Admit it. You and I both know that one of the main reasons we decided to do a law degree was so that we could champion the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, catch bad guys and fight injustice. Having a law degree was going to be the panacea to all evils of the world.
For most of us, the future hero/heroine versions of ourselves became a figment of our imagination in our second year (mine in the second semester of my first year). The heroic aspirations went up in flames along with our law notes in our celebratory post-semester bonfire.
However, most of us might still be hanging onto the last strings of romantic altruism. For those who want to pursue the road less travelled, we commend you. To quote Scarface and the greatest gangster ever Tony Montana – “The World is Yours!"*
I remember a lecturer once telling us, “If you want to work as a human rights lawyer, earn sh*tloads of money first”. But what if you want to dive in and help those in need, like right now? Enter Steven Freeland, Professor of International Law at the University of Western Sydney and Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court who kept the dream alive.**
Survive Law (SL): What attracted you to International Law?
Steven Freeland: Before becoming an academic, I was a lawyer for 7 years, and, an investment banker for 13 years.
My previous experience meant that I was almost always involved in international transactions and questions relating to multi-jurisdictional legal and other matters. As a consequence, when I became an academic, it was only natural for me to continue on the international law path.
SL: How did you come to work for the International Criminal Court?
Steven: I applied for the position as a Visiting Professional in 2004 and was appointed in 2005. It was a short-term appointment (5 months) but I have since maintained a relationship with various people at the Court.
SL: What are the pros and cons of working for the ICC?
Steven: Pros: I regard the establishment of the ICC as the ‘end of the beginning’ towards true accountability. There is much work to be done and much to be learnt from the inevitable mistakes that will still be made. So I believe that it is an incredibly exciting time to develop an interest and career in this area.
Cons: The ICC, like any large UN or other organization, is somewhat bureaucratic, which certainly can be frustrating at times. However, working within such an environment would teach a person how best to be effective and efficient even in the face of what might appear at times to be pointless red tape.
SL: What ‘type’ of law graduate would suit working as a legal professional for the ICC, or other organizations such as the UN and NGOs?
Steven: One with passion, intellect, an international outlook and openness, flexibility (in terms of type of work, location etc) a keen interest (and preferably qualifications) in international law issues and with an ability to grow, be independent, be professional, remain objective and be prepared to listen and learn from those around him/her. I assume that would cover the vast majority of your readers!
SL: I have to ask - what are your thoughts on the KONY 2012 viral online/social media campaign? Does it focus too much on the desires of the ‘international community (that is, capturing the bad guy) rather than focusing on the victims (the child soldiers)? Do you think that the campaign captures ‘international justice’?
Steven: I have had quite a bit to say in the past on the problem of child soldiers. It is frightening to think that, if you filled the Sydney Olympic Stadium 10 times just with children, that would, on a conservative estimate, represent the number of children who are ‘conscripted’ against their will or informed choice into a range of roles with Government or non-Government military forces or militias in over 60 countries of the world. What a horrible thought.
The whole issue of child soldiers is very complex and requires much work on the part of Governments, who need to always be pushed by international civil society. So, in this respect, any lawful pressure that civil society can put on Governments to indeed adhere to their responsibilities is generally to be regarded as a positive thing. I do not want to comment directly on the KONY 2012 video and initiative, but simply wish to add that it is very easy to over-simplify the situation. Having said that, however, the LRA has committed horrific crimes and Kony and his fellow perpetrators must be brought to a proper account in a way that will give a voice to victims, promote reconciliation and peace and allow all of those communities that have been affected to move forward in a positive way.
SL: Any tips for penultimate law students and law graduates wanting to work for the ICC, or other organisations such as the UN and NGOs?
Steven: Do every international law unit available at your university and get good grades in those. Learn a language and read the newspaper, not just the sport and crossword – admittedly where I always start while having my morning coffee – but also the international sections.
It is crucial to be aware of what is going on around the world and to start thinking of how law would/should play a role in contemporary international events.
SL: What areas of law do you think law students/graduates should direct their interests/career aspirations toward (apart for the ICC or the UN)? And why?
Steven: I always believe that students will be most satisfied in their careers if they undertake work in areas that interest them, even if they are challenging.
So, if you have a ‘passion’ for tax law, then follow that path.
On the other hand, if you do not know at this stage what really interests you, then be open to everything that comes you way, and as you develop a greater understanding of yourself and your interests.
Above all, do not feel that you must follow a certain path just because you are being told to, or you think that is what others expect from you. Often that will end in tears.
The study of law, particularly, I think, international law, is a privilege that opens many possible doors – whether the conventional or not-so trodden paths. Only by understanding what you want will it be fun, challenging and rewarding.
There you go all you superheroes out there. Make it happen and just do it! As per conversation between Luke and Yoda:
Luke: “All right, I’ll give it a try”
Yoda: “No!.Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
*We at Survive Law are not advocating starting up your own drug cartel. We still encourage you to watch Scarface though. And embody Tony Montana’s outlook on life – the world is yours!
**For more information about Professor Steven Freeland, read his awesome biography on the UWS website.
Enjoyed this post? Sign up for the Survive Law weekly newsletter for more.