This article is to be read in conjunction with/as a counterpoint to “The Problem with Law Students’ Societies.“
The fact is, LSS’s exist; they are growing and they are continuously sponsored. This is because they do good. Councils might only have a hand full of people in them, but the societies have a real impact on a large number of law students.
Out of the frying pan
When you finish your HSC (or your first degree, for the JD’s out there), you think that you’re done with stress, study and social angst. But these problems can jump out at you when you start university.
Law school is difficult. It is daunting. It can be depressing.
At UTS, the Law Students’ Society tries to help ease new students in to uni life; it holds an orientation camp and provides peer mentoring for students early on in their degree.
At camp, students meet friends to study with (read: procrastinate with). During mentoring, students answer other students’ tough questions. These can help a new student settle into the social awkwardness of starting at a new place, and bear the academic shock of IRAC, problem questions and Latin maxims.
When week 6 starts blending into week 11, and you feel like you are personal friends with the CJ’s and the JJ’s and the rest of the legal alphabet soup — sometimes you can forget what Law’s about. You feel a sudden urge to yell “Objection!” You want to bang a gavel, speak like Alan Shore and finally get the girl/boy. Like in the movies. Law and Order promised you something very different from tax law.
Law comps helped me to remember that I started law to cross-examine witnesses (witex) and to argue points of law in front of a panel of judges (mooting). More than 80 students this year, in my uni alone, found this same exhilaration and respite from textbooks as big as shoe boxes and essays as long as lectures seem to be.
Socials are nights of ridiculous decadence and hedonism: 550+ students eating, drinking and dancing. Assignments that are due in the morning are forgotten with the third drink. Beautiful dresses, clouded judgement, “good” dancing.
That’s my Boston Legal fantasy played out; it turns out Law and Order is a bit far-fetched. But I still like it! And I also like Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, and Italian mafia shows. Singing, dancing and all that jazz; law revues, supported by LSS’s everywhere, bring a pinch of creative back into a sea of “critical analysis.”
Oh crap, real life!
Finish first year. Finish second year. Life still seems a long way away. Come third year, you are thinking about stuff to pad your résumé for fourth year clerkships, fifth year paralegal jobs and then for a grad position. Two years of study. Three years of worry. No road-map.
Whilst LSS’s are required to do networking evenings and publications by their sponsors, this isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, students have found clerkship talks invaluable.
Yes, they are sponsored. But, yes, they do give students a chance to chat with HR reps, with partners and all that, and to get to know a little about what they are getting in to.
Vote : friend who asked you to vote
Rich pointed out that around 300 people vote in most campus LSS elections. If you have a big bunch of friends who you can motivate into voting, chances are you can grab yourself a seat.
But in fact, more than half the active members of the UTS society voted! This current election gave voters two clear, organised and great groups of candidates, each of which would do the job well. Whilst the politicking may turn some off running for election, it can facilitate healthy competition.
What can we do?
Is the semi-official political party business the best way to go? Probably not. But it was a new system, and its flaws were clearly highlighted by this election.
I’d suggest that either a strict no-ticket/no campaigning policy or a declared party system would be the most effective’ this half-half business tends to have candidates looking over their shoulders way too much.
Without campaigning, and without ticketing, voting would have to be done on the statement of candidature alone. This could foster more intelligent voting. But it’ll also reduce the number of voters. With tickets, there’ll be higher barriers to entry, since you’d have to wrangle yourself onto a party to have a chance to get in. There might be more votes due to increased publicity, but they could be less well-informed.
I propose that a well-informed vote is more democratic. Voters should choose the candidates based on their skill, as shown in their statements of candidature. This would allow anyone to run. This would facilitate competition based on merit. This, I believe, would lead to a healthier society.
So, what’s the deal?
Law Societies have their problems. But they also allow for education, leadership, charity and fun at university.
There is no question that students enjoy the socials, the revues, the competitions. What we need to do is make sure that everyone knows that the services are available. We need to encourage voting and perhaps reform the societal electoral process. As long as the societies keep their focus on their peers, they’ll do good. The politics will sort itself out eventually.
Disclaimer: I was the IT officer on the UTS LSS council in 2010.