Studying law at ANU: A life-changing experience

Life as an ANU Law student

It was a very enriching experience, and I would definitely recommend anyone that studies law at ANU to do an exchange.

Ever wondered what a day in the life of a law student entails at The Australian National University (ANU)? What learning support is available? Where an internship or exchange program can take you? Or secrets to striking the right study-life balance?

Presented as part of ANU Virtual Open Week 2020, we explored these questions and more with our panel: Ashley Rogge (Global Engagement & Partnerships Coordinator); Nicolas Sylvestre (Senior Administration Officer); Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons) student Peyton Cassar; Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons) student David Chieng; and alumna Molly Tredinnick (Bachelor of Asia-Pacific Studies (Year in Asia)’16, Juris Doctor ’20).

Benefits of studying at the ANU:

  • ANU is globally renowned for law and legal studies;
  • Combine law with another discipline via our flexible vertical double-degree (FVDD) programs;
  • Canberra is one of the world's top student cities;
  • Ample opportunities to expand your professional network;
  • Gain an unrivalled sense of belonging in an inclusive community; and
  • Thrive personally and academically with a wide range of support services.

Practical experiences at ANU College of Law:

  • Clinics: Take advantage of opportunities to work with clients in legal services; it is 'real work' with organisation partners that includes debriefs outside of the clinic with a convener.
  • Internships: Whether overseas, interstate or in Canberra, partnered or self-arranged, you'll find a range of internships tailored to your passion in law.

NB: All these options give you credit. You can do more than one clinic, but only one internship. You can do a clinic and internship concurrently.

The internship experience:

Internships offer students the opportunity to engage with real clients, real problems and real deadlines in a specific legal environment.

These internships are credit-bearing, and students can seek their own internship as long as it meets the requirements of the internship course. ANU College of Law is responsible for insurance of internships.

Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons) student David Chieng last month commenced his Global Pro Bono Bar Association internship. The experience opened his eyes to different challenges faced in legal ethics, including how lawyers and aspiring lawyers can work towards combating injustices.

“ANU is great for internships as they have lots of partnerships with government departments. If you are interested in legislative drafting, it offers that behind-the-scenes experience,” said David.

Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons) student Peyton Cassar is currently completing an internship with the National Judicial College of Australia (NJCA). Peyton and six other students are designing an app that can be used by the NJCA to assist judges in making their judgments more accessible to a broader range of people by using easy-to-understand phrasing.

More information on law internship courses can be found here.

What student-run programs are available to ANU Law students?

  • ANU Law Students’ Society: Listed as one of the largest societies on campus, it is a great opportunity to meet new people and build strong relationships within the cohort - all while attending career events and events surrounding issues in the law. Interested in learning more? Read ‘Tips for success from the ANU Law Students’ Society based on one of our other ANU Virtual Open Week 2020 sessions.
  • Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL): Offered as a weekly session for first-year law students, it teaches soft skills that are not typically learnt in your lectures and tutorials. It covers legal writing and how to prepare for exams. It also provides access to a group of latter-year law students who can offer advice.

Induction sessions: Offered by the Student Administration team at the beginning of each semester prior to study commencement. These advise students on how to prepare for the first week of classes.

The flexible vertical double-degree (FVDD) experience:

It is a common misconception that a double-degree means double the work. As Peyton explains: “You do the same number of subjects as everyone else in a normal semester, and it just makes your whole degree a year longer.” Another advantage, she adds, is that you can study disciplines from complete opposite spectrums (for example, languages and law).

More information on our FVDD programs can be found here.

Offshore study opportunities:

  • International internships: Opportunities are available to both current students and alumni. These can be supported by scholarships. Placements include the International Court of Justice at The Hague, The World Bank in Washington, D.C. and International Bar Association in London.
  • Exchange programs: Offered to all ANU Law students, an exchange program can be taken as an elective which counts towards your degree. However, you cannot participate in one as a compulsory course.
  • Independent short courses: These can be completed overseas in a two- to six-week period. It can be organised through Global Programs or by yourself as an independent study experience.
  • Summer/winter opportunities: Four courses are available to complete in either Alabama, Geneva, Kyoto or Mynamar. These can be completed during the winter or summer break and count for six units.

Bachelor of International Relations/Laws (Hons) student Daniel Wei-En Kang witnessed the activities of international organisations in Geneva. Read more here.

The exchange experience:

In 2018, Peyton undertook a straight law exchange of four courses at the National University of Singapore. She noted it was a “phenomenal experience” that offered an international element to her degree.

“It helped me to see how the law could be applied overseas and in different contexts. It was a very enriching experience, and I would definitely recommend anyone that studies law at ANU to do an exchange,” she said.

More information on exchange programs can be found here.

What is a graduate research unit, and what does it bring to regular curricular studies?

Undertaken in the later years of study and available to Juris Doctor (JD) students, a graduate research unit allows you to explore an area that you may not have had a chance to study directly but wish to learn more about.

You must first approach a tutor/lecturer to be your supervisor and then develop a thesis question that you will write a research paper about over six months. It typically consists of 12,000-16,000 words.

It is also available to undergraduate students who are part of the Bachelor of Laws (Hons) program in the form of a supervised research paper. Double-degree students can also undertake a graduate research unit, which counts for 12 units or the equivalent of two standard courses.

“I found it really beneficial because I had an interest in intellectual property. I had done a course on intellectual property, but there was an area that I had not really focused on previously that I thought was really interesting, I ended up writing my paper about the international regime for patent law and how that was affecting food security in developing countries. I was really interested in the topic, and it was something so niche that I would not necessarily always get a chance to focus on in-depth throughout a degree,” said alumna Molly Tredinnick (BAPYA ’16, JD ’20).

Balancing work and your studies:

Molly, who worked four to five days a week during her JD studies, said the program was "very attractive" as she was able to attend evening classes. Being able to speak with lecturers on lunch breaks or immediately after work was useful, she added, while noting how important it is to plan ahead and prioritise as university studies are a huge commitment.

 “As long as you forward-plan and make sure your lecturers are aware of your circumstances, they can accommodate accordingly. I found that really beneficial,” said Molly.

David also discovered that balancing work, study and an internship “is definitely a feasible option and a very worthwhile experience that gives you a chance to see how you can apply your degree and where it might potentially take you”.

The impact of COVID-19:

COVID-19 has currently affected how courses and lectures are being delivered due to restrictions on venue capacities.

  • Courses and lectures are currently being taught online and recorded for any time viewing;
  • Selected tutorials can be attended either online or on-campus;
  • All events are being offered virtually; and
  • PAL sessions are being offered both online and in-person.

Final words of wisdom:

  • “It’s important to maintain a study, work and social life balance.”
  • “Be sure to set targets each day and create a schedule that will help keep you on track.”
  • “Make the most of your access to world-leading academics.”

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