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Killing them with Kindness in your Penultimate Year

Students studying

Are you a student in your second last year? People seem to like throwing around the word ‘penultimate’ to describe this phase of our degree. We’ve experienced the heartbreaks, tears and late nights of caffeine. By now we have developed the kind of self loathing and cynicism that the fresh-faced first years will soon learn to accept as the primal traits of a law student.

Most of us can be found consistently asking the question “why am I still studying law?” or reminiscing about life before law – the glory days.

Before law my only priorities were to learn to skateboard, get a good OP and be awesome at electric guitar. I achieved two of those (skateboarding is the one that my uncoordinated limbs can’t quite accept) and was euphoric in the hopes that university would fulfill my dreams of perpetually wearing Calvin Klein power suits and empowering my vocabulary.

For the past month or so the vast majority of penultimate year law students in Queensland have been applying for clerkships. Maybe some of you have a little bit of a wait or some of you have already passed the cut off, either way, applying for clerkships is both time consuming, highly stressful and super competitive. By third year most people tend to come to the realisation that the early days of shamelessly sharing notes and advice have come to an end and the person sitting next to you is the one that could potentially nab your fantasy job.

Wherever you go in your penultimate year you will be faced with competitive people, stressed people, angry people and people who are willing to take favours but refuse to return them (I make it sound horrific, it’s mostly pretty “chill”). I can honestly say that only a short way into my first semester I have grappled with immense jealousy and self doubt already.

Dealing with competitive people is something that no law student should be shy of. Throughout the duration of high school you probably dealt with the person that would say “Ohhh… you only got an A-? I got an A+” or my favourite, “You’re only third on the Modern History ladder?” (Still bitter about a competitive Modern History class…all these years later).

If you’ve played team sports you’re probably aware of the person who would ‘accidentally’ go out of their way to bump into you and if you work you’re probably used to the person who likes to spend extra hours doting on the boss’s four-year-old child.

In classes I go from having excellent weeks to feeling inadequate because I’m sitting next to the student who went above and beyond what was required of them. What I remind myself during these rough patches is that next week will be my awesome week – and it usually is, because this kind of healthy competition pushes me to achieve personal bests.

Just because this ‘gunner’ can induce a moment of intense, passionate anger doesn’t mean they’re doing your studies a disservice: don’t risk losing sight of how competition can be a motivator and a great one at that! In these times it’s important to realise that arrogance and ambition are totally different things – “ugh, but they’re obnoxiously confident in their abilities” – most of these ‘gunners’ have put in the hard yards and don’t exist to ruin your chances of a legal future.

Whatever form competition comes in during your penultimate year, the best piece of advice any student can receive is that no matter what Muhammad Ali says, being “the greatest” is overrated. If competitive over-achievers are upsetting you it’s best to try and focus on yourself. Don’t put in extra study to undermine or ‘destroy’ your ‘opponent’, put in the extra hours because you genuinely want to grasp the subject matter.

From experience, most law students take competition to heart and see it as a personal attack on their intelligence. Generally, if someone regards himself or herself as being in direct competition with you they are not threatened by your personality but rather your ‘abilities’.

The best advice that I’ve been given over the past year is from a law school graduate who said something along the lines of, “don’t openly compete against the other law student but work alongside them”. Half of the time when you politely ask for guidance most law students will be more than happy to satisfy your query. So the key is to:

  • Kill each other with kindness

  • Don’t lose sight of what’s only two years away

  • Be an advocate for cooperation

  • Be assertive with competitive students

  • Work hard, sleep lots and calm down

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