi-Agyei was born in Finland to Ghanaian parents and lived in Rockhampton before commencing public school at Mansfield State High in Brisbane. Following in her parents’ footsteps, who moved across the globe to pursue learning, Michaela was lucky enough to always appreciate the importance of higher education.

As a high school student, Michaela remembers Deng Adut, a former child soldier turned successful lawyer, being an influence on her dream to pursue law specifically.

“When I was graduating high school, I was really interested in the idea of justice,” says Michaela.

“I noticed the injustices happening around the world, and I wanted to have the knowledge and skills to address those issues.”

Law scholarship recipient Michael Gyasi-Agyei

Motivated and supported by her family and sister (who later followed her footsteps and secured her own LEAD Scholarship in 2020), there was never any doubt she had the network to help stick it out. Perhaps what was unexpected, though, was how much she enjoyed studying a dual program with economics at UQ.

“I didn’t study economics during high school, but my mum always encouraged me to read about the subject and keep up to date with news concerning the economy,” says Michaela.

“The fields of law and economics turned out to have more in common than I expected. Economics is more than just graphs and mathematical equations – it’s a social science. It involves studying what motivates people, the decisions people make in certain circumstances, and the costs of these decisions.”

“Observations about human behaviour and motivations like this are interesting to apply to areas of the law. For example, these findings can help us to maximise the effectiveness of legislation, improve enforcement and deterrence, and foster constructive engagement with the legal system. At the end of the day, both law and economics are all about humanity.”

Michaela believes that combining her law studies with economics will help diversify her skills in the profession, making her a competitive graduate.

Currently a research clerk at McCullough Robertson Lawyers after completing an internship with the firm in 2020, Michaela is enjoying applying her analytical skills to legal work.

“I have found commercial law to be a field which allows me to apply the analytical skills which I have gained from my studies of both economics and law,” she says.

“The potential to be involved in pro bono work particularly interests me.”

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