From avocado orchards to courtroom briefs: Leila Skoss' law school journey
Leila Skoss

Leila Skoss is due to graduate from ANU next week with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), specialising in law reform, environmental and social justice, and a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in environmental studies. 

I would eventually like to work in an area of law advocating for greater legal pluralism within our legal system.

Growing up on an avocado farm in rural Western Australia, Leila Skoss spent her formative years far removed from the life she leads today, working as an associate at the Federal Circuit and Family Court in Canberra.   

After graduating from high school in 2018, Leila was determined to spread her wings “over east” and found herself drawn to the bush capital. 

This was partially due to her love for the outdoors and because Canberra seemed to be a “less scary alternative to Melbourne or Sydney”.

“The Canberra winters were a massive shock to me at first,” Leila said. 

Despite the weather, Leila decided to study law at The Australian National University (ANU) because of our strong research focus, as well as the flexibility of completing a double degree where she could pursue other interests. 

“I was also fortunate enough to receive a rural scholarship to study at ANU which made my decision a lot easier,” she said.

Four years later and Leila is now due to graduate from ANU next week with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), specialising in law reform, environmental and social justice, and a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in environmental studies. 

During the course of her degree, Leila developed a particularly strong interest in native title law and Aboriginal land rights.

She wrote her supervised research paper on “commercial rights to water in the Murray Darling Basin (or lack thereof) under the Barkandji people’s native title determination”.

“Whilst I don’t think existing native title laws enable this, I think there is the potential to advocate for further change to land rights to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights and traditional connections to land,” Leila said.

“I would eventually like to work in an area of law advocating for greater legal pluralism within our legal system.”

For Leila, the most memorable experience of her undergraduate degree was travelling to Central Australia as part of our Legal Education for True Justice: Indigenous Perspectives and Deep Listening on Country course. 

“This was such a unique opportunity to hear from elders and Aboriginal community members about Indigenous justice issues in Alice Springs and Central Australia, particularly regarding the impacts of the Northern Territory Intervention in 2007,” she said. 

“I think sometimes, we as law students get caught up in the ‘Canberra bubble’ and this course was such a valuable experience to challenge how we think about our legal system and law reform within the context of colonialism.”

Leila completed this intensive on-Country course under the guidance of Associate Professor Anthony Hopkins.

“I have taken a number of courses taught by Dr Hopkins and have always found his teaching style and commitment to his students and to social justice to be very inspiring,” she said. 

“Despite his incredible number of achievements, he has always been so humble in his work and after my class last semester for his course, Sentencing, he stayed behind to talked to my friends and I as we navigated our career crises.” 

Professor Asmi Wood is another academic that has had a profound impact on Leila during the course of her studies.

“He was my very first tutor, when he took my Foundations of Australian Law (FAL) class in first year, and has remained a friendly face throughout my studies,” she said. 

“He would always have time for a chat, whether that be providing career advice or giving me some much-needed motivation to stay on track with my thesis.” 

Leila’s office was actually next door to Professor Wood’s when she was working as a coordinator for the ANU Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) Mentoring Program.

PAL is a student-run program aimed to develop key legal writing, research, and study skills pivotal to succeeding at law school.

“One of the key differences of PAL compared to any other program is that it is run and developed entirely by law students who have recently completed first and second year, so our advice is always based on lived experience,” Leila said. 

“This can be really helpful for all students but particularly first years who may struggle with the transition from high school or another degree to law school and PAL can help develop the building blocks for successful study (such as HIRAC and exam notes) that can be strengthened and applied right the way through your law degree.” 

Leila first got involved in PAL as a mentor in her second year. 

“Throughout my four years in the program, I continued to learn so much from the other mentors and students, so would definitely recommend students to attend or apply to work as a mentor in the program,” she said.

In the final year of her degree, Leila returned to her home state to complete a six-week internship at the Kununurra Community Legal Service. 

As an intern, Leila assisted with a wide range of legal matters, such as criminal injury compensation, family violence, tenancy issues and stolen generation redress claims. 

“I also had the opportunity to travel with the lawyers and social workers to communities across the East Kimberley as part of their outreach program and conduct home visits for clients,” she said. 

“I also experienced first-hand the misfit of settler-colonial laws as they apply in remote Aboriginal communities and wrote my internship research paper on potential reforms to family violence restraining orders in Western Australia to better reflect the practical and cultural realities of the Kimberley.”

Now that her degree has come to an end, Leila will miss some of the simpler things about law school.

“I will miss the sense of collegiality experienced in the law library as everyone furiously studies in the lead up to the exams, or the numerous study/lecture/tute break coffees consumed at La Baguette in the Art School,” she said. 

Once she has graduated, Leila will continue working as an associate in the Federal Circuit and Family Court until midway through next year. 

“After that, I’m planning on travelling overseas for eight months before beginning my graduate program at Ashurst in Melbourne in 2025.”