From student to alumnus: Ben Durkin’s law school journey

2021 Jessup Moot
Ben Durkin (far left) with his 2021 Jessup Moot teammates.

The intersection between law and politics is something that really interests me, and public law gets to the heart of that field.

For Benjamin (Ben) Durkin, choosing to study law at The Australian National University (ANU) was an easy decision.   

 “I’ve always loved reading, writing and debating, and so thought law was a good fit,” Ben said.

“Happily, after five years, I can say that it was.”

Last week, Ben graduated from ANU with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Politics, Philosophy and Economics degree and an impressive academic record under his belt.

Ben won a number of accolades during his time at university, including the 2022 University Medal, 2020 Ashurst Australia Prize for Corporations Laws, 2020 Clayton Utz Prize for Administrative Law and 2020 Sir George Knowles Memorial Prize.

Originally from Melbourne, Ben studied at ANU through the Tuckwell Scholarship, which provides a select group of talented and motivated students with the opportunity to realise their potential while at university.

While Ben clearly has an aptitude for the law, he did not always dream of pursuing a career in the legal profession.

“My dream job as a child was either full-forward for the Richmond Tigers or opening batsman for the Australian Cricket team,” he said.

“I haven’t given up hope of either!”

During the course of his legal studies, Ben found he was particularly fascinated by public law and legal theory.

“The intersection between law and politics is something that really interests me, and public law gets to the heart of that field,” Ben said. “It also helps that public law is taught really well at ANU – Canberra is the home of public law in Australia, which makes the field really lively and engaging.”

“I’ve also taken an unexpected interest in legal theory. I’d recommend doing as many of Associate Professor Joshua Neoh’s courses as possible – they’re always highly-entertaining!”

Dr Neoh was one of many academics at the ANU College of Law that Ben found to be influential and inspiring. 

“Dr Neoh is always a source of good humour – we’ve discussed everything from the Bible to train rides through Vietnam over many coffee chats. His Secondary Rules podcast with Associate Professor Ryan Goss is also worth a listen,” Ben said.

Ben was also supervised by Dr Goss for his honours thesis this year, while his thesis topic was inspired by Professor James StelliosConstitutional Law, Federal Judicial Systems and Conflict of Laws classes. Ben also greatly valued the mentorship he received from Dr Cassandra Steer and Associate Professor Kate Ogg during the Jessup Moot in 2020.

“All of them helped me think about how I work best as a law student, and provided guidance for my law career post-ANU,” Ben said.

Ben’s participation in mooting competitions, particularly the Jessup Moot and Gibbs Moot, were highlights of his time spent at ANU.

“Studying law can often be an individual-focused activity, so I really enjoyed the lateral team-work required in mooting competitions,” Ben said.

“Winning the 2021 Gibbs Moot, and presenting in front of Justice Stephen Gageler, was especially memorable.”

Travelling to Kununurra to work with the Kimberley Community Legal Service and Washington DC to work in the United States Congress were also highpoints of Ben’s degree.

“Both internships were incredibly inspiring and eye-opening opportunities,” he said.  

However, some of Ben’s fondest memories of ANU were the every-day aspects of university life.

“The memories I have of sharing a coffee with friends waiting before class are really special – I’d recommend La Baguette to anyone who hasn’t been,” Ben said.

Aside from sampling the best coffee spots on campus, Ben also recommends that future ANU Law students try to remember to enjoy their university experience.

“Law school can be stressful and demanding at times, but it is also rewarding and stimulating,” he said. “Pick courses you enjoy, and engage with the content and lecturers – it makes learning far more enjoyable.”

“I’ve also found maintaining a hobby outside of university (running, playing on a sports team, etc.) helped keep me in a good headspace during the long hours of study.

 “It’s also worth reading as much as you can: not just legal materials, but any books (fiction or non-fiction) you find enjoyable. So much of law involves thinking about language and communication, as well as critical analysis, reflecting and argumentation – all habits which reading encourages.”

Now he has graduated, Ben plans to enjoy overseas travel before commencing work as an associate at the Federal Court.

“I’m really excited to expose myself to an interesting range of legal matters that come before the court,” he said.

“I also hope to do some further study at some stage, though I’ll enjoy some time away from exams first.”

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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team