The Power of Studying A Law Degree

Olivia Locascio gives a first hand experience of studying a Law degree and discusses why becoming a lawyer might be one of the least popular reasons to study Law.

It is universally known that Law is one of the most difficult but most revered degrees you could study at university. As a Law student myself, I can easily say that at least once a semester, I make a sweeping statement that I will drop out of the degree. I have sucked it up every time. I constantly toss up between wanting to practice law or doing literally anything other than practising law. I always think about my 17 year old self who thought it was a wonderful decision to study Law and test my mental health for the years following. Here I am, six years later, still studying Law and I’ve found that most of my other fellow Law students have completed the degree with absolutely no intention of practicing.

If you were to practice as a lawyer in Australia, you are either a solicitor, or a barrister and a solicitor. Universities in Australia offer a five year combined degree in Law alongside degrees such as Business, Arts, Commerce, Communication, International Studies, Engineering, amongst many more. Some universities in Australia offer a straight law degree that is three years. The postgraduate degree in Law is named the ‘Juris Doctor’, and is three years. To be a professional lawyer, you also need to do PLT (practical legal training). You then have a choice to apply for the Bar Association if you want to be a barrister. Of course for any of that to actually happen, at some point you have to endure the process of applying for legal clerkships, and graduate positions. But really you’d get whatever kind of experience you can get that reveals the kind of environment that is law practice as early as possible. Yeah, the experience is at no point smooth sailing. So is it worth studying a Law degree if you’re uncertain about actually practising law?

You don’t just learn about the law

A lot of people have the idea that studying a Law degree only teaches you what parliament has put into place in make laws, and how judges come to the decision they do in each case. The most important areas of law are taught in the core law subjects, such as Contracts, Torts, Constitutional, Property Law, etc. Law electives offer options depending on your interests, such as Family Law, Media Law, Advanced Criminal Law, etc. That’s it, right? Wrong. There is a much wider scope that is covered when studying the law, which is covered in every single area of law that is studied. Yes, you have to learn both legislation and case law. But a Law degree also teaches you invaluable ethical reasoning and policy-based analysis. It allows ample opportunity for critical thinking and “the art of pressure-testing arguments for their potential weaknesses”.  So essentially, all that fancy shit that sounds super good on job applications. And it is good. I’ve learnt this simply for applying for jobs that aren’t within the field of law. As a journalism student as well, I’ve applied for various news internships and some employers have simply glanced at the fact that I’m also studying a Law degree and have essentially given me the job.

But, just having a Bachelor’s degree in something is impressive

One of the most compelling reasons to even study a degree is because it shows employers that you are able to commit to starting something and then finishing it. No matter how long it takes and no matter what degree it is. To start and finish something shows a person is reliable, determined and hard-working when need be. So why bother putting yourself through something as difficult and lengthy as a Law degree if you’re not even sure you want to practice it? Malcolm Turnbull advocated for not studying a Law degree if you don’t want to practice.

He said: "If you want to have a general humanities degree that is an intellectual endowment that isn't particularly specific in a vocational sense then you would be better off doing languages, history, literature, philosophy. Frankly you would be better off doing economics." There’s always that argument that too many people in Australia study a Law degree and practice law. There are 65,000 practising solicitors in Australia and even if there were equal numbers of law graduates not practising, that would be 1% of the Australian workforce. So will a Law degree will actually help you stand out? If nothing else, textbooks are so damn expensive.

Certainly, the power of studying a law degree increases exponentially once you progress from undergraduate to graduate. But for the time being, I continuously have doubts in whether I made the right decision all those years ago in choosing to study a Law degree. When people ask why I study it, it’s definitely because of the power it gives me. But then I remind myself of the reasons why I decided to study it in the first place. I've always believed in the legal system as a set of rules that dictate and govern the way humans should act and behave as a society. But like anything, nothing is perfect, and I stand by the constant need for law reform where appropriate. I believe social change in the form of law reform is incredibly significant, as it indicates not only a system of government that supports its citizens but also vice versa. In my opinion, the legal system is put into a place for a purpose of unity, and the degree teaches you these exact skills. If you think you can endure the workload, then go for it.

Olivia Locascio is a last year Communication student majoring in Journalism, and penultimate year Law student. She’s got her whole future planned out: columnist, author, screenwriter, and Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay. Watch out for this one.