Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh on the marriage equality postal survey.

JATL committee member Penelope Bristow recently interviewed Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law, to discuss the legal and historical considerations behind the current marriage equality postal survey.

What is involved in a plebiscite and how are plebiscites different from referenda?

A referendum is a special beast. It is a vote for all electors and it may be compulsory. You can have state referenda – and we had one recently in Queensland to extend MPs terms from 3 to 4 years. But most commonly the term refers to the national vote required under section 128 of the Australian Constitution in order to change or amend that Constitution.

A plebiscite on the other hand has no constitutional basis or role. It is not binding and it may not be covered by compulsory voting rules. It is more like a national opinion poll.

Is the proposed postal survey the same as a plebiscite, or is it a novel arrangement?

At first it looked like a traditional plebiscite – the electoral commission would conduct a nationwide vote and Australians would go to the polls to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on an issue, but that vote would be non-binding and had nothing to do with constitutional change. But now the vote is not only non-binding and non-compulsory, but to be completed by post and run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) rather than the Electoral Commission. This sets it apart from any previous plebiscites and makes it look even more like a simple survey or poll. But definitions are fluid here… perhaps it’s a ‘plebisurvey’? Though made up terms like ‘plebisurvey’ reflect just how vague and contested the whole issue has become. Officially, even the government has abandoned the term plebiscite and is opting for survey now. 

Has Australia engaged in a survey like this before? What does history tell us about surveys conducted to determine the public’s opinion on an issue?

There have been three sets of plebiscites in Australian history. The first, and most famous, were the votes held in the colonies in the lead up to federation. The ‘Yes’ vote in 1898 carried but not by a sufficiently significant margin in NSW, the largest and most powerful colony. That margin was strengthened when the question was again put to the people in 1900 – and we all know the outcome of the campaign for federation.

The second set of plebiscites concerned conscription in WWI. In 1916, as support for the War declined, Australia struggled to meet its troop supply commitments. The people voted against conscription by a narrow majority. As enlistments continued to fall, new Prime Minister Billy Hughes promised to introduce conscription only if backed by a plebiscite. So, Australians returned to the polls in 1917. Again the ‘No’ vote won the day, this time by a stronger margin.

Most recently, Australians were asked to vote on the national anthem. In 1974, the ABS conducted a poll of 60,000 people to determine whether they preferred Advanced Australia Fair, Waltzing Matilda or the Song of Australia as the national anthem. Advance Australia Fair gained the most support but views remained divided. After years of debate and controversy a voluntary plebiscite was held in 1977 and Advance Australia Fair again won the day.

What can we take away from this? Each of these examples concerned an issue of national identity – both for Australians and our place in the world. These were issues that impacted everyone. All Australians. Yes, conscription only directly impacted able-bodied men of a certain age – but that is such a large and, particularly at that time, important portion of the population that it is not difficult to see how almost every Australian could feel the impact of conscription. And this was also about our international commitments and our role in the Great War. This foundation of national identity and national concern is lacking in the current survey which concerns equality and the human rights of one, albeit significant, minority group within Australian society. Most voters will not be directly or even indirectly impacted by the introduction of marriage equality – and yet they are being asked to have their say on it. The definition of marriage is within the traditional legislative powers of federal parliament and has been the subject of numerous Acts of Parliament throughout Australian history, it is not clear to me why this change requires a national survey when, for example, lowering the voting age or changing the rules around divorce or property ownership did not.

In all previous plebiscites repeat votes simply strengthened the earlier result. In the case of the national anthem, the plebiscite merely confirmed the earlier opinion poll. There has been a wealth of polls on marriage equality, one wonders what more might be gained by a costly and non-binding plebiscite.

On a more optimistic note, history shows that the government is unlikely to ignore a non-binding plebiscite. And that this respect for the peoples’ views continues for successive governments, even if the next government runs a repeat plebiscite in the hope of introducing change.

The High Court recently dismissed a challenge to the same sex marriage survey. Who challenged the survey, and what issues did they raise?

There are legal issues and there are political issues. And at the crux of it all is the question of whether marriage equality should be dealt with in the courts, by parliament, or by society as a whole.

The legal issues were the subject of the recent High Court challenge. In the absence of a Bill or Charter of rights, those issues are fairly technical constitutional points about the power of the executive government to spend money.

In order for the government to run this survey, it needs a significant amount of money. Well over $100 million. Constitutionally, the government relies on parliament to grant it the funds to run the country – this helps to ensure responsible and representative government, that is, two of the central accountability measures that protect us from government overreach and arbitrary actions. Once a party comes to power it doesn’t simply have a blank cheque to act as it sees fit – its actions are overseen and to an extent controlled by Parliament.

The legislation to fund the survey passed the House of Representatives, but not the Senate. So, the government had to abandon the survey or gain access to the money by some other means. They decided to fund the survey from the existing ABS budget, specifically from money set aside for unforeseen and urgent matters. Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and others challenged this on the basis of the landmark constitutional case of Williams, in which the High Court confirmed that, generally speaking, executive spending should be supported by legislation. Wilkie argued that the government can’t sidestep parliament, that they need parliamentary authority to fund the survey, and that the Minister had not properly exercised his discretion when he decided that the survey was an urgent or unforeseen expense.

The High Court appreciated that the decision needed to be made quickly – after all, the ABS had already started spending money on printing materials for the mail out. So, it took the unusual step of handing down its decision but not giving a full judgment. That judgment will most likely be some weeks away. For now, all we know is that the High Court rejected Wilkie’s challenge and upheld the government’s capacity to fund the survey without Parliament’s direct approval. My feeling – and it is difficult to have more than a feeling on these issues considering how unpredictable the High Court can be, particularly in the area of executive power – is that the High Court’s decision will reflect a high degree of deference to the Minister’s decision that this spending was unforeseen and urgent. Generally, it is not for a court to step into the shoes of a Minister and question an exercise of his or her discretion. Only in extreme circumstances might one expect a court to overrule that kind of Ministerial decision. So once the Minister said that this spending – specifically, the spending of over $100 million on a non-compulsory, non-binding, postal survey on marriage equality conducted by the ABS – was unforeseen and urgent, I think the High Court was very unlikely to hold that the spending was not unforeseen or urgent. Even though there may have been some good reasons to say that spending on some kind of vote on this issue was clearly foreseen, even promised, by government. But we won’t know the real bases for the Court’s ruling until the judgment is delivered in coming weeks. As in so many constitutional decisions, different judges may have reached the same conclusion by distinct paths of reasoning.

What implications does this decision have for the future?

Constitutional lawyers will be pouring over the decision when it is handed down. Until then it is difficult to say how narrow or how far-reaching the High Court’s ruling may be. Worst case scenario, the decision could allow governments to see the phrase ‘unforeseen and urgent’ as, more or less, permission to use that financial allocation for policies that lack parliamentary support. A kind of clear path to avoiding Parliament and responsible government. That outcome is bad for democracy, bad for responsible government, bad for representative government. It grants the executive a power to spend that is largely outside the existing systems of checks and balances. But, ultimately parliament has to pass budget Bills – so that kind of outcome could be limited by Parliament simply refusing to pass Bills that earmark sizable sums for ‘unforeseen and urgent’ circumstances, determined at the Minister’s discretion. Parliament’s role in scrutinising budget Bills before they are passed becomes even more important.

In the same sex marriage debate, the decision gives a green light to the survey. It highlights the lack of constitutional protections for human rights and, the flip side of that: the lack of constitutional impediments to parliamentary control of human rights. In the areas of human rights and equality, our federal system rests on a belief in parliamentary supremacy. Here Parliament was sidelined and the executive government is running the show. But the ultimate decision will still, eventually, come down to Parliament. One is left to ask the age-old question: would human rights, particularly minority rights, be better dealt with under a human rights Act, that is, in the courts? Or can we trust Parliament and the Executive government with these important issues of equality and liberty? Australia remains the only democracy lacking a national Bill or Charter of human rights, and therefore the only democracy strongly adhering to the latter of these options. What we are all witnessing today in this same sex marriage debate should prompt us to pause and reflect on whether the parliamentary protection of human rights is the best approach for us, or whether a more systemic change – such as the introduction of rights protection legislation – is called for. Would you have liked to have seen the High Court have more legal tools at its disposal when the issue of the same sex marriage vote came before it? Or would you prefer judges stayed out of it and left it to politics? And if it is left to politics, should the civil liberties of a minority group be debated by the masses or is there a simpler, and cheaper way?

R U Okay? Day

In the lead up to ‘R U Okay? Day’ let’s start a conversation about mental health amongst law students.

Mental Health. It is a topic that is gaining traction on social media, and in society generally. It seems that we are more comfortable with talking about our mental health than we used to be. I myself am not so sure. We 'talk' about 'mental health issues', but do we really? Is expressing ourselves in sarcastic memes about mental breakdowns really a healthy way of discussing our mental health? (I, for one, am guilty of this).

The 2009 study; 'Courting the Blues: attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and legal practitioners', reveals troubling statistics on mental health in the legal profession and amongst law students. According to the report, 46.9% of law students, 55.7% of solicitors and 52.5% of barristers reported that they had experienced depression.

Just let that sink in for a minute. Almost half of law students, and more than half of solicitors and barristers report that they have experienced depression.

The statistics speak for themselves:

-       21.9% of law students reported high levels of distress (compared to 10.2% in the general population) and 13.3% reported levels of very high distress (compared to 3.1% in the general population)

-       22.3% of solicitors reported high levels of distress (compared to 9.2% in the general population) and 8.7% reported levels of very high distress (compared to 3.8% in the general population)

-       12.5% of barristers reported high levels of distress (compared to 9.2% in the general population) and 4.2% reported levels of very high distress (compared to 3.8% in the general population)

So, why is it that the rates of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues are so prevalent in the legal profession, and amongst law students? It begins a sort of 'chicken and egg' argument; do people who choose to study law already have a predisposition to anxiety and depression, or it it the study of the law itself that creates the problem?

Studies would seem to show that it is a combination. It seems that there are two personality traits in particular that we, as law students, possess that can be to our detriment: perfectionism and pessimism. This combined with the heavy workload and stress of studying a law degree - lead to higher rates of mental illness. 

'Yet law students are known to enter law school with rates of wellbeing no different to, and even higher than, the general population: apparently, legal education at both graduate and undergraduate levels has a negative impact on student wellbeing, and that impact becomes evident within the first six to 12 months of the degree.'[1]

One of my (and many other law students) idols in law, The Hon Michael Kirby, spoke about the issue of mental health amongst the legal profession in an address for the launch of the Daniel Solomons Memorial Scholarship at Ashurt's Sydney office, and I will let the eloquent words of one of my favourite legal minds do the talking....

Those who suffer the indescribable pain [of depression].... are rendered extremely vulnerable if their career choice has taken them into the law. The law is usually a very public vocation. Its top practitioners are on display most of the time. They face fierce competition. They are often perfectionists, overachievers, trapped in ‘pin striped prisons’. We now know that law places special and excessive pressures on students and practitioners. Working in symbiosis with clinical depression, this can trigger suicidal thoughts and actions. As wise commentators have observed, because lawyers generally sell their talent in modules of time, there is always pressure on them to sell more and more time, until there is no time left for the other priorities of life. 

There is some evidence that pressures of this kind are heaviest in large legal firms, where it is harder to maintain a life/work balance. Although many firms today (and some law schools, even Bar and judicial institutions) have attempted remedial measures to show that they care about the challenge of depression and the risks (including suicide) that it brings, commentators repeatedly observe that the lawyers most at risk commonly do not believe that these efforts are real or intended to be taken seriously: 

[P]rivate practice lawyers are often subject to tight, client-driven deadlines and exacting internal performance targets – the competitive and confrontational nature of legal practice leaves many believing that such wellbeing policies are not worth the paper they are written on. ‘A few months ago, my firm distributed helpful tips printed on colourful postcards suggesting we ought to “Go for a swim in the ocean” or “Go home and cook a meal with your family”,’ wrote one lawyer, anonymously ... in 2013. ‘Apparently the irony of recommending such fun and whimsy to a group of employees who are effectively required to remain at the office upwards of 14 hours a day for months on end was lost on the hopeful folks in human resources.’ Under such conditions, and with the profession’s poor track record in looking after its own, ... cynicism is well placed.

Certainly, there now seems to be a growing realisation of the existence of a kind of crisis in legal employment as a student and career choice. In a recent poll asking ‘is life as a lawyer what you thought it would be when you were a student?’, more than 37 per cent of respondent lawyers said ‘No, I wish I was working in a different career’. Only 11 per cent of the 444 respondents to the survey said their law career had fulfilled all their expectations.

Plainly, we have a problem here. Estimates suggest that one in three lawyers, from law school to final retirement, suffers at some stage from depression and low self-esteem. A number will face serious suicidal imaginings. If one googles lawyers’ suicides and inserts the name of the city or town, names will come up that one knew but sometimes one had forgotten. Tristan Jepson was such a name. His parents established the Foundation in his name to tackle the issue. Daniel Solomons was another young lawyer who fell victim to suicidal depression. Most of his colleagues did not know, could not understand and could not believe that such a talented and handsome, much admired person would suffer from such a condition at the end of his life. Or respond as he did. But that is the fact. Lawyers have to face the facts.[2]

I realise that I may have let my pessimism get the better of me with this post. However, I agree that lawyers (and law students) do need to face the facts. If we are to tackle the issue of mental health amongst our profession, and in our law school, we first need to acknowledge the problem.

As Michael Kirby flagged in his speech - band-aid solutions - such as in the example given of telling lawyers to “go for a swim in the ocean” or “go home and cook with your family” - can feel at best a half hearted and at worst a self serving attempt by law firms to pay lip service to mental health issues amongst the profession. The same can be said of “solutions” provided by universities. It is true that change has happened - since I began my law degree in 2012 UQ has moved away from 100% assessment pieces - in an effort to decrease the pressure on students. However, the culture has a long way to go. Some might say that giving students closed book 70% exams - and then throwing puppies and pancakes their way - might not be the most effective strategy… Change can happen from within - we can be more supportive of each other and consciously tackle our pessimism and perfectionist tendencies. Clearly there is a need for change both from the universities around Australia - as well as amongst us as students.

We need to move beyond talking about mental health in an offhand and flippant way. (Although I won’t lie I still see memes as a legitimate form of self expression - they just shouldn’t be the only way). If you think a friend is struggling really, genuinely check in on them - and this is what ‘R U Okay Day’ is all about.

‘R U Okay Day’ is on September 14th - https://www.ruok.org.au/ - check out their website on tips on asking a friend of colleague if they are okay, and how to best support someone if you think they are struggling. 

Have a listen to this interview with a lawyer who struggled with anxiety and depression and how his strategies for combating the problem - https://www.thehappyfamilylawyer.com/podcast/episode-6-overcoming-anxiety-depression-jerome-doraisamy/

Also - check out JATL’s blog post featuring tips from writer and lawyer Clarissa Rayward on living a happy life in the law: [insert Clarissa post link here?]

If you are feeling in need of support there are so many resources out there:

The Desk: Tailored for Australian tertiary students. This is a great site with resources specific to looking after your mental health while you are at uni. <https://www.thedesk.org.au/about>

The Black Dog Institute: Specific resources on depression and anxiety, including research and clinical resources. <http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au>

Beyond Blue: Some really useful resources on anxiety and depression. <https://www.beyondblue.org.au/>

This includes an anxiety and depression checklist, which is a useful resource for some self reflection on how things are going with you... <https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety-and-depression-checklist-k10>

Lifeline: If you feel like you need to talk to someone, Lifeline offers a confidential counselling service, available 24 hours a day. 13 11 14 and their website is <http://www.lifeline.org.au/>.

Mood Gym: Interactive resources and strategies to help with anxiety and depression. <https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome>

[1] Larcombe, Wendy; Tumbaga, Letty; Malkin, Ian; Nicholson, Pip; Tokatidis, Orania --- "Does an Improved Experience of Law School Protect Students against Depression, Anxiety and Stress? An Empirical Study of Wellbeing and the Law School Experience of LLB and JD Students" [2013] SydLawRw 15; (2013) 35(2) Sydney Law Review 407, 408.

[2] I encourage you to read the entire of Michael Kirby's speech: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UNSWLawJl/2015/52.html

Chats with Clarissa

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-By Jean Morton

Clarissa Rayward certainly has an impressive resume - running her own family law firm as well as a weekly podcast - and publishing two books in her spare time! I sat down with Clarissa to talk about an issue that is gaining significant attention - the mental health of law students.

From my chat with Clarissa, who herself has had experience in being unhappy in the law - and consciously works to create her own happiness - I think the following are the most important nuggets of wisdom! 

1.  You do not have to do everything now

One observation that Clarissa has made in working with and mentoring law students and grads is the propensity for us to want to do everything, that we seem to have this fear of missing out if we do not do everything NOW. We should stop feeling the need to be part of everything - we need to take the pressure off ourselves!

2. Competition

The competitive nature of the practice and the study of law, and how this affects the wellbeing of law students and legal professionals is a theme that has continued since Clarissa herself was at UQ.  When you put lots of high-achieving, intelligent students together in a competitive environment - this can lead to lots of self doubt and anxiety. We should build each other up - and be supportive - rather than seeing someone's success as meaning that we will miss out. Comparing ourselves to others will only make us miserable - be your own person!  As Clarissa said: 'everyone can succeed, there is space for everyone'!

3. There is not one single 'correct' career path!

Clarissa said that when she was studying at UQ there was a mentality - which I think continues today - that there is ONE prize job. A graduate position as a top tier firm. Anything less than that is a failure. Clarissa is concerned with this mentality - that a job at a top tier firm is the best and everything else is lesser. Working in a top tier firm is not for everyone. The reality is that there are so many different career paths, it doesn't mean that you are less of a lawyer, or that you won't have a successful career.

4. Who cares about GPAs?

This was one thing that gave me some relief. Clarissa says that in hiring grads she is not so interested in GPAs. She is much more interested in life experience of candidates - have they had a part time job while at uni, lived out of home? And another relieving revelation from Clarissa was that even part time work in good old hospo and retail are worthwhile to have on your resume. It is all about how you sell it! The human skill of a waitress who has to deal with someone whose eggs were not cooked the right way - that is something that can be pitched in an interview. Think about what you learned from those experiences.

5.  Relationships

Clarissa revealed that one thing that has struck her in doing her podcast, with so many different kinds of legal professionals, is that there are so many ways to be a lawyer - you are more than your career. Everyone is struggling with their own story, we should try and be compassionate and treat people with empathy. And should not compare ourselves to others or care what others think.

6. Live in the moment!

'Your 20s should be a time of joy and learning!' Do not worry too much about the future - you cannot predict or control it. We should still have our eyes open to opportunity - and can still be purposeful - go to industry events and consider different pathways. I think one of my favourite pieces of advice/lessons from Clarissa was that she pointed that we are lucky to be going to law school, and we will never be without jobs!

7. Just do it!

One of Clarissa's favourite phrases (and one which aim to try and adopt myself) is 'what is the worst that can happen?' We need to actively move away from our own pessimism - it is up to us as individuals ourselves to focus on the positives.

 

 

 

 

Podcasts:

There are many amazing podcasts to listen to from Clarissa, but I have listed the most relevant below:

* Michael Kirby: (need I say more?) ‘The Rockstar of Law’

https://www.thehappyfamilylawyer.com/podcast/episode-38-rockstar-law-michael-kirby-talks-gratitude-attitude-biscuits/

* This podcast with Nick James (and maybe this shows how long I have been at UQ, but I remember having him as a professor) explores the pressures on law students and how universities are trying to change the system:

https://www.thehappyfamilylawyer.com/podcast/episode-48-many-pathways-law-finding-right-fit-professor-nick-james/

* Ann-Maree David - Director of The College of Law and President of the Australian Women Lawyer’s Association- on Resilience and diversity in the legal industry - including why so many law students leave the profession - and the change that is needed in universities:

https://www.thehappyfamilylawyer.com/podcast/episode-31-resilience-diversity-legal-industry-ann-maree-david/

 

* Mindfulness in Law with Fiona Caulley, including about mindfulness and strategies that Fiona uses:

https://www.thehappyfamilylawyer.com/podcast/episode2/

 

 

 

 

4 Anecdotal Mooting Tips

I’ve been lucky to learn from many great mooting coaches and mentors. If I could advise my younger self, before I ever stood up to make submissions in a moot, this is what I would offer:

 

1.     Preparation is key

 If you divide the stages of a moot into preparation (research and preparing and practicing submissions) and execution (actually making the submissions in the moot), 90% of your time and effort, if not more, is devoted to that preparation stage. The actual moot should be a cake-walk.

Therefore, the outcomes of a lot of moots are probably pre-determined before the teams even arrive in the moot court. The team that has done the most preparation, and so knows the most law and has the most practiced advocates will probably win. The only remaining variable that might cause that team not to win is poor execution.

There is only so much that being a talented speaker can do. Being a talented speaker won’t help you when a judge asks you what happened at paragraph x in y v z (though you might sound nice while you obfuscate).  Only preparation will do that.

Are you prepared for every eventuality? And have you ironed out all of the logic in your arguments? If x happens what will you do? If the judge isn’t convinced by y can you still say z later? What happened in this case? How important is this point? Know what issues you have to win in order to win the moot and what you can afford to jettison.

Obviously, as you near the limits of preparation, and other teams do too, execution becomes the differentiating factor. But by in large, there are very few moots, and very few teams in those very few moots that will reach a sort of preparation ‘limit’ and then have to battle it out on the basis of execution (I think). Preparation will usually be key.

 

2.     You’re assisting the court

You’re assisting the court more than you are arguing with the other side. I think this means a few things.

First, it is important to read the bench. Usually, there are some pretty obvious, intentionally contentious issues in a moot. But sometimes, a judge might disagree with you on what you thought was a relatively simple proposition. It is important not to disregard this. As an advocate it is your task to ensure that all or as many as possible contentious issues fall in your favour. Therefore, being able to read when the bench is disagreeing with you, having difficulty with your submissions or agreeing with you is vital.

The way a judge questions you, or the kinds of questions they ask reveals a lot, as does their general body language. The best case scenario is where a judge expressly states ‘I am having difficulty with x’. This is a gift. If it happens, take some time to have a conversation with the judge on the point and win the point, if you can. Don’t brush it off with something you may have already said.

Second, and relatedly, it is important to answer questions as directly as possible. Generally, a judge won’t ask you a question for no reason, they want to know the answer to something. In a moot, however, there might be some superficial questions to see if you know your brief.

So, be as direct as possible. And frontload your answers (don’t build to a logical conclusion, state the conclusion (answer) and then explain the logic).

Finally, the judge’s trust in you and faith in what you are saying is your currency. You need to seem like someone that they can rely on to inform their judgment. This is a product of a number of things.

How ‘in control’ you seem throughout your entire submission is important. Avoid phrases such as ‘I think’, ‘I believe’, ‘From memory’ and ‘I/we would’. These flag that you might not know what you are talking about. Instead, use ‘the law is’ or ‘I will’.

Try not to get the simple things wrong. For example, if asked at the beginning of a moot who the judges in the main case upon which you rely were and you don’t know, your credibility is hurt, and might detract from everything you say afterwards until you earn it back.

Never lie. Just don’t do it. If caught in an intentional lie, you make it pretty hard for yourself to win the moot. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is better to say that you can’t assist the court, take it on notice and highlight that the point is not crucial to you winning the case.

 

3.     Be conversational, be yourself

Making submissions shouldn’t be a speech. It should be an intelligent and informative conversation or exchange with the bench. So, don’t put on a speaking voice, don’t have a set inflexible script that could come across as unnatural at times. Be prepared to adapt.

At the same time, embrace your style. There are many ways to be an effective advocate. Some people are enthusiastic and some are more matter of fact. Different people present different arguments in different ways. And everyone has different mannerisms. Within reason, don’t try and put on an act when you make submissions. That increases the chance of you being uncomfortable and it distracts you from your submissions. Indeed, different judges will like different styles, so you may as well be yourself. If you have some serious stylistic issues this probably doesn’t hold true, but I think that most people do fine when they smooth out and refine their own natural presenting style.

4.      Enjoy it

This might seem like a lot, but take it with a grain of salt. These are only anecdotal tips.  Mooting is a fantastic opportunity to meet new people, learn about new areas of law and learn skills that are translatable into many different professions. Enjoy it!

Student Study Tips

It is one of your friendly JATL blog editors here! As the end of semester fast approaches, and in an effort to learn from my mistakes and motivate myself to make it through to the end of semester without having (too many) mental breakdowns, I thought I would post a top five study hints. 

1. Make a REALISTIC study schedule

I know. I know. Every single blog/advice column/your mum tells you to make a study schedule. Sometimes, though, when everyone is telling you to do something, it's because it works. 

One mistake I made in the first years of my study was creating completely unrealistic study timetables. Honestly. Thinking that you are going to wake up at 5:30 am for a pre study run and then study for six hours straight before lunch is ridiculous. 

Scheduling twelve hours of study in a day with a one hour break is setting yourself up for failure. You will end up not meeting the target you set for yourself and it'll make you stressed (if you are anything like me anyway). 

Setting up a study schedule will mean that you are less likely to cram for your test (which I have from good authority at the BBC is a bad move http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140917-the-worst-way-to-learn). We have all been there. And every time we say never again. 

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2. Give yourself a break!!

I mean this in multiple senses. 

In the literal sense of take breaks...thirteen weeks is a long time to stay motivated, particularly when your mid semester "break" turns into your mid semester "catching up on everything I have not done for the last few weeks". Make sure you allow some time over the next few weeks to do things you enjoy.  While setting aside a whole day to Netflix might be overdoing it, schedule short, enjoyable activities each day. Why not go out and get some fresh air? Take the dog for a walk? Call that friend in Sydney you have not spoken to for weeks? Embrace the urge to procrastibake! 

OR watch an inane youtube clip eg. this hilarious image of an entire court room sitting in complete silence and stillness while listening to Eminem https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPcB5IlIILc (be warned - only do this if you can resist the urge to enter the wormhole of youube for hours)

And also in the more general life sense... sometimes we can be too hard on ourselves. So don't beat yourself up if your plan to "make this your semester" has not exactly gone to plan and you haven't made perfect summary notes after every week of your course, gone to yoga twice a week, learned how to cook beef bourguignon AND practiced piano every day. That is okay. We are not all superhuman. 


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3. Find your personal study style

Throughout my degree I have tried a multitude of strategies to study. Most of them involve the need for me to purchase numerous colourful pens and stationery (procrastination much). Mind Mapping. Flashcards. That is my jam. 

I also tried things that did not work for me. Structured tables for example. Or recording case summaries and listening back to them (would NOT recommend. I found the awkwardness and the pain of hearing my own voice distracted from the content). 

4. Look after yourself!

This means SLEEP and EXERCISE and EATING VEGETABLES!

This is definitely something that I need to work on during end of semester stress!

Law students (and university students in general) are terrible for not looking after ourselves. Sure maybe the first couple of days functioning on four hours sleep a night will work for you. But you will study more effectively with a good eight hours. 

Exercise. Go outside. Breathe the fresh air. This is one of those things that people say we should prioritise during stressful exam time, but it is often the first thing to go by the wayside! 

I am one to trust the experts, and neuroscientists tell us that exercise has so many benefits for our brains! Increasing concentration! Improving memory! Good for your mental health! So even if it is just taking your dog out for a stroll get those endorphins flowing!

Check out this great article on all the wonderful benefits of exercise for your grey cells --> https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/jun/18/how-physical-exercise-makes-your-brain-work-better

And Brisbane City Council are running “Active Park Events”, so you do not even need to spend your hard earned dollars on a gym membership! https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/whats-brisbane/events-listed-type/active-healthy/active-parks-events

5. Set (again REALISTIC) goals

Attempting to learn an entire 13 weeks of torts in one day is not going to be achievable. Separate your study into manageable chunks. Personally, I love to do lists. I find they work for me. And I get to put completely achievable things on there to give me a sense of satisfaction. "Woke up. Ate breakfast" TICK. Honestly though it sets you up for the day and helps you stay focused. 

So if we aim to follow these five simple strategies we might find SWOTVAC more bearable than usual? I think my grade one buddy's advice for getting through QCS is still the most appropriate. "Have fun. Study hard though."