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Treading New Ground: Being the First Students at a New Law School

Students taking notes in lecture

As I write this, law students all over the country (including me) are dying in bed after their end-of-exams celebrations. My classmates are the same, except we have a bit more to celebrate: the end of exams marks the end of the very first semester of the inaugural law class at Australian Catholic University Melbourne. ACU had never run a law program until this year, and I was one of the lucky students who were accepted into this brand new course. We turned up for law induction week as bright-eyed and bushy tailed first years, not sure what to expect – but in hindsight, totally unprepared.

Our first semester has been intense, to say the least – how many law students compete in their first mooting competition three days into law school? We did, and while it was nerve-wracking getting grilled by a “judge” so early on, it will certainly come in handy next semester when we start our first law student society-run mooting competition.

We’ve been given some amazing opportunities, from meeting Kirby J and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC to beginning our first placements with community legal centres, and even starting our own law students’ society, with the chance to really shape it how we want and to have a lasting influence on later intakes of students. We’ve been given the opportunity to create a culture and atmosphere around our degree, to shape our course and its reputation, that we would never have received at a university with an established law program.

Of course, there’s a large weight of expectation on our shoulders – we all feel the need to push ourselves in our study so that when we enter the (dreaded) job market, our course has just as strong a reputation as that of other universities. But anything that gets you through the readings, right?

It hasn’t all been perfect: making the transition from a year 12 student desperate to study law into a first-year student sitting in a lecture whispering “What have I done?” can seem even harder when your course is in a state of transition too. But all of our lecturers have been amazing, giving up their time outside classes to help us, explain promissory estoppel again or just to talk us down when we burst into their offices hysterically insisting we’re quitting law school (that may have just been me, but either way…). Even though some things haven’t gone to plan, from assignment meltdowns to being that person in the tute who has no clue what’s going on (and haven’t we all been that person? I hope so, anyway) my classmates have all stuck together and pushed each other, making sure that every one of us made it through our first subjects as law students.

We’ve got a long road to travel over the next couple of years, with only a tenth of our degrees completed. But we’re all working as hard as we can to make sure that our marks, and our new law school, are the best that they can be.

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