because I said so

telling it like I think it is: sunili’s blog

Posts Tagged ‘law school

The Pinstriped Prison

with 8 comments

I read this book in less than 24 hours. For someone who’s spent MONTHS reading just one particular book, that is indeed a little unusual.

But I had quite the impetus to get though this quickly:  for me, it was an A Christmas Carol-ish story of my life past and what could possibly await me in the future. (But also it was written in a very conversational manner that made it super easy to read)

A few weeks ago, M forwarded me an article from the Melbourne Age’s ‘Sunday’ magazine. It was an excerpt from a forthcoming non-fiction title by Lisa Prior about how the best and brightest university students in Australia (who had mostly gotten into Law at uni by being freakishly over-achieving high school students) get sucked into corporate firms.

Hrm.

Sounded kinda familiar. I had to know more.

I picked the book up on Friday and devoured it the next day. But sometimes I had to stop and breathe.  It’s a surprise when you find that the book you are reading actually seems like your biography.

At one stage I had to shut the book after I mentally ticked nearly all the boxes of the mini-quiz entitled  “Could You be A Neurotic, Status-Conscious, Overachieving, Workaholic Control Freak?”

Um.

Shut. Up.

The book’s chapters outlines each aspect of Pryor’s argument about the way over-achieving wunderkinds get shipped into law school and then seduced by the Big Firms into dreary, horrible jobs they end up hating.  Each chapter ends with amusing quizes or points of information that help you figure out if you’re at high risk of turning into a pinstripped inmate.

Pryor became my Ghost of High school Past when outlining the way private school darlings who do way more than anyone really needs to lock themselves away

amid swimming carnival ribbons and inter-house debating pennants, highlighting and cross-referencing, juggling sticky-notes and flash cards, recording the number of hours study this day and this week devoted to each subject in hand-drawn rosters, carefully calculating the minimum mark they will need to get in their Othello essay to maintain the number one rank in the top English class, before running off to senior school choir practice, hockey, flute lessons, dance eisteddfods or rugby training.

If that paragraph had had Medea instead of Othello, school production instead of choir, netball instead of hockey (and no dance or rugby or any mention of winning ribbons of any sort) I would worry that Lisa Pryor spied on me as a teenager.

But. Oh fuck. I really was that much of a tool, wasn’t I? Yeesh.

Anyway. Back to the book.

Pryor continues from that breathless list with the following observation:  “In every activity they will be scored, marked and ranked, ranked, ranked against their peers.”

And, you see, it is this trait of constantly competing and ranking and fighting for top spot that makes kids like us (who get into Law — the course that only allows students with the top-top marks — and then graduate with prizes and honours and what have you) the perfect fodder for the law firm recruitment rigmarole my friends and I only know too well.

The chapter entitled “Recruitment Brochure Bingo”, which outlines how Every. Single. Firm describes themselves as “unique, dynamic and diverse”, would be gut-splittingly hilarious if it didn’t gut-wretchingly make me realise that I got so totally sucked in by it all:

“The recruitment brochure is a weapon in the propaganda assault that big firms unleash on graduating students.  The genre is as manipulative as military recruitment material, only with a whole lot more stock photography of skyscrapers.”

The brochures are, of course, supplemented with the “information evenings” aka canapés and champers nights, coffee outings and all the fancy breakfasts, lunches, dinners you get while on vacation clerkships.  There is a thought-provoking question related to all of this:

Big firms are terribly eager to make the jobs they offer seem fabulous and desirable.  They go to expensive lengths to bribe students with free food, twilight drinks and sponsorship money. For all the questions overachieving braniacs ask during the recruitment process, they seem to miss the most important one: if these firms are really so brilliant and do offer a life beyond compare, why do they have to work so hard to convince people to join?

Dun dun dun! Sounds foreboding, doesn’t it?

Pryor also makes the connection between the way the firms use corporate sponsorship of law school competitions and events to get themselves known to the kiddies and the lack of money available to student guilds and associations in general.  I won’t get into the voluntary student unionism thing here, but let me just say this one thing: the Law Student Society at uni always had more money, and did the best events and services, which benefited a small proportion of the uni’s students, while the Student Association that was supposed to cater for the whole campus had to scrimp and beg and forgo. She’s not making any of this up.

The Ghost of Law Career Future scared me a heck of a lot more. I am standing at the precipice of starting as a law grad at one of the very firms Pryor paints as hell (there is a rather funny fable about vacation clerkships at the start of Chapter 7).

Just to dilute my panic a little, I am making a fellow Over-Achieving Nutjob (whom I love dearly) who went to high school with me and will be starting there with me next year read this book so that we can pow-wow about it. Because there is a lot to take in, and many, many, many variables that I need to consider, and I will leave them all for another post.

It is sufficient here to say that Pryor has stories from several people who have been sucked into the corporate black hole. Some came out alive, some are still there. But we all know about the dramatically high rates of depression and anxiety (and often, self medication) among lawyers, and that is something all law students need to think really hard about.

But one thing needs to be noted at this point: Law is NOT for everyone. For the ones who don’t drop out of law school and end up in the Big Firms, there will be some who love it, want to be there, have always wanted to be there, and are meant to be there.

(M, my sweet darling boyfriend, is one of those people.  That kinda absolutely freaks me out, but fact that thoughts of being A Partner’s Partner makes me want to throw up, is, also, another story.)

And then there will be others who do not feel the same way. They get in and realise much too late that they hate it, and come out with the stories of woe and misery.  They will hate looking up archaic points of law or figuring out if that conjunction in that contract should be an “and” or an “or”, and will go home every night and cry themselves to sleep, before they jump off a building or write the next Hell Has Harbour Views.

I got a feeling from the book that one of the biggest problems here is the nature of the education system.  The way tertiary entrance is merely a process aimed at ranking everyone to compete for a few select spots in a few select courses that, somehow, are deemed to be more worthy and respectable than others means that kids who aren’t supposed to be lawyers end up studying law, and then end up in jobs they hate.

Again, though, the despicablility of the way tertiary education is heading is another story for another post.  But I hear the Uni of Melbs is making law post-grad only and I think that’s totally the right idea.

There is another thesis in the book which impacts everyone, not just the Over-Achieving Law Nutjobs.  And this is essentially that the cream of the clever country’s clever cookies were being stashed away in private cookie jars to only be chewed up by partners and clients of law, banking or business consulting firms. The public didn’t get the benefit of what these kids have to offer, and Pryor asks:

What does it mean for us as a nation when so many of our cleverest people are being siphoned from careers in which they could be doing something useful?

As I consider myself quite the Tim Tam, and, at that, one who went into law school thinking it was the first step in my journey to save the world (because we all know, Tim Tams fix everything), this is quite the conundrum. But, again, enough about me.

Generally speaking, on one hand, I reckon the fact that we have to pay for our own bloody degrees now means that if we can work in A Firm and love it and rake in the cash, no-one should tell us otherwise.  If, however, we didn’t have to pay back HECS or HELP or whatever acronym the next government comes up with for the privilege of a tertiary education, then there might be some more merit in an argument that the firms are sucking up the brains of the clever country. (I wonder how busy Jenny Macklin’s office is at the moment? I think I have some submissions on The Future Of Higher Education to write.)

There is also a chapter on the massive problems about getting women up the ranks in these firms.  Disheartening stuff.  I’ve spoken and written on this issue before and, again, I have suggestions for  proposed solutions which I’ll put in another post. This is a book review, people, focus.

After outlining who gets sucked in and how, Pryor provides a few ideas for how to break out of jail, along with the stories of others who’ve done it before. (Did y’all know that cool “Flipside” burger bar in North Freo is run by a Firm Escapee?).  It wasn’t too preachy or anything, but this is the closest thing to a self-help book I’ve actually read (cf bought. Which I do. A lot. Because I’m neurotic).

While there are times when the author seems rather bitter and spiteful about private school kids and law firm princess, I have to admit there is still truth in the stereotypes, and Pryor’s cautionary tale is of the sort that tells you to learn from other people’s mistakes before you make them yourself.

Just a final note: I have not yet made any decisions about the next few years of my life. I have to survive the next few months, first.  Damn you to hell, Alan Bond. But first, may you die a pauper, you smarmy git.

Ahem. That is all.

The Pinstriped Prison
Lisa Pryor (Picador, Sydney: 2008), 272pp.

Advertisements

Written by Sunili

30 September 2008 at 6:34 pm

on the University of Notre Dame Australia and academic disappointment

with 5 comments

UPDATE: apparently some people @ ND are ticked off at me for writing this post.  In a perfect world, they would stop Googling themselves (with disparaging search terms, no less) or writing patronising emails and get back to supporting students and academic staff. But whatevs. That’s just my opinion, and no-one listens to me. (Anyone who is listening to me: um… may I suggest therapy?) I have made one change, and one change only to this post, and kudos will be awarded to the first person to pick what it is (hint: nothing in the text of the post, other than this update, has been changed). xoxo SG

So I am applying for this Thing (no specifics; that way, when I don’t get it I don’t have to admit to my rejection) and I need super-dooper undergrad grades, which I have, but I worry that the Thing-chooser people will look at my Notre Dame transcript and snort with derisory laughter before throwing my application out the window.

I hear the new VC is getting inaugurated this evening, and I totally hope she has lots of plans for making the place less of a joke.  When I started there, way back when, people who didn’t know me looked at me with a horrible mix of sympathy and disgust upon finding out I was going there.  The people who knew me to be generally intelligent, of course, looked at me with abject confusion:

“Why the HELL is she going there? Surely she got the grades for UWA law?”

Yeah. I did. But I thought ND would get better, cause there were all these cool lecturers there and, you know, I like being little different.

So what happened?

FAIL.

All the staff members who I was impressed by as a curious Year 12 leaver have since vanished into thin air (or, more accurately, better institutions) and I graduated with two lots of first class honours yet feeling like a complete tool.

I was googling my Arts honours supervisor (cause he’s flown the ND coop and I needed his new contact details to ask for a reference for aforementioned Thing) and I discovered that he’s recently co-authored a book on terrorism. It looks like a good one, too:

Responding to Terrorism

Political, Philosophical and Legal Perspectives

Robert Imre, University of Newcastle, Australia, T. Brian Mooney, Singapore Management University, Singapore and Benjamin Clarke, University of Notre Dame, Australia

This volume, which focuses on Australian perspectives on terrorism, provides significant new dimensions. Four main areas are treated in this intriguing analysis: responses to uses of torture, legal approaches, terrorism as a consequence of globalisation and counter-terrorism. There is a nice blend of the heterodox, theoretical and concrete cases. Without doubt this is a challenging, perceptive and useful book that must be essential reading in the sometimes hyper-ventilated field of terrorism studies.
Alan O’Day, Greyfriars Hall, University of Oxford, UK

Terror does not respect disciplinary boundaries. In confronting the global reality of terror from philosophical, political and legal perspectives, Imre, Mooney and Clarke, open the way for deeper and more considered responses to our age. Their message is one of totality, of the need to consider terrorism as a crisis of ideas, of politics and of laws. In this they offer a wealth of insights to both researchers and policymakers.
Kieran Tranter, Griffith University, Australia

The co-authors were also lecturers of mine. The three of them were right up there among the best academics ND had to offer.

Ben Clarke lectured me in Crim, International Law and Human Rights Law, and while he kinda needed to work on his over-reliance on PowerPoint at the time, he’s totally bloody interesting and committed and passionate about the international public law field and I will always admire him.

Brian Mooney was part of the reason I decided to go to Notre Dame.  He gave a talk to us in Year 12 Religion & Philosophy (by the way, I am still so effing impressed SHAGS implemented that. So impressed) and I was blown away by him.  He was hilarious, he was interesting, and he was bloody thought-provoking.  The thought of going to a uni with lecturers like that was highly desirable, so I did some research, went to the open days, signed up and then I got the scholarship and it was a done deal.

Rob Imre, what can a say… What a bloody legend. The man reminded us that we were there to THINK, not just hand in some arbitrary assessment to get an arbitrary grade to get an arbitrary qualification to get an arbitrary job. It would piss off the idiots to no end when they would ask him a question, expecting the answers to the exam, and he would reply, “Well, what do you think?”

Which makes perfect sense considering that thinking, if I may ever-so-lightly generalise, is the whole fricking point of a university education.  But he was treated like shit and off he went.

For those who know a bit about ND, you may or may not be surprised to know only one of those co-authors are still staff members at Notre Dame.

The other two have moved on, and frankly, left a giant effing vacuum.

For an institution so obsessed with the image they present to the outside world (I totally speak from experience here), you’d think the Media office is pretty darn pissed off they can’t claim all three authors as their own.

But they really messed up.

The thing is, right, I *did* enjoy most of my academic career there, and I learned lots of new skills (eg, How to Deal with Morons), and made some great connections that I will have with me for life (Hi, Matthew, darling) but that place… urgh, what a horrible fucking excuse for an institution of tertiary education.  And yup. I even didn’t change it to ‘effing’. It is THAT BAD.

The place was run by high school administrators AS a high school. I remember at one stage they tried to ban chocolate on campus cause it wasn’t healthy. And do NOT get me started on their attitude to mentioning any sort of reasoned discussion or debate on anything even slightly related to the s-word.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, they seemed to have no conception of the fact that a university is there to educate students and that to educate students you need good staff.  Because, oh Mary Almighty, they sure as burning hell did not act like they knew they need good staff. Or knew that to keep good staff you have to treat them like human beings, and respect them for being bloody intelligent ones at that.

Instead, the University seemed to see academic staff as workers in a degree factory who only need to shove random bits of information into students so that people can pay their fees, get their unnecessarily large-and-expensive-to-frame bits of paper and go work in some schmucky job.

Or, at least that was what it was like in Law and when I did Arts.  I hear that this year they made an HONOURS STUDENT change her topic AFTER it had ALREADY BEEN ‘APPROVED’ because apparently a discussion of why Muslim women living in Western Australia choose to or not to wear a hijab is “too controversial” inappropriate for a politics/sociology honours thesis.

Oh yeah, and scholarship students were expected to serve food at university functions for free as a means of “giving back” to the university community.  Because it’s not at all like they NEEDED scholarship students to  contribute anything to the academic reputation of a student population consisting mostly of air-headed daddy’s-girls/boys and bored stockbrokers’ wives . Nuh-uh. Yeah, the university is doing the scholarship students a favour.

Urgh.

Who knows, it might be better in other schools. But I saw nothing but shitness, I just really, really hope it gets better in the future under new leadership.

From the way things went while I was there, it seemed like some of the best staff members (including, arguably, the best ever) got fed up, then packed up and left, and I hear from good authority that the floodgates are still open.

What a bloody waste.

When I enrolled there in 2002 there was so much talk of growth and development — visions of the uni growing into a great place staff, students and alumni could be proud of.  I ignored people’s pitiful looks when I told them I was going to Notre Dame because I was sure it would eventually shrug that reputation.

Sure, it grew alright; in a hurried and horribly-planned manner that may be rather familiar to people trying to rent a house or squish onto a bus in Perth. But has it made us proud?

Not yet.

Please Celia, please fix this mess.

Written by Sunili

4 August 2008 at 5:51 pm

Freedom of Thought and Intellectual Freedom

leave a comment »

She‘s baaaaaaack!!

After her column a couple of weeks ago about how K-Rudd’s been doin‘ O-Kay (which left more than a couple of commenters asking, “Who are you and what have you done with the real Janet?”) Aunty Jan returns to doing what she does best: writing diatribes full of broad, sweeping statements that generally end with “It has happened in the US. It should be happening here.

This week’s thesis: “University is not the place to crush ideas”.

You’re soooooo right Aunty J. Of course it isn’t; High School is.

Sarcasm aside, I once again find myself agreeing with Janet.

Now, there’s a Facebook group called Law School: Where Idealism Goes to Die, but I promise my idealism is only slightly anemic rather than already cremated.

Mind you, my corporate-law coffin is pretty much ready and waiting for me (habour-views, satin lining and all!), but I’m not quite ready to lie down in it.

Anyway, my point is that I am certainly not one of the “group of Young Liberals” who are the subject of Albrechtsen’s current concerns (btw, as one commenter rightly points out, what counts as a ‘group’? 100? 50? 10? More than 2?). However, I do believe that “freedom of thought and intellectual freedom” (maybe articulated a little snappier) is one of the most important (if not the ultimate) tenet of a university.

However, I reckon that if JA really had her way, she’d just as biased for the Right as the Leftie Scum academics the Young Libs have a problem with. My fave comment from the blog is from Steve of Sydney:

Welcome to Janet Albrechtsen University. Please read the Charter for each of our faculties:

  • Business: Maximise profit. It doesn’t matter what you do to achieve it but it helps to use others in order to get there. Global warming doesn’t exist so pollute as much as you can.
  • Law: Screw the poor. The law is there to serve and protect the interests of the corporate state. All other matters are trivial.
  • Medicine: Survival of the fittest is how we should gear our health systems. Don’t waste money on improving public health because there is no such thing as “the public.” It’s everyone for himself.
  • Education: Our role is to churn out compliant but suitably skilled fodder for the business community.
  • Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. This faculty is now permanently closed and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • Science: Studies in this faculty to be geared at improving GM crop yields in semi arid parts of South Australia.
  • Architecture and Engineering: We will will teach you underlings how to design chic blocks of flats that will make good investments for those clever enough to pass our Business or Law degrees.
  • Theology: We operate from the premise that the world is 6,000 years old, that church and state must be blurred and Islam must not be examined, but simply crushed. This faculty is continually upgraded thanks to our friends and sponsors from the Hillsong Church.
  • International Studies. The US is unquestioningly a force for good in this world.

Full course fees, payable by your parents, are required at the time of enrolment. No “special considerations” will be entered into in ANY circumstances.

Hey!! That sounds reeeeeally familiar!!!

I often lament over the fact I have yet to attend a Real University, rather than one that (regardless of the rhetoric, trust me, I was there) pretty much ticks all the above boxes. My dreams of not having a HECS debt ended up becoming a Fee-HELP nightmare and I really don’t have many good things to say about the “University” of Notre Dame Australia.

I recently discovered ND had released an Academic Freedom Policy. And oh, what a glorious example of witty, ironic, sarcasm-based humour it is!!!!

At least I assume it is… ’cause this schizzle canno’ be fo‘ real:

1. The University of Notre Dame Australia … is an integral part of the world-wide group of great Catholic universities, and follows academic freedom norms which are common in all such universities.

5. The University hopes and anticipates that most of its students and staff will support and contribute to the context of Catholic faith and values within which it functions as an institution of higher learning.

6. The University must be a liberal and unfettered place where the basic values and beliefs of Christians are exposed, explained, researched, debated, freely challenged, and openly affirmed or rejected.

Can it?

Well, at least with such clear and unambiguous terms, not, we don’t have to worry about it being binding on anyone.

Cause it (specifically number six) certainly didn’t apply to the Vice Chancellor when The Quasi tried to debate the morning-after pill, in a”fair and balanced” way with perspectives of a female student and a member of the School of Philosophy (who has since resigned, along with pretty much all of the best academic staff ND ever pretended to have).

This year’s PROSH put it so perfectly:

Notre Dame: All the downsides of Catholicism, none of the benefits of university.

Touché.

Written by Sunili

16 April 2008 at 8:19 am