by Tony Wilson
It was kind of curious being asked to judge the newlawyerlanguage writing competition. After all, I am a former lawyer – someone who ultimately chose not to pursue law as a career. Moreover, when you look at why I originally chose to be a lawyer; it amounted to little more than the fact that it pretty much fitted in with my footy training schedule.
In 1990, when I was filling out the tertiary admissions preference form, I was captain of the Hawthorn under 19s and a likely 1991 draftee. In 1991, I was drafted, and AFL footy became a five-days- a-week-job, and seven-days-a-week obsession, with Torts and the Process of Law tutorials tucked around the edges. Twelve contact hours a week! A fair bit of reading I guess, but not uncrammable, and plenty of course notes floating about. It doesn’t come much slacker than that.
But why Law and not just Arts? I adored history, English and politics, and it’s not like the Arts faculty are slouches on the skimpy contact hours front.
I think my eighteen year old self was attracted to the prestige. I was an incredibly stupid footballer, constantly injuring both myself and my teammates, and not a particularly adept sporting decision maker. I remember Darrin Pritchard, who was gun Hawthorn wingman at the time and who always spoke to me like I was a bit simple, finding out I was studying law and saying with genuine bewilderment, ‘Are you smart, Willo?’
I was attracted to the safety, the sense that society would value what I was doing. I was attracted to the sniff of a career, and the likelihood of financial security. I remember wanting my parents to be happy, after all the support and all the private school fees.
I was attracted to the idea that I was ‘keeping my options open’, because surely law could be a launching pad for anything involving words, whether it be policy development, creative writing, comedy, public speaking, a media career, teaching or advertising. I’d been editor of the school magazine, and loved writing year book entries for every 1990 leaver. Maybe, deep down, I thought I could be a writer, and figured that my natural progression to a stellar Ben Elton-esque writing career would be better served studying law, rather than cutting up cadavers. And medicine definitely didn’t fit in with footy training.
But why was it a choice between medicine and law?
That’s the ridiculous part of all this, and I refer again to the stuff about prestige, safety, and expectation. Getting the marks. It can be a blessing and a curse.
Eventually I became a lawyer. I only lasted two years at Minters, until the gap between the sort of stuff I’d hoped to be writing, and the sort of stuff I was writing became too wide. I remember in my Race Around the World introduction video saying that ‘the creative highlight of every day was deciding whether to write ‘yours sincerely’ or ‘yours faithfully’ at the end of a legal letter.’ That actually involved some fudging of the facts. Firm policies were clear and abundant on the all-important ‘faithfully’ / ’sincerely’ divide.
So that’s my story, or part of it. I didn’t become a footballer because I was too slow. I didn’t become a lawyer because I was too bored. Instead I became a writer due to an enormous slice of fortune in the form an ABC travel documentary reality show.
In judging the entrants to this competition, I was reminded of the writing talent that is concentrated in the law; how it is a profession that attracts the readers and the dreamers. Every finalist produced to a high standard, and in choosing a top three I was looking for:
1. Originality of idea, connecting with self beyond mere CV writing;
2. Creative writing skill, sentence structure, overall structure, choice of words, readability;
3. Saying something interesting /meaningful about study /practice of law;
The winners are:
Third place – Jess – Why I Became A Lawyer Instead of Becoming a Bird
From the wonderful title, to the neatness of its circular structure, to the lovely details about pre-school, primary school, high school, and university life, this is a sometimes funny, oftentimes moving account of the moments in the author’s life that crystalised in her a desire to help others through a career in law. Really skilfully executed. I loved it.
Second place – Stephanie – Unpacking a Lawyer Writing Competition
This piece speaks to the people we admire, and the influence they can have on our lives. We learn about the author’s mother, her ex-stepdad’s adoptive parents, and an ex-employer who managed a restaurant. It’s easy to say ‘I developed an interest in social justice’ but it’s harder to connect disparate influence and events to form a coherent explanatory essay. The writer does so brilliantly here. There was one phrase I particularly adored: “… my law degree was about learning the shape of society and then seeing what was happening in the spaces.”
First place – C.C. – Tubas and Tiaras
This writer chose to focus on a particular friend and a particular event in favour of a more ‘whole of life’ approach. The result is that we find ourselves completely immersed in a suburban world of cut grass, winding streets, unwieldy instruments and after-school shenanigans. It has a real literary feel; we hear the sounds and smell the smells of the story. The downside of the approach is that we don’t learn so much of the author’s actual motivations to choose law. But given this was primarily a writing exercise, an outstanding talent for sharing a story won the day. Congratulations!
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