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student and lecturer talking

What's it really like to study law at UQ?

Get a personal perspective from Mitree, a current law student, and Dr Ryan Catterwell, a UQ academic.
UQ people
Published 30 Sep, 2020  ·  6 minute read

Choosing your future isn’t easy, especially when there are so many unknowns out there.

What’s it really like to study law? What does a day in the life of a law student look like? What kind of job can I get with a law degree? And how will UQ give me the skills I need to face the future, when I don’t know what the future looks like?

Mitree is a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) student, and Dr Ryan Catterwell is a law lecturer. They’ve teamed up to answer some of your questions and help you decide what’s right for you.

What kind of student are you? Are you really dedicated, a bit slack, or somewhere in between?

Mitree: I'd like to think I'm somewhere in between, but I'd have to say that I'm quite slack with my studies. It's not my main priority, I like to have a balance between studying, working and volunteering.

How do you prepare law students for the future when we don't know what the future looks like?

Ryan: A lot of people say the legal profession is going to be subject to rapid change. Technology is going to improve, the nature of legal services is going to evolve and will be quite different. I tend to think that we need to look at what we have now. What's the current technology? What can you do with the current technology? What aspects of the legal profession and legal services can be automated now using the technology that we have? I think that's quite a good stepping stone because if you're on top of what we can do now, you're going to have a better perspective from which you can anticipate future changes.

How does the way you learn at UQ teach you the skills you need to face an unknown future?

Mitree: I think what you can get through UQ as a law student is a strong foundational understanding of legal theory. I've learned how much satisfaction I can find in helping people. Through the experiences I've had with the UQ Pro Bono Centre and volunteering with the Community Legal Centre, I've been able to help people who are truly vulnerable. They can't find assistance anywhere else and I find a lot of satisfaction in being able to help them.

What opportunities do your students have to get hands on experience in our industry?

Ryan: There are a range of opportunities at UQ for you to get practical experience. There’s pro bono opportunities, opportunities to work with community legal centres, mooting is a great focus here – there’s a range of mooting competitions that you can enter, many of which are international, many of which UQ has won. There are also opportunities for you to obtain work experience, including overseas. We also have an employment specialist so you have a good opportunity to get a clerkship at a law firms. A clerkship can be a stepping stone to a full time job as a lawyer. This is where you get a lot of your practical experience.

What is the most interesting thing you've learned that has not been part of your studies?

Mitree: I think the most interesting thing I've learned, outside of my studies is definitely how difficult it is to navigate the legal system and understand laws if you don't have any form of legal education. A lot of people think that the law is just words and if you can understand English, you will have no problem interpreting them, but there's so much more to that. You need a deep understanding of theory and from that, you're able to understand how the laws interact and how to interpret them. These are some of the barriers that ordinary people can't get through.

Mitree Vong

What is it about UQ's approach that make us the most employable graduates in the state?

Ryan: Unlike a lot of other universities, we have small class sizes. So you might have a lecture and then a two-hour seminar with about 40 students or you might have a three-hour seminar with 40 students. This means we can engage with you. I often get to know my students and they get to know me.

You're taught by someone who's an expert in their field or a leading professional. You're getting a really high-quality education and you deal with some complex legal issues. You interact with other students, you argue with other students and in the end, this prepares you to enter legal practice because you've been in an environment where you've been tested - I've asked you questions, you've been able to answer them, you've come prepared for group discussions. I really think that's a unique thing about what we offer at UQ.

You're working as a lawyer. If you're employing the next law graduate, who would you look for?

Ryan: First of all, you need to be technically excellent, you need to have a good understanding of the law, you need to be able to engage in sophisticated legal reasoning and work through a legal problem. Second of all, you need to be able to express yourself clearly in written form. You need to be able to prepare a piece of work that you can submit to your supervising partner or supervising lawyer. Thirdly, you need to be able to work as part of a team. You need to be able to cooperate with your colleagues, work with other members of the team, and produce work as part of that group, ultimately to serve your client.

What does a day in the life of a UQ law student look like?

Mitree: A day in the life of a typical law student would generally be showing up to maybe one or two seminars, these are three hour blocks where you interact with your tutors. After that you might head off to the library and do some study, or work on some assignments and then you might just hang around the Great Court and chat to your friends.

There's actually quite a lot of extracurricular activities you can undertake through the law school, you can do work experience through the Pro Bono Centre, volunteer with the Community Legal Centre, or take part in mooting. There's other competitions like the KWM Transform Law competition.

You can also just walk around. I think UQ as a campus is truly outstanding, there's all the facilities you need. There's gyms, you can ride your bike here, lock it up and have a shower. Campus has everything you need!

How many hours study each week do you expect a law student do?

Ryan: You have three contact hours per subject and you should really be doing five or six hours per subject in addition to those three hours, so that’s 20 hours if you're doing two subjects.

For example I teach Law of Contract 1 and Law of Contract 2 and in those subjects there's about 600 pages worth of reading. Each week you need to go through and read the cases and you need to try to develop an understanding of them yourself. Then you need to take some notes about what the law is, come into the seminar ready to discuss the seminar problem and be ready to apply that law to the problem. That's what makes the process a collaborative and entertaining one because everybody's coming prepared.

Own the unknown with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) at UQ.

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