Trigger warnings and compassion at Law School


Dear peers

You might have missed a discussion of trigger warnings in the introductory lecture to your law unit. This is understandable as the cautionary statement is usually delivered somewhere between your lecturer’s office hours and announcing the upcoming welcome BBQ. In all likeliness it was a blanket statement on the unit’s content, warning against graphic themes and acknowledging that any student is welcome to leave the lectures if they feel they must. While trigger warnings are incorporated into the general administration of law school, they do not guarantee that potentially triggering topics will be treated with caution or respect. Sadly, compassion cannot be mandated by the law faculty.

Arguably more important than the inclusion or improvement of trigger warnings is a change to attitudes among teaching staff and students. Contrary to the exhibited taste of many law students and even staff: violence, sexual offences and hate crimes are actually not funny. If you are privileged enough not to have been affected by these crimes, empathy should dictate that you appreciate the gravity of them. Nothing, and especially not a trigger warning, can validate treating a serious topic with callousness.

The general justification for a lack of compassion at law school is that your studies are a gateway into the ‘real world’ where a lawyer is supposedly exposed to the worst of humanity and expected to grin and bear it. Putting aside the fact that not every student takes a law degree to work in the legal industry, this line of thinking is problematic. Though you might have chosen law as a career to ‘make money’, chances are that wherever you end up working, a little compassion won’t go to waste. Whether it means you understand your client, colleagues or even yourself a little better, consideration and empathy will set you in good stead for a future in the law.



Congratulations – Julian McMahon named Victorian Australian of the Year

Julian Mcmahon speaks to journalists during a visit to Kerobokan prison earlier this year. Picture: Nashyo Hansel. Credit: Herald Sun

Julian Mcmahon speaks to journalists during a visit to Kerobokan prison earlier this year. Picture: Nashyo Hansel (Herald Sun)


Newlawyerlanguage sends a warm congratulations to barrister Julian McMahon. Julian was recently named Victorian Australian of the Year. Julian is a human rights activist who has spent over a decade working pro bono for Australians facing the death penalty overseas. He is the lawyer we all aspire to be. Put simply: he does our profession proud.

To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question…


Philip Miles

Recently, a fridge magnet with an often quoted line caught my eye:

“Let’s kill all the lawyers.” A quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2.

It was interesting to research the exact contextual meaning of the phrase. Was it another attempt at lawyer bashing, or was it something else?

An article in the New York Times[1] claimed that the phrase was made in praise of the legal profession. It argued that the quote recognised that removal of all lawyers, (the last guardians of freedom no less) would be necessary to enable a revolution to take place.

I prefer however the interpretation from Seth Finkelstein[2]. He argues that it really is as it is meant to be – an attack on the legal profession itself. His analysis argues that when lawyers in fact attempt to define this quote in a favourable light, they do nothing more than justify the reason why lawyer jokes are made in the first place!

Finkelstein concludes:

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be “lawyer jokes”. And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever”.

From my perspective, the quote and the debate behind it neatly sums up a common pitfall for lawyers – never let your ego get in the way of discovering the most plausible definition.



Makes sense but as someone who studies Shakespeare and the law, the common misunderstanding of this quote intrigues me. It is considered by many to be an expression of exasperation with and disdain for lawyers. The meaning of the line within the context of the play, however, is very different. It is spoken by a character wanting to upset the natural order and to wrongfully become king. The character is hypothesising that where there is no one to uphold the law then the law can be of no protection to the vulnerable and no impediment to tyranny.

Perhaps it is a misnomer to call the two interpretations a “misunderstanding”, because it reveals a truth. It reflects two very different attitudes to lawyers to which many people subscribe: the lawyer as protector and the lawyer as profiteer and profligate.



Amy Poehler on careers:

Amy Poehler

“Ambivalence can help tame the beast. Remember, your career is a bad boyfriend.  It likes it when you don’t depend on it.  It will reward you every time you don’t act needy.  It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you.  If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.”