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."  

 

LAW BEYOND THE BORDER: Opening Address by Anthony Cassimatis

 

Opening Address:

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather, Turrbal and Jagera people, and their elders, past and present.

I would also like to thank the Justice and the Law Society and the UQ United Nations Student Association for their invitation to speak tonight and to congratulate them on their many valuable initiatives.

I have been given a great deal freedom in speaking to you this evening. The JATL representative who I asked about what I should speak on said that I could speak “on any topic that ... [I] would prefer, so long as it is relating to a topic or issue on international law or international affairs”.

Given that our keynote speaker will be speaking on the substantive and important topic of Australia's role in fighting transnational crime, I thought I might focus instead on a discussion of career options available to you in international law. I will do this primarily by mentioning for you some of the career achievements in international law of former UQ students.

Before talking about these former UQ students, however, I would like to say something briefly about working in international law in Australia. I have been working in the field of international law in Australia as a legal academic for over 20 years. I have also been serving for roughly the same time as a volunteer in the field of international law through participation in the work of the Australian Red Cross which has an important role in raising public awareness of international humanitarian law (IHL or the law of armed conflict).

Traditionally, opportunities to work in international law in Australia have been restricted to working for the Australian government, in departments such as the Attorney-General’s Department (in the Office of International Law), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Defence Department. In the non-governmental sector, there have traditionally been employment opportunities in international law working for the Australian Red Cross. Apart from these opportunities, there was not much more that you could do in Australia in the field of international law.

What I would like to emphasise is that this traditional position is changing. In terms of legal practice, international law firms are establishing themselves in Australia and have brought with them their international legal work and opportunities to move within these firms to pursue international law related work outside of Australia. Two international law firms in particular, DLA Piper and White & Case, have established, or are establishing, offices in Australia. DLA Piper has been representing Timor Leste in its various international legal disputes with Australia. Much of that legal work has been done out of the firm’s Brisbane office. An increasing amount of international arbitral work is also being done out of Sydney (at the Bar and in law firms). International legal work in Australia, outside of government, is still relatively modest in scale but it is increasing.

One other feature of potentially dramatic change globally that I would like to briefly mention is the challenge to globalisation reflected in the Brexit referendum result in the UK and in the election of President Trump in the United States. It is easy to portray these developments as threats to international law. After all, one of the few things that President Trump has actually been able to follow-through on has been his promise to turn his back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was a regional trade treaty negotiated between 12 Asia-Pacific States that included Australia and New Zealand.

Notwithstanding the potential for negative consequences for the international community (of which I can foresee many), it would be wrong, I think, to assume that Brexit and the Trump administration will mean there is less work in the field of international law. The opposite may indeed be true. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is going to require an army of international lawyers, both advising on the process and consequences of the UK’s actual withdrawal from the EU, and in negotiating replacement free trade agreements for the UK outside of Europe. A former UQ law student, Belinda McRae will be speaking at UQ on 5th of May, I think, about exactly these sorts of opportunities. After having worked in international law in Paris, Belinda is now a barrister in London.[1]

Even in the United States, I think President Trump is discovering that things are actually much more complicated than he initially imagined. While it is dangerous to try to predict what President Trump is likely to do or achieve, his initial threats to withdraw from regional and global trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (or NAFTA) between the US, Mexico and Canada, have been replaced with statements that the US will be seeking to “renegotiate” such agreements. This is again going to mean more work for international lawyers.

Turning then to some concrete examples of careers of former UQ students in international law. First, I would like to offer a couple of general points about the former UQ students who are now working in international law (some of whom I will specifically mention in a moment). Many of these former law students also studied international relations as part of their other degree and this has helped them in their subsequent work in international law. These former students have had a variety of backgrounds. Some have had no family connections in law. Many have achieved excellent academic results at UQ, which has enhanced their international law opportunities, but this is not true of all of the former UQ students that I have kept in contact with over the years. Some of these students have participated as students in legal advocacy competitions such as the Jessup International Law moot competition, but others have not taken part in such competitions. Some have done internships with international organisations, but others have not. Some have studied overseas, others have not. There are multiple career paths that they have followed.

Before getting in to some individual stories, one final general point. While not all of the former UQ students who have pursued successful careers in international law have achieved outstanding academic results at UQ, excellent academic results do help a great deal. While former students have not always done extremely well in their general studies, they have all studied diligently in the area of international law. Wide and careful reading of the international law case law and literature has been a common feature of all of the successful former students who I have kept in contact with. Through the development of their research and writing skills, in the field of international law, some of these former students have been able to create wonderful careers even though they had only modest academic results at UQ.

But again, I must stress, good academic results definitely help. They will help you secure funding for internships and scholarships to study abroad. Average results reduce your chances of admission to prestigious overseas universities and increase the chances that you will have to pay your own way to study abroad.

With modest academic results it is still, however, possible to study abroad at excellent institutions in places like Leiden in the Netherlands and in Geneva. And if you do study abroad, and do well in that study, your most recent degree is what scholarship awarding bodies will focus upon in the future. So achieving good results overseas in a Masters degree, for example, can increase the chances of you getting a PhD scholarship at a prestigious university overseas.

The first former student who I would like to specifically mention[2] is Melinda Taylor.[3] Melinda is now senior defence counsel in the field of international criminal law in The Hague. Melinda competed in the Jessup moot competition as a UQ student and then completed an internship with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Melinda didn’t initially study abroad.[4] Melinda established her career on employment with the ICTY and the International Criminal Court (which followed her internship) and she developed her expertise in international criminal law through practice. She now represents high profile defendants in important international criminal law cases.

The second former UQ student is Michelle Butler.[5] Michelle is now a barrister at Matrix Chambers in London which has a concentration of some of the very best international law practitioners including Professor Christine Chinkin and Professor Philippe Sands. Michelle did not compete in any mooting competitions at UQ. However, like Melinda, Michelle did do an unpaid internship in the area of international criminal law. She also completed a Masters degree in international law in the UK, having received a scholarship for academic excellence. The combination of this Masters Degree and the experience she derived and connections she made through her internship helped establish her career, which has now expanded beyond international criminal law to include, for example, advocacy before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

All of the students who I mention by name in this address worked extremely hard in the field of international law at UQ and achieved excellent academic outcomes and nothing should be implied regarding the academic results they achieved at UQ, other than that they studied international law diligently at UQ.

The third former UQ student is Katherine Del Mar.[6] Katherine did compete in mooting competitions at UQ (the Red Cross IHL moot competition and the space law moot competition); but she did not do an internship. After studying international law at UQ, Katherine enrolled in a Masters Degree in Geneva. This was followed by a PhD in international law in Geneva and Katherine now is practising at the Bar in London at 4 New Square.

Katherine Del Mar has appeared before the International Court of Justice with our fourth former UQ student, Kate Parlett.[7] Kate had no direct family connections with the law, with both of her parents having been primary school teachers on the Gold Coast. Kate didn’t do any internships but she did do extremely well academically at UQ, competed in the Jessup moot competition and received scholarships to do a Masters Degree and then a PhD in international law in the UK. Kate worked for a period in Paris with the firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and is now at the Bar in London at 20 Essex St, where she works with Belinda McRae, who you can meet on the 5th of May at UQ, and Jonathan Ketcheson, another former UQ student. Kate was recently invited to speak on careers in international law in Washington DC to a packed room of young lawyers just near Capitol Hill in Washington. She spoke at UQ in 2016 on careers in international law and she is sure to visit UQ again.

The final former UQ student is the major reason why so many former UQ students have worked at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Paris. Ben Juratowitch [8] didn’t do moots at UQ but he did do an internship and he received a Rhodes Scholarship to complete a DPhil in the UK. He has risen rapidly through the ranks at Freshfields and he is now that firm’s global head of its public international law practice. Ben values the quality of the legal education that students receive at UQ. He has employed a number of brilliant former UQ students. Catherine Drummond, who taught international law at UQ in 2013 and 2015, is currently working with Ben in Paris.

To conclude, there are three general points I would like to finish on. The first is that each of these success stories is built on dedication and hard work in developing legal research and writing skills in international law. All 5 of these former UQ students have worked incredibly hard to develop their legal research and analytical skills; reading and analysing cases, journal articles and monographs (and, for most of them, also writing journal articles and monographs). The second point I wish to emphasise is that all of these former students have been very generous in offering advice and support to more recent UQ graduates. I would strongly recommend, for example, that you come to hear Belinda McRae speak at UQ on the 5th of May. Details of her visit are available via the Facebook page of the UQ International Law Society. [9] The third point I wish to emphasise relates to the diversity in the ways in which these careers have been developed. I think this diversity illustrates the benefits of being flexible with your career plans. Often wonderful opportunities will appear unexpectedly. Being open to taking these unexpected opportunities as and when they arise can open other even more exciting career opportunities.

Despite Brexit and Trump, there are still many important and fulfilling opportunities in international law and there are amazing former UQ students who are prepared to help you make the most of these opportunities. Study hard and do the best you can academically and this will allow you to make the most of these opportunities. Thank you and good luck! 

 

 

[1] http://www.20essexst.com/member/belinda-mcrae - I believe that Belinda is currently on secondment to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. 

[2] All of the students who I mention by name in this address worked extremely hard in the field of international law at UQ and achieved excellent academic outcomes and nothing should be implied regarding the academic results they achieved at UQ, other than that they studied international law diligently at UQ.

[3] See, for example, https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/features/5734-So-you-want-to-be-an-international- lawyer-, https://cicj.org/2016/11/amp-session-with-melinda-taylor-on-10-november/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melinda_Taylor.

[4] Although after establishing herself in The Hague, Melinda obtained a Masters degree in the UK.

[5] https://www.matrixlaw.co.uk/member/michelle-butler/ 

[6] http://www.4newsquare.com/barristers/katherine-del-mar/

[7] http://www.20essexst.com/member/kate-parlett

[8] https://www.freshfields.com/en-gb/contacts/find-a-lawyer/j/juratowitch-ben/ 

[9] https://www.facebook.com/uqils/ 

 

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: SOCIAL JUSTICE GALA 2017

JUSTICE RANGIAH OF THE FEDERAL COURT

SOCIAL JUSTICE GALA FOR THE REFUGEE & IMMIGRATION LEGAL SERVICE

BRISBANE – 31 MARCH 2017

I feel privileged to have been asked to address you on the occasion of JATL’s fundraising event in support of RAILS.  This is partly because I don’t often have a captive audience of young people who I can inflict my ideas on.

The theme underlying my speech is why we choose to study law and become lawyers. For some people it is because they can earn bucketloads of money. For some, it is because of the prestige. But for many, it is because they see the law as a way of making a difference to peoples’ lives and to our society as a whole.

The importance of the work done by RAILS, its staff, its volunteers and its management committee cannot be overstated.  Often, it is literally life changing.  I will give you just one example.

Many years ago, I was briefed by RAILS to act for a man who had been accepted as a refugee and wanted to bring his family to Australia.  Their story was tragic.  The man had been abducted from his village in Somalia. He eventually escaped and returned, only to find that his village had been razed to the ground. His wife and his two young daughters had disappeared and were believed to be dead.  He made his way to a refugee camp and was eventually accepted as a refugee by Australia.  Two years later, he was contacted by the Red Cross and he was told that his family was not dead.  They had escaped and ended up in a refugee camp in Romania, where they were living in squalid conditions. 

With the assistance of RAILS, he applied for his family to join him in Australia.  The then Minister for Immigration refused one of his daughters a visa.  The reason was that she had cerebral palsy, and the Minister considered she would be too much of a drain on Australia’s resources.  Naturally, the client was distraught.  He had thought his family was dead, then found that they were alive, but could not be reunited with them.

We challenged the Minister’s decision in the Federal Court of Australia.  On the day before the hearing, the Minister changed her mind and reversed her decision.  Some may think it was cruel to keep the family separated for so long when the same decision could have been made a year earlier.  However, the family was finally reunited.  For them, the work done by RAILS was literally life changing.  This is only one of thousands of stories and only one example of the thousands of lives that RAILS has affected. 

This is the power and the beauty of the law – the ability to profoundly affect people’s lives.  You may find that cases like the one I have described are amongst the most satisfying of your career.  All areas of law are important, but long after the commercial disputes between large companies are forgotten, what remains are the cases where you have made a real difference to someone’s life.  That is why the staff, volunteers and management committee are so passionate about the work that RAILS does. 

Many of you have chosen to study law because you believe in the ideals of fairness, justice and equality in our society and the capacity of law to make a difference to people’s lives.  As students or graduates of the University of Queensland, you will be amongst the best and brightest of the next generation of lawyers.  You may not realise it yet, but you are the people who will mould and shape our system of law for the next 20 to 50 years, and by doing so, you will have a profound impact on the way that our society will look in the future. 

So what will the law, and our society, look like in 50 years time?  I have no idea.  But we can get some idea of the scale of change that will take place over the next 50 years by looking back and examining the law and society of 50 years ago, in 1967. 

The most important legal change in Australia in 1967 was the referendum held on 27 May that year. One of the questions asked, in effect, whether s 127 of the Constitution should be repealed.  Section 127 said: 

In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State, or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted. 

The referendum question was overwhelmingly answered “yes”, but it is astonishing to think that until then, Aboriginal people were not even recognised as part of the population of their own country.  The inclusion of s 127 in the Constitution seems to have been informed by a belief that the Aboriginal race would die out and also by attitudes such as that expressed by a member of parliament from Tasmania, Mr O’Mally who, in the parliamentary debates concerning the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 (Cth), said about Aborigines “There is no scientific evidence that he is a human being at all”.

Incredibly, it was not until 1965 that Aborigines were allowed to vote in Queensland elections, following the Commonwealth giving Queensland Aborigines the right to vote in Commonwealth elections in 1962.  Today, there are many Aboriginal people who within their own lifetimes were disenfranchised in their own country.

Nowadays, if some politician suggested that Aborigines should be deprived of the right to vote, or that they should not be counted amongst the population of Australia, there would be astonishment and outrage.  When we look back at the society of 50 years ago, we wonder how people could possibly have thought like that, and how Aboriginal people could possibly have been treated like that. 

What I ask you to consider is this: in 20, 30 or 50 years’ time, what will people say about us?  What are the issues about which they will ask “How could they possibly have thought like that?”, or “How could they have treated people like that?”

There are several such issues that occur to me, such as our treatment of people with mental illnesses, the sexual abuse of children and the abuse of other vulnerable people.  I ask that you give consideration to the questions that I have posed because the first step in resolving a problem is to identify the problem.  Your generation of lawyers has the opportunity, and the responsibility, to identify and redress some of the great problems of inequality and injustice in our community. 

How do you do that? There are two ways. First, as lawyers you can use, shape and mould the law to make a much fairer, just and equitable society. When you look at the society of 1967, you see the legal and social repression of many groups which did not fit into the mainstream: for example, homosexuals, black people, people with disabilities and those who protested against the status quo, such as anti-Vietnam war demonstrators.  We know now of the rampant sexual abuse of children in care that authorities ignored. The changes made in these areas have been led by lawyers. In my opinion, they are changes much for the better.

The second way lawyers can redress inequality and injustice is by leading changes in societal attitudes. It is true that many lawyers are wealthy. Lawyers have a certain prestige in our society. Lawyers also wield great power because law is one of the most powerful forces in our society. With wealth, prestige and power, comes the ability to influence societal change. It is not just the Instagram models, You-Tubers and stars of “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!” who can influence social attitudes.

I want to briefly focus on one particular problem in our legal system and our society.  It is a problem so obvious and so fundamental that I wonder how we can have ignored it or done so little to address it for so long.  It is a legal issue as well as a societal problem. It is the problem of violence against women, including sexual assault and sexual harassment. 

All the progress that has been made towards equality in representation of women in parliament, in the judiciary and in the professions is meaningless to many women who are subjected to physical and sexual violence in Australian society.  It is a problem that has been ignored or inadequately addressed for too long. 

The statistics are chilling.  At least one woman per week is killed by a partner or former partner in Australia.  One in four Australian women over the age of 15 has experienced physical violence.  One in five Australian women has experienced sexual violence. But the precise numbers matter less than the reality that our society can have tolerated such violent and degrading treatment of so many for so long.

We think of Australia as a civilized and enlightened society.  The statistics I have cited are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the brutal treatment of woman in many of the most populous countries in the world. 

In Pakistan and many countries in the middle-east, there are so called “honour killings”.  The United Nations estimates that some 5,000 woman are killed for this reason each year.  In India, the practice known as “bride burning” sees more than 8,000 woman killed per year.  These are women whose families do not pay the amounts demanded by their husband’s family for their dowry.  In Russia, domestic violence is endemic and is estimated that some 14,000 woman die from domestic violence each year.  There is presently a Bill before the Russian parliament to make moderate violence an administrative rather than criminal offence, not that there is real enforcement of criminal laws in domestic violence cases in any event.  In the USA, it is estimated that more than 20,000 calls are placed each day to domestic violence hotlines, and it is also estimated that the presence of guns in domestic violence situations increases the risk of homicide by 500%. 

There is overwhelming evidence that the astonishing level of violence against women stems from societal attitudes towards gender roles and expectations.  It seems obvious that the key to equal treatment of woman must be a societal belief that woman are equal to men.  Change must start with change in the attitude of men towards women.

There is considerable debate at the moment about whether Muslims have a responsibility to speak out against acts of terrorism perpetrated by other Muslims. What is surprising is that there has not been the same debate about the responsibility of men to speak out against the violence perpetrated by other men against women.

That gets me to really what I want to say tonight.  It is men who are the problem, not women, and it is therefore men that must be a major part of the solution.  As men, particularly men who are in a position of power and privilege, we have the responsibility to examine our own attitudes and to influence the attitudes of our peers.  It is a fact that men, particularly young men, are greatly influenced by their peers.  It is also true that domestic violence and sexual assault cross all socio-economic lines.  Any major change in the rates of violence towards woman must start with a change in societal attitudes towards woman and men must influence that change by speaking out against prevailing attitudes and against violence. 

As lawyers and potential lawyers, we have a position of great power and great privilege in our society.  We affect, influence and change one of the most powerful forces acting upon our society – the law.  Lawyers have the responsibility to use, to mould and to shape the law to produce a more equitable and just society. We also have a responsibility to use our positions to bring about changes in society’s attitudes towards legal issues.  Ask how people will look back at our society in 50 years. Ask what must change, and then do something about it.  That is the enormous contribution already made by the staff, the volunteers and management committee of RAILS, and by other community legal centers.

I have not wanted to deliver a polemic or diatribe tonight – although I may have.  However, it is not often that I have an audience of young lawyers and law students, and I thought that this is an important message to share.  I wish you all well in your careers. To return to the theme I started with, I hope that in between making a great contribution to the law and society, you enjoy all the wealth, prestige and success that a legal career brings.

Law, Liberties and Rights: Foreword by Walter Sofronoff QC

I can recall in 1991 on the occasion of my first visit to Russia, from which my father had fled on horseback in 1930 leaving his parents and his brother and sister for ever, an episode occurred which has echoed in my mind ever since. My wife and I were in a park in Leningrad, as St Petersburg was called then. It was a glorious summer’s day in July and two Russian friends had taken us to a park for a picnic. We walked past massive old oak trees and under their dark shade along a gravel path, which wound through the vast grassy parkland. Everything was a bright green of the kind you never see in Queensland. In a mimicry of those clichéd love scenes in movies, in which the lovers skip hand in hand over green grass in slow motion, I took my wife’s hand and we plunged over the grass while I bellowed out a tune, I forget what now, but perhaps the theme from Love Story or some such. I was brought round roughly from this foolishness by my Russian friends who dragged us off the grass and back onto the path. “You can’t go on the grass,” they said. I looked around. There was no ‘Keep off the grass’ sign. Why can’t I go on the grass? “Because you can’t”. I observed that there was no sign saying I couldn’t do so. “No, no,” they insisted. “If it is permissible to tread on the grass there would be a sign giving such permission.” 

There, in a brief and otherwise inconsequential human interaction evoking the entirely spontaneous and otherwise mundane reactions of the people involved, is a demonstration of the visceral state of belief of two sets of people brought up within two distinct sets of culture, tradition and history. A lesson in constitutional law as a part of the make-up of a human being. 

It had amused me a great deal when I had read, long ago, the catalogue of civil rights which had been conferred upon citizens of the Soviet Union by their written constitution. Those rights were every part the equal of those guaranteed to citizens of the United States of America and of which there is, as you know, no written equivalent in our own country. Of course, those rights were never exercised by anyone in the Soviet Union and, perhaps, there were indeed no legal or practical means to have enforced them anyway.

Why is it then, that in a country which had a written constitutional guarantee of full civil rights, two of its citizens behaved with such an instinctive appreciation that they lacked any such rights; while the two citizens of another

country, who had never enjoyed the benefit of any written guarantees of civil liberties at all, acted in accordance with a fundamental assumption that they possessed such liberties in full and that liberty under the law means, at least, that any act is permitted if it is not expressly forbidden by a valid law? Research required by a proposed constitutional challenge has required me to read again the history of the development of our constitutional system from Magna Carta to the enactment of our own Australian Constitution and to the present day.

Freedom, I learned, is the product of civilization, not an inherent attribute of nature. A society will evolve not by deciding upon a set of common laws to obey but by a spontaneous willingness on the part of a group of people to conform to the same standards of conduct. From this habit of principled conformity will evolve an articulation of rules of self-discipline - not to steal, not to murder, not to commit incest and so on.

Such a society will, over the course of time, also determine that there must be some things that nobody has power to do. From this it will follow that minorities will submit to laws conceived by the majority because the majority is prepared to submit itself to those same sets of laws. In due course habituated patterns of law making, voluntary and cheerful obedience to laws justified by the visible application of laws equally to everyone, will result in the evolution of legal institutions of an enduring kind – a legislature, courts, an executive acting in accordance with the rule of law. It is an unshakeable willingness on the part of all of us to conform to these fundamentals which has resulted in our stable constitutional democracy; everything else is just ink on paper.

When it is seen, then, that institutions such as courts, are really nothing more and nothing less than a combination of people who share a common appreciation of expected behaviour and a common knowledge and recollection of how to behave, some of that knowledge being cultural and ingrained and some of it taught as a body of formal scholarship, it may be accepted that an institution has, for just those reasons, an enduring vitality. It is hard to destroy a group. A single person will find it hard to destroy an institution comprised of numerous people engaged in patterns of repeated behaviour guided by devotion to a principle. A single rotten apple will not, in fact, taint anyone else because the others are repelled by the stench.

Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that any such institution is invulnerable to harm. Our personal concern as lawyers – whether we are lawyers in actual practice or like you, lawyers in the making – is principally with the courts. Any Australian lawyer who in due time gains a sense of his or her place in the long British, and shorter Australian, tradition of the administration of justice

will come to take for granted that the system generally works, that it is not corrupt nor corruptible and that those who work within it, by and large, are trying to do their best in accordance with proper principle as they see it. Indeed, I believe that to the extent that we take these things for granted and are right for doing so at the particular time, it is proof that these institutions are functioning properly and proof of their enduring strength. They would hardly be stable and abiding institutions if we had to be constantly worried about them.

However, life is not perfect and threats exist. Fortunately in this country, threats to the integrity of the courts do not arise from criminal behaviour on the part of outsiders or those who work within the system itself. Corruption induced by money or threats of harm to judges or lawyers is unknown. Threats to integrity are more likely to arise from the consequences of a defective personality which is driven not by principle but by selfish ambition or an unhealthy desire for power or prestige. In the case of people on the outside of the system, like politicians with power or influence in such matters, we can add as a potential source of harm a lack of proper education or relevant experience, an absent sense of history and an inability to understand what underlies the need for integrity in public office and why appointing friends just because they are friends to important posts won’t work.

People like these draw strength when they misbehave from the timidity and apathy of lawyers who seek a quiet life but who ought instead be reacting with zealous rage. A willingness to harm our precious institutions makes fools of each one of us and we should be strident in our objection to being made fools. The end of liberty in the sense in which we enjoy it in Australia is not now on the horizon and I do not believe that it ever will be. An end to our liberties of a sudden kind could only be brought about by a cataclysmic event and we, as a people, are not prone to initiate or to take part in cataclysms.

The danger does not lie there. It lies, rather, in a gradual erosion of liberty by the glacially slow elimination of rights and privileges, whether by political or by legal acts, or by the failure or refusal of those who are under a duty to act in accordance with expected standards to do so for reasons of a personal kind. Habitual rejection of principled conduct by any of us who serve the ends of justice will, in time, affect people’s expectations and faith in the system which we serve. I believe that we live in a country in which we expect and require that people be appointed to positions of power because they will do what is right and not in order that whatever they do is, for that reason, to be taken to be right. However, that could change and we can find ourselves working in a legal system staffed by political flunkies or friends of political flunkies.

Appointments made for irrelevant purposes, out of mere friendship or to serve some perceived political goal, degrade our system of justice at its foundation because, by definition, an absence of merit in an appointment means an absence of necessary technical skill or personal integrity.

If politicians persist in degrading the quality of our institutions without objection from the rest of us, our ingrained customary belief in our freedom to walk on Australian grass, the product of centuries of thought, work and sacrifice, will be replaced by a cynical, depressing and correct expectation that the grass is reserved only for the feet of those with the right connections.

The only possible way to prevent something like this happening is for those of us whose lives are lived around or within the institutions of the law, particularly lawyers, to react with loud outrage whenever we sense any intrusion upon our precious ways of life. We have examples of such principled reactions easily to hand. The journalists who, in 1986, wrote the articles and TV documentaries which compelled even a corrupt government to establish a commission of inquiry were such people. The lawyers who worked within the resulting commission, the Fitzgerald Inquiry as it came to be known, were also such people. The report of that commission, which I have been re-reading for the reason I have explained, is worth studying even today and a great deal of it has once again become highly relevant, unfortunately so. The lawyers and law students who work for free on difficult cases to defend the rights of asylum seekers (or refugees as they were called when my own parents came here from a refugee camp in the Philippines in 1949) are also of that kind. In fact, any person who feels compelled merely to write a letter to a media outlet, by a sense that an important public principle has been violated, is also in that category.

Malice, ignorance and selfishness hate the embarrassment of publicity. What all of the protectors of liberty have had in common, from Tom Paine to the lawyers who at the present time act without hope of personal gain for indigent clients oppressed by executive action, is that the remedy they seek always involves a public vindication of rights. They welcome bringing the issues into the public eye upon the grounds of reasoned principle; their opponents hate it.

And what of you, the law student?

I believe that the moment when you begin to regard yourself as a full participant in the administration of justice and a defender of its institutions comes when you decide it has come. It can be now or it may be never. But one thing is true: you do not need a degree or a practicing certificate to consider yourself qualified to be one of those at the barricades.

And you do not need to be a highly experienced lawyer to have a significant effect. In 1977 it was a law student (not me, although I wish it had been) who initiated a private prosecution against the Premier of Queensland alleging a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. He lost the case, he could hardly have won it, but he won the point: a demonstration that the law applies to everyone equally and that anyone is free to approach the courts for a remedy. And, moreover, he demonstrated that if you have a point to make in defence of liberty and the law you will often find that you are not alone but that others, perhaps powerful others, will come to stand with you if you are prepared, at first, to do it alone.

 

Building a Passionate Career - Advice from Stephen Page

Stephen Page is one of Australia's leading surrogacy and divorce lawyers. He has written and spoken extensively about family law, domestic violence and surrogacy.  Stephen is the author of the Australian Divorce Blog, the Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog and the Australian Surrogacy and Adoption Blog. We strongly encourage our readers to access these blogs to find out more about Stephen and these respective topics.

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1.     Who am I?

I am a 53 year old white Protestant male who has now been an admitted solicitor for over 30 years and an Accredited Family Law Specialist for over 20 years.  I am the father of two adult sons of whom I am very proud.

And I have a husband.  Mitchell and I married in Las Vegas in 2015.  Our marriage is not yet recognised here.

2.     Why I chose law

I was fairly lazy at high school and disorganised.  Going to university required me to be organised.  I wasn’t that good at maths but I was pretty good at English.  Both my parents were or had been teachers.  I didn’t want to be a teacher.

I didn’t have anyone in my family who was a lawyer.  My mother was the first member of her family who went to university.  My father was the first of his family to go to university.  The only lawyer I knew was the family solicitor who was not much of a guide to how to become a lawyer.

As I was approaching the end of my high school, and I looked at my career options, I thought: “Why not?” I decided to do law. 

3.     Why I didn’t go to UQ

I lived in St Lucia and UQ was a walk away from home.  Those reasons were:

a)     The rational reason.  My father, Les Page, then held a senior job in administration at UQ.  He subsequently became the academic registrar.  Thousands, probably tens of thousands of academic results were signed by him.  Given what I had heard at the dinner table about how some academic staff reacted to what they called the Kremlin, I figured that if I went to UQ, I would be bullied, because of my association with dad.  He was disappointed that I didn’t choose UQ.  Subsequently, my sister did a BA at UQ and was bullied by various staff – because of the association with my father.

 

b)     The emotional reason.  I ended up going to QIT open day when I was in year 12.  There was a film showing in a lecture theatre “How my law degree changed my life”.  It was even more boring than it sounds.  I wandered down to what seemed to be the world’s ugliest building, L block, which has thankfully now been demolished, put my money into a vending machine for a soft drink and out came a can of beer!  Armed with my tinny, I went next door to the Botanic Gardens and as a 17 year old thought “this is the place for me!”

 

4.     How I ended up doing Family Law

On graduating, I had the choice of doing what is now PLT or articles of clerkship.  Pretty well everyone did the latter back then.  We were paid a pittance and expected to work long hours.  I had one boss who told me repeatedly, how lucky I was to be paid when in his day I would have to pay to be employed as an articled clerk.  My job included taking the rubbish out, driving partners to social events, taking dry cleaning to the shop, driving here and yon to get trust account authorities, to retrieve files, acting as a waiter during my lunch hour for the firm’s partners and their clients, filing and all the other rubbish tasks that no-one else wanted to do and of course legal work.

At the university I had particularly enjoyed equity and trusts and thought therefore that I would enjoy commercial work.  The jobs market for graduates back then was horrible, the worst it had ever been and not quite as bad as it is now.  There were 29 other applicants for my position.

And then I discovered that insurance law, which is the main work that I did, was going to send me crazy.  I thought it was the most singularly boring thing I’d ever done.  If you enjoy insurance law, good luck to you.  Quite simply, I didn’t.  The firm did some family law.  A female lawyer joined the firm.  Her nickname was The Dragon.  The rest of the office had become non-smoking, but her office was filled with smoke.  Her files smelt of smoke.  The air in her office either had a blue or grey hue, depending on sunlight. 

She was a particularly good chucker.  She would chuck her phone, keys, files or whatever came to hand in her anger in dealing with other lawyers, frustration of things not being done, or of course her clients.  Being her underling, I was the recipient of much of this. 

The Dragon also was singularly the one person I have met who had an extraordinary vocabulary and use of swearing.  I have never met anyone who swore as much as she did. 

And yet, The Dragon was extremely passionate about her clients.  She was dealing with real people and their real problems.  Her clients loved her, because she fought for them.  They knew she cared.

I didn’t swear before I met her, and I have to confess I swear more now more than I would like.  I don’t throw things.  The Dragon inspired me to undertake family law.  I had hated studying family law at university and I thought that of all the subjects I could do that would be the last.  It was palm tree justice stuff.  It wasn’t real law.

I stumbled into family law much the same way as I stumbled into law. 

5.     A passion for change

When I took my oath of office on admission, I said to myself that it wasn’t just enough that I was now admitted as a solicitor.  I had to look to the high ideals of the profession.  This included helping others and above all changing the law so that it was fair.

I have continued to have a passion for the law and for my clients.  There are lawyers who are burnt out who simply should get out.  I’m lucky that every day I wake up (at least most days) and think how lucky am I to be doing this job – to be able to change people’s lives, to enable people to stand on their own two feet.

Our clients have legal problems and they call upon us to try and solve them.  Sometimes we make their problems worse.  Sometimes what we do is ineffectual.  It might be because of our own inadequacies, but more likely it’s theirs or the state of the law.

Some years ago I was phoned by an old client who phoned me to thank me.  There was nothing particularly special about this day, except this phone call came out of the blue.  I hadn’t heard from her in the previous seven years.  She said that her life had changed and it had all been because of me. I then recounted what had happened in her case.  She was an Aboriginal woman living in Brisbane.  She had been the subject of horrific domestic violence.  Her husband had roped in their teenage boys to also beat her up, with the result that on the day of separation the three of them threw her over the bonnet of their car, resulting in severe bleeding to her face, bruising and other injuries.  She managed to make it to the local GP clinic.  They patched her up.  They called the police. 

The police did not do their duty.  The police took her to a women’s refuge.  The police were obliged by law to consider charging him with an offence.  She asked them to do so.  They didn’t.  The police were obliged to seek a protection order.  They didn’t.  Instead, she came to me and sought that I solve her legal problems.  We complained about the police.  I just wanted them to do their job.  Eventually the husband was charged, and convicted, but he wasn’t jailed.

We managed to get a protection order, simply on the return day of the husband turned up late.  By the time he turned up, the magistrate refused to revoke it.  The husband didn’t apply to revoke it.

My client went to the Family Court to have her sons live with her.  The family report said that the boys were completely under the influence of their father, couldn’t make a free decision and didn’t want to spend time with my client – and nothing could be done.  My client gave up the court case.

I recounted these events to my client and said I tried everything I could, but it still felt bad.  She said: “You changed my life.”  How?  She said: “Because I didn’t believe in myself.  No-one believed in me.  Not even me believed in me – but you and you alone believed in me, and that made all the difference.” 

My client had married a very gentle man who was not a drunk or abusive.  She had managed to obtain full-time employment in what many would consider a menial job – but given that she had a grade 3 education and was from the most disadvantaged group in the country, namely an Aboriginal woman, she was doing well.  I delighted in her successes.

She then said her boys had shaken off their father and they were living with her.

I have a fundamental belief that all of us are equal under the law.  This is the underpinning of our democracy.  We all expect to be treated equally when we are before a court or subject to the rules of a statute.  Unfortunately, the law has continued to discriminate and disempower.

Often when the law is changed to remove discrimination and to empower people, such as domestic violence legislation or the Family Law Act, lawyers or judges or police are reluctant to use those powers or in fact determined not to use them because of their personal views.  It is my job as a lawyer acting for clients to uphold their rights.  At times this becomes mighty uncomfortable for others and sometimes for myself.  Family law is a hard business.  I am constantly dealing with unhappy people who have split up and may have mental health issues.  It is no walk in the park.  Upholding the human rights of these clients and their children can be immensely satisfying. 

6.     How I got into surrogacy: turning disadvantage to advantage

I was not only a good technical lawyer, but it was perceived that I had courage.  As a result, I had my first lesbian client back in 1992.  In those days, acting for lesbians in family law was difficult.  The law discriminated.  If a woman left her husband for another woman she had better watch out – the kids were likely to be taken off her.  Thankfully we don’t have that overt discrimination these days.  From that small beginning, I had a succession of lesbian clients.  Over time, I had a number of occasional trans clients and many gay clients. 

Invariably, I would be asked about how to make babies – other than the old fashioned way.  I started to give advice about artificial conception and then surrogacy. 

In 2007 I started to blog.  I am now the author of three blogs which don’t get enough time for me: The Australian Divorce Blog, Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog and the Australian Surrogacy and Adoption Blog.

I now do more surrogacy than anyone else.  When the law was changing in 2008 onwards across Australia, I realised that I had a competitive advantage over everyone else.  I had couples in Queensland coming to me seeking to become parents through surrogacy.  Queensland was the only state that criminalised surrogacy here and there at all times.  They asked the obvious question: “Given it’s not legal to do surrogacy here where is it legal?”  As a result, I had to find out the law in every other State.  Lawyers in other places didn’t do that.  They just relied on their local law. 

I thought that if Queensland wasn’t too slow, I would be able to use this competitive advantage and if I was really lucky, I would have a national practice.  I now have that practice.  I am the only lawyer to have appeared in four States in surrogacy matters: Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.  I have advised clients in all eight states and territories and at last count 24 countries overseas. 

I have continued to press for change.  This has resulted in me spending my own time in seeking change to occur, whether in submissions direct to ministers, or to parliamentary committees about surrogacy or gay rights or other issues or about domestic violence – I have just continued to push. 

I don’t consider that I am particularly special but I know that if I don’t, then it’s likely that no-one else will.  Having the skills of an articulate lawyer available to me and some resources with typing, I can push my message. 

I have played a role in crafting the current Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 2012.  I was part of a group of men, who were the first to argue that the Act say that domestic violence was gendered.  None of the women’s groups argued that!

I caused a provision to go in the earlier Act and then in this Act to ensure that kids would not be the automatic victims in court of their parents’ court applications.  Leave would be required before they could give evidence or be called as witnesses.

I caused a provision in this bill that before a magistrate made a domestic violence order, he or she would have to consider whether there was a family law order in place and whether that order should be stayed.

7.     The sky is the limit!

When I left law school we all joked who would ever had a case about when life began.  I had such a case.  In 2012 the Childrens Court of Queensland was the first Court in the world to decide when a child was conceived.  Judge Clare SC, on my submissions, found that conception of a child was at pregnancy, not at fertilisation of the embryo.  This was necessary because of a case that I had under the Surrogacy Act.  If it were the other way round, the intended parents could never become the parents of the child. 

In 2011, I spoke at the world’s first International Surrogacy Conference – held in Las Vegas.  I presented on the law back home, and because of nine systems of law the paper was almost 60 pages!

The chair of the Committee told me there was a proposal to have a Hague Convention on surrogacy, much like the Adoption Convention.  I had had something to drink at that stage.  In typical Australian bluntness, trained by The Dragon, I told him exactly what I thought.  His response was to put me in charge of the project!  He agreed with me entirely. 

The culmination of thousands of hours of work occurred in February 2016 when the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association (the Association’s Parliament) approved the policy paper that I had steered and co-written to be the official policy of the American Bar Association as to a proposed Hague Surrogacy Convention.  The paper which I had steered from my little office in Brisbane on the other side of the globe had been accepted as policy of approximately 400,000 attorneys in the world’s richest, largest and most influential lawyers’ group.  If you had told me when I graduated that I would be doing family law or I would achieve that, I would have said “Tell him he’s dreaming!”

8.     Courage to change

It is important that if we are practising law, we have passion as lawyers, as both the law and for our clients.  The practice of law despite the long hours and the constant stress is a calling, not a business.  Too often I have heard judges and barristers say to me that too rarely do lawyers reflect before putting something in action.  Too often it is shoot first and think second.

I reflect on my matters.  I do this when I am in the shower or in a vacant moment or even staring out the window. 

It is important for all of us to have courage.  I was a very quiet kid and shy.  I am now very talkative.  What changed was that I had to stand up in front of a stranger (a judge) and advocate for my clients.  If I failed, they failed.  I was not prepared to fail.

In June 2012, Attorney Bleijie wanted to turn the clock back and remove the recognition of lesbian co-partners as mothers and to criminalise gays, lesbians and singles for undertaking surrogacy. 

I decided to fight this with all my might.  I was told by colleagues that that was particularly stupid because the Government had the numbers and could push anything through.  I was told to be concerned about my position.  I was told that I was being brave.  I said that I did not see that I was being brave but that given that I was the most prominent lawyer in this field if I didn’t act, I would be rightly accused of cowardice.

Ultimately, seven of us got together (I was the only lawyer) which became an organisation: Queenslanders for Equality.  At a critical meeting I stupidly said: “So after today, who’s in charge?”  I was unanimously elected as convenor!

Our chances of success in defeating the proposal were 0-3%.  We were assisted by the community, the media, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Queensland Law Society, the Opposition, LNP members and others.  Ranged against us were the Australian Christian Lobby. 

After nine months of fighting, there were only two of us, not seven.  I received an email on a Monday from the other who said that he was burnt out, that he couldn’t do it anymore and that he was giving up.  It was just me against the government.  I felt the weight on my shoulders of this matter from the beginning but particularly on that day and for the next three days.  On the Thursday came the news that the government had surrendered and that it was “deferring” the proposal.  The proposal died then and there.  We had, against the odds, won!

Never forget to have courage.  Never forget that we can change the world for the better.  Each of us no matter how small and insignificant we think we are, have the capacity to do so.  Look into your heart and soul and you will see that courage with that, if you are smart and determined to get help from others, you can conquer the world.  Good luck!