The Top Three ‘Mistakes’ I Made at Law School

Elizabeth Lee ANU

"Get good grades at law school, do a clerkship, get a graduate job, earn lots of money, go to the Bar and save the world. When I was in my first year of law school, I had my legal career all mapped out. Simple, clear and to-the-point." In this week's Beyond Law Guest Blog, Elizabeth Lee writes on her three 'mistakes' during law school. She is a lecturer in professional skills, litigation and legal aid clinic at ANU Legal Workshop.

By Elizabeth Lee (Published Monday 9 March 2015)

‘Mistake 1’: not focusing on my grades as much as I should have

Every person in law school was an academic high achiever in school (well, you do have to have good grades to get into law school).  After years of scoring 90+ in every exam, it came as quite a shock when I received a ‘Pass’ for my first problem assignment in Torts.

Although I did pick up my game and started to get a bit more comfortable with the actual ‘studying’ of the law, there were too many other interesting things to do – joining different clubs, establishing a new social network, getting work experience, working part-time in retail.

My transcript is certainly nothing to boast about but by the time I graduated, what I did have on my CV was 4+ years of work experience in a law firm having done everything from dictation to drafting briefs to Counsel.

And there are not enough HDs that will replace everything I learnt during my work experience.

‘Mistake 2’: not competing with my fellow peers for clerkships

In my penultimate year, too busy with my part-time job, I decided not to apply for any clerkships.

Given the number of students who apply and the number of clerkships available, the application process itself fosters a culture of competition.

Because I took myself out of that race, looking back on it now, I realise that I was free to collaborate with and support my peers through the process – all traits that employers find valuable.

By not competing with my friends, I was able to genuinely encourage them to pursue their goals.

‘Mistake 3’: not being tied down to one end goal

Very early on in my law studies, working part-time in the local law firm, I came face-to-face with the legal issues faced by members of our community every day.

I realised that there are so many ways that every lawyer can contribute to society and that we all have the freedom and the knowledge to change our direction at any time and in any way.

The beauty of the law degree is its versatility.  It takes an extraordinary person to study law and to pursue a career in it.  And it takes an extraordinary amount of courage to ‘change’ course.

As I mark more than 10 years of being an admitted lawyer, I’m still mapping out my legal career.

After all, changing my goals doesn’t mean I’ve failed, it just means I will always be reaching for more.

Elizabeth Lee is a lecturer in professional skills, litigation and legal aid clinic at ANU Legal Workshop. Having been a government lawyer, a private practice commercial litigator, Chair of the Australian Young Lawyers Committee, counsellor of the ACT Law Society, a group fitness instructor and even having a go at politics, she credits her law degree for giving her those opportunities (yes, even her short-lived group fitness career)!

This post was brought to you by ANU Legal Workshop - Australia's leading and largest university provider of professional legal education.