The ten secrets to surviving Law School REVEALED

I originally wrote this post in 2017, but I’m reposting it this week to share with my new students. Good luck with law school!

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OK, that title was complete clickbait. And usually this is a blog about health law. But we run a Master of Health Law program, as well as doing research, so I thought I’d try something different.

The first year of Law School is tough. I didn’t enjoy it very much and I spent a lot of time flailing around, not entirely sure what I was doing.

I feel like I have a slightly better idea now that I’ve completed two undergraduate degrees and a PhD, and started working as a lecturer.

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Me, but not really.

So, having lived to tell the tale, here are my top ten tips for surviving law school.

  1. Come to class

I get it. All the lectures are recorded these days, so why bother getting out of your pajamas and coming to class? First, research shows that attending lectures can improve students’ academic performance. Second (and just as important), university can be a lonely place. Lectures are a reason to get out of bed, put on real clothes, and interact with other human beings. Who knows? You may even make a new friend. Lectures give your day a sense of structure, and they could even help us learn to listen without checking Facebook or doing a spot of online shopping.

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  1. Read the cases

Every semester I get this question:

Do I really need to read the cases?

The answer is yes. Emphatically, and unequivocally.

Along with statutes, cases are our source of law – not your lecturer, and not the textbook. Lecturers may explain the principle deriving from a case, but if you don’t know the facts or the reasoning behind the decision, how will you know if that principle can be applied to the facts in a problem question? Further down the track, when you’re a practicing lawyer, your client’s case may turn on the meaning of the word “reasonable.” And he or she will expect you to have read and understood all of the relevant cases on what “reasonable” means. There’s a lot of reading, I know, but cases become easier to read with practice, and your writing will improve as your reading does.

Judgments are the foundation of our discipline and our practice, and it makes me feel like this when students seem to think that reading cases isn’t necessary.

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  1. Learn how to learn

Law School’s simple, right? Come to class, read cases, take notes, done.

Not so much.

You need to learn a number of new skills along with cramming your head full of content. These include: writing a concise case summary, learning how to answer a problem question, and conveying information effectively in oral and written form. It took me a long time to learn that just taking screeds of notes was not the path to effective study. Learn from my mistakes and think critically about what you’re doing. The Law School has a number of resources for learning the skills required to be a successful law student, and a book like this one may also help.

  1. Get to know how special consideration and appeal processes work – right now

The University of Sydney has a central process for dealing with (most) special consideration requests, and for disability services. It’s a good idea to know about these services before you need to use them. Don’t be the person panicking on the day of the exam because you’re sick and can’t sit the exam, and don’t know what to do next. The same goes for appealing your marks. Hopefully you won’t need to use these processes, but it’s good to have at least a passing familiarity with how they work, just in case you do.

  1. Get help when you need it

There are often a lot of things happening in your life during your time at university: break-ups, moving out of home, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that really was too good to be true.  It may feel like there’s no one there to help if you if you’re struggling. But the University has a range of services, including counselling, and the Law School offers various forms of support. Please talk to your tutor or lecturer if you have issues that are affecting your study. They may not be able to solve every problem, but they can offer strategies for catching up on work, for example. There is help available if you reach out, and it’s better to do so sooner rather than later when everything’s falling apart.

  1. Check your email

You’ve emailed me (your lecturer) about an important, life-changing event. I’ve emailed you back. You don’t check your email for a week. There’s not much I can do in the meantime, and it’s frustrating. Check your university email regularly. If you don’t think you’ll remember to do it, set up a redirect so it goes to another account that you do check on a regular basis.

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  1. Manage stress

One thing that I found invaluable during my time as a student (and in life more generally), is learning techniques for managing stress. This could mean mindfulness, exercise, catching up with friends – whatever works for you, so long as it’s sustainable and beneficial in the long run. Sitting exams and submitting assignments are stressful, and we’ve got to learn how to deal. Remember that prevention is better than cure, and regularly engaging in activities like exercise may help to avoid a death spiral of depression and anxiety.

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#blessed.
  1. Get involved

It’s often difficult for students to find time for anything but study or work. But one thing I sincerely regret not doing when I was an undergraduate is participating in the life of my faulty more. This could be performing in the Law Revue, it could be mooting, it could be only the occasional social event. I understand that students may feel like they don’t fit in, or that those sorts of things are not for them. But I can tell you from talking to my students that it’s not uncommon to feel that way. Maybe this is something faculties need to think about. But please don’t let feelings of not-fitting-in (or just plain shyness) stop you from attending events.

  1. Make the most of your degree

There’s a lot of talk about how competitive it is to get a job in law these days, particularly with the increasing number of graduates coming out of law schools. Students don’t need any more pressure to hustle to get a good job when they finish their degree. But you will get out of university what you put in. This means using your time at university to look for opportunities that will help you move towards the career you want to be in when you graduate. I’m not necessarily talking about creating a start-up to help you get a job in a law firm. I put in an application for an obscure summer scholarship that was advertised on a notice board, and that move changed the trajectory of my whole career. There are a variety of opportunities available at University, and it’s important to be proactive in searching out the ones that suit you best.

  1. Have… fun (?)

This blog post could end with a picture of happy smiling students strolling across the law school lawn, and with me saying something like, “Enjoy yourself! University is the best experience of your life, blah blah.” But law school is often demanding, and it’s not necessarily a rewarding experience being broke and living in a share house with people who may or may not have fleas.

So my final suggestion is not “have fun,” but “persist.” You will not like every course. In some, making it through the end of the lecture may be a triumph, and in those courses, survival may be the name of the game.

But you will find courses that you enjoy, and moments where you feel like you have conquered the subject. This is what makes it all worthwhile, as well as finally getting your degree at the end. And what makes it worth it for me is seeing my students getting to graduation, and then moving on to even greater things. Good luck.

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I see you Australian Law Memes

Ps. University is a great time to experiment with your style, and if you feel like dying your hair blue, then go for it. It becomes harder to do things like that once you have a serious job, like being a law lecturer. Just don’t do it right before your clerkship interview.

 

Verifying IVF births involving donated sperm, eggs or embryos: changes to the law in New South Wales

A previous post discussed the case of Natalie Parker, an Australian mother of two young boys who, following the conclusion of IVF treatment, donated three spare embryos to a woman she met on the Embryo Donation Network, a place where donors and recipients can advertise and make contact.

Parker was prepared to donate the embryos, but with conditions attached: she wanted ongoing contact between the genetic siblings.

Usually a recipient of a donor egg or embryo will have no reason to hide the fact of pregnancy from their ART (assisted reproductive technology) provider.  Pregnancy will be a shared goal of both parties.

In this case, however, the recipient evidently wished to sever contact with Parker, or to be free of the conditions that had been imposed.  The recipient apparently lied to IVF Australia in order to conceal the fact of pregnancy.

She was just thinking about the baby”, Parker said, “and now she’s got the baby she wants to enjoy it herself and not acknowledge it’s got other connections outside the family”.

“They’ve just used me for what they wanted and then just tossed [me] aside”, she later told 60 Minutes.

Legal and regulatory changes have now been introduced into NSW that are intended to reduce the likelihood of incidents like this occurring in future.  This post briefly reviews them.

 

Changes to the Code of Practice for Assisted Reproductive Technology Units

The Code of Practice for Assisted Reproductive Technology Units, which is overseen by the Reproductive Technology Accreditation Committee of the Fertility Society of Australia now requires the ART provider to obtain a written declaration from the recipient, prior to the treatment cycle, that the patient/couple will “provide information about the treatment cycle outcome”.

In this case, the recipient of Mrs Parker’s embryo declined to attend for an IVF test to confirm pregnancy, and may have told IVF Australia that she had miscarried in order to convey the impression that she was not pregnant.

Changes to the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2007 (NSW)

Amendments to the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2007 (NSW) beef up the counselling requirements that apply to IVF providers, requiring them – in cases where the woman receiving treatment involved the use of donated gametes – to receive information about the “extended list of matters” set out in s 13(3).  These matters include the obligation that the ART provider has to obtain information about the recipient and any offspring born as a result of the procedure: see s 13(3)(c).

Secondly, the legislation imposes an obligation on ART providers to take reasonable steps to find out, between 1 month and no later than 4 months following treatment, whether the recipient of the gamete or embryo became pregnant as a result of the treatment: s 30(5).

The legislation refers to a woman using a “donated gamete”, but this term includes a reference to a gamete used to create a donated embryo”: s 4B.

Section 30(7) requires the ART provider to take reasonable steps to find out, between 10 months and no later than 15 months after the ART treatment whether the pregnancy resulted in a live birth, and the full name, sex, and date of birth of the offspring.

Thirdly, record-keeping obligations have also been strengthened.  Section 31 of the Act requires ART providers to keep records of the matters in respect of which they are required to take reasonable steps to verify.

For a woman who has received treatment using a donated gamete, the ART provider must keep records that indicate whether the recipient became pregnant within a month of receiving the treatment, unless the ART provider does not know this (s 31(1)(b1)).

Where a child has been born as a result of an ART procedure, the ART provider must keep details of the full name, sex and date of birth of the offspring, as well as details of the birth mother and gamete donor: s 31(1)(c).

The ART provider must also record, within 15 months following the provision of ART treatment, whether the recipient gave birth as a result: s 31(1)(c1).

Under s 33, where an ART provider becomes aware that a child was born following treatment involving a donated gamete, they must provide (to the Secretary of the Health Department) full particulars of the records that they are required to keep under s 31.

Where an ART provider does not know – 16 months following treatment involving a donated gamete – whether a child was born as a result, the Secretary must also be informed.

Fourthly, under s 34, the Secretary is authorized to issue directions to a health service provider requiring them to provide information for the purposes of determining whether a child was born as a result of ART treatment involving a donated gamete.

Fifthly, the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act 2007 provides for the establishment of a “central register” to allow access to “identifying information…about a donor by an adult offspring of the donor” who was born as a result of a procedure involving the donor’s donated gamete (ss32A, 32C).

Finally, s 62 of the Act has also been amended.  S 62 creates an offence for giving false or misleading information “in response to a request for information that an ART provider is required to obtain, or to take steps to obtain, under Part 2.”

This offence provision would apply to the recipient of a donated egg or embryo who gave false information to the effect that they did not fall pregnant as a result of the ART procedure involving the donated embryo.

This offence has a maximum penalty of 200 penalty units for an individual, which is 200 X $110 = $22,000, a substantial monetary penalty.

In summary, the focus of the amending legislation is to require the ART provider to obtain information about whether or not a recipient of donor eggs or embryos falls pregnant, and the details of any child who is subsequently born.

The legislation also seeks to ensure that there is no repeat of a situation where a recipient lies to the ART provider about whether or not they became pregnant or have given birth to a child involving donated eggs or embryos.

Why the media gets it wrong on obesity

“I’m not overweight”, writes columnist Katrina Grace Kelly in The Australian.  “I’m just the helpless pawn of a vicious corporate conspiracy”.

Amusing read, but it also illustrates why public health researchers are failing to cut-through with governments and the broader community on obesity.

“The ‘obesogenic environment’ is the culprit here, apparently”, Kelly writes, referring to a recently-released report from the Obesity Collective, and to recommendations from the Senate Select Committee into the Obesity Epidemic in Australia.

“The creators of the obesogenic environment are government, society in general and the harbingers of all evil – corporations, specifically, companies in the food and beverage sector, now being referred to as Big Food.”

She adds: “We are fortunate to have researchers on the public payroll, so they can conduct studies to arrive at such previously unimaginable conclusions”.

 

It’s all personal responsibility, stupid

Kelly’s beliefs about obesity illustrate why the problem is so hard to tackle at a population level.

The dominant framing of obesity as purely a matter of personal responsibility seems obvious, intuitive.  No one is force feeding us, right?

But it has a downside: if you’re fat, look in the mirror, you only have yourself to blame.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of adults who are overweight or obese has increased from 56% in 1995, to 67% in 2017-18, with an additional 900,000 adults becoming overweight in the 3 years since the previous survey in 2014-15.

There is a troubling trend here, but for many people, it’s difficult to accept that the causes of the trend might be different from the causes of an individual’s obesity.

 

Personal policy, and public policy

If you are obese, having greater personal responsibility is an excellent suggestion – it’s an excellent “personal policy”.

But it turns out to be a rather silly and unproductive explanation for the trend towards population weight gain.

For one thing, personal responsibility is not a new idea; in fact, it’s a strategic failure, so urging people to have more of it is unlikely to reduce obesity rates in future.

Viewing obesity in terms of the failure of personal responsibility also means that the dramatic trend towards weight gain over the past couple of generations – affecting many millions of people in most countries of the world – is best explained in terms of an unprecedented, mass deterioration in self-control.

Who could have guessed?!

Framing obesity in terms of individual responsibility probably does little to help those who are obese, although it might make the rest of us feel smug.  It also deflects attention from both the causes of, and the solutions to, the problem at a population level.  And that’s what healthy public policy needs to be directed towards.

Are you interested in health and medical law?  Sydney Law School offers a Master of Health Law, a Graduate Diploma in Health Law, and single unit enollment.  For more information, click here, or here.  For more information on what it’s like to study at the Law School, click here.