I have never seen myself as better than the 17-year-olds. Quite the opposite. There are moments where I envy their naiveté. I started off life in the same idealistic fashion. At the age of 17 I lived in a world where justice was guaranteed to prevail. I’m not talking the legal kind. I mean the day-to-day, someone is an arsehole and karma kicks them in the arse kind. It’s instant and it’s glorious to watch. Except, at some point you begin to realise that, in the real world, karma is not instant. Even worse, there are aresholes who continue to prevail. The injustice can be heartbreaking. Nothing brings that home more than the subject of criminal law.
Avoiding the most confronting cases allowed me to take my ability to procrastinate to a whole new level. I thought I’d aced Procrastination in Semester 1 when an embarrassing admission on social media resulted amusing reply from a friend.
Turns out procrastination personified comes in the form of a group of sonography students doctoring a medical diagnosis from an online forum to create a procrastination-specific diagnosis – when they should have been studying actual diagnoses – and sending that same diagnosis to someone who was on social media doing her utmost to procrastinate. I was still laughing three hours later as I walked into my torts exam.
In Semester 2 procrastination arrived in the form setting up my own business. It was my dream come true. When the choice was between Homicide Part I and create images for my website or Sexual Offences and creating Instagram posts designed to poke fun at myself or life in general, well, you can guess who won.
There were moments when I did get into the content. As someone who prefers rainbows, sunshine and kitten farts to real life, criminal law was a hard ask. I had to actively pull my head out of the sand in order to participate. In a society that allocates people as goodies or baddies I live on the full colour spectrum of grey. Black versus white just doesn’t cut it, for me.
In hindsight it makes sense that criminal law would be my downfall. Rather than seeing the criminals as bad people, I saw them as human beings who had crappy parents and no way of knowing any different. Perhaps if they’d had a few more opportunities when they were younger, they might be on a different trajectory now. Then I read the cases. And those human beings with crappy parents suddenly became bad people who did truly heinous things to another human being. It adjusted my entire outlook on life.
One procrastination tool remained constant – social media. Except this time it was the 17-year-olds who kept me entertained. Stacey and I discovered a closed Facebook group for the subject. With nearly 200 cases to read and about 40 of those to be read in their entirety, the semester started out with panic-driven posts about the amount of reading required. You think they would be used to it by Semester Two, it is law school after all. By Week Four the whiny posts began to wane and the 17-year-olds got to shine.
Our second piece of assessment was on grievous bodily harm. The original case involved a flying fox operated by a hungover employee who’d also spent the night smoking marijuana. The employee failed to secure a customer’s carabiner, which led to the customer falling 20 metres to the ground, resulting in permanent injuries and a conviction of grievous bodily harm for the negligent employee.
Our fictional client, Carl, had spent the night playing video games and to compensate had smashed back a few cans of Red Bull before beginning work as a croquet instructor. An attempt to impress a group of girls went terribly wrong when Carl threw the croquet mallet into the air and it went off-course. Some other guy (I can’t remember his name) had been reaching down to tie his friend’s shoes and stood up, only to be struck by the flying mallet.
As I learnt in Semester 1, law is not black and white and there are many interpretations on what constitutes Grievous Bodily Harm (or GBH, for those in the know). In moments when we were sick of reading cases on GBH we turned to social media and the 17-year-olds to keep us entertained with their ongoing commentary on the assessment task.
Some of my learned friends – as they’re referred to in the world of law – were supportive:
Some of my learned friends provided a realistic take on the life of a law student:
Some could be classified as philosophical:
Although the last person that I met who wore velcro was in the 80s, so I’m not sure which side of fashion a velcro-wearing 17-year-old sits on.
But that’s not the only thing they did. Some kept an eye on the weather to ensure we were aware of poor Internet connection:
This might seem menial to the layperson but when all your lectures are online and you’re way behind, this information had the potential to save a life (or prevent the premature death of a loved one who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, should said Internet fail due to a ‘big ass storm’).
Some used it as a cry for help:
While others included random pick-me-ups:
Somehow Stacey and I managed to pass the assessment task and only the exam remained. We were ill-prepared but surprisingly eager. Partially because we wanted to get to the student bar as quickly as possible afterwards. Mainly because we wanted to see what kind of scenario our lecturers had concocted.
They surpassed any expectations we had.
The guy in question, Jim, owed his mate $5,000 but didn’t have the cash. He borrowed his neighbour’s car, except his neighbour didn’t know the car was being used for an epic 16-hour road trip from Brisbane to Townsville. He stopped en-route at Rockhampton to pick up a mate, Kevin, where the duo proceeded to break into a relative’s house, stumble across some cocaine and had a sample before proceeding onto Townsville. On the way they stopped for a cigarette, dropping the still-lit cigarette in a pile of leaves, burning down the shelter. Once they got to Townsville he realised he still didn’t have the $5k and proceeded to the nearest bar to try and sell off his neighbour’s car to a guy in the bar, who just so happened to be an off-duty police officer. Kevin, in a moment of panic, spilled the entire story and blamed Jim for it all. Turns out he wasn’t such a good friend.
But the best bit was the fact that the neighbour had just had a win at the races and had left an envelope full of cash – $5,000 to be exact – in the glove box of the car. If only Jim had taken the time to look for cash, like a regular criminal, he’d have saved himself a lot of time.
Stacey and I met at the uni bar and instead of our usual post-exam debrief we spent our time scrolling through Facebook posts. The 17-year-olds did not disappoint.
Before you get all judgy about the Albert comment, just know the guy was a wanker. And I say that with 100% conviction as a rainbow-loving, kitten-collecting, lover of sunshine and glasses being half full kind of person.
As Stacey and I reflected on our first year of law, I realised how much I’d underestimated the 17-year-olds. At the start of Semester One, I’d seen them as self-involved, rich kids who spent their days glued to their phones and social media. They were overachievers who’d walk over anyone who got in their way, just to get ahead. But I was wrong. I’d bought the stereotype, given to me by a society, in which lawyers (and by extension, law students) are all dumped into the same self-involved bucket.
Criminal law was the one subject in my law degree that had the potential to cripple me – a semester filled with cases of acts so heinous they dehumanised both the perpetrator and the victim. But it didn’t. Not because I, as an individual, was strong. Instead, the 17-year-olds, through the use of social media, made it all so human. I may have hit the epitome of procrastination but I also had my biggest learning.
I’d taken on society’s view of law and lawyers and forgot what was inherently important to me – individual connection. When we connect as individuals, we bypass stereotypes and age differences. A very special friend suggested it’s best to ‘Choose your friends wisely or you’ll end up mirroring others.’ In this case the friend I had mirrored was not an individual. It was the opposite, it was a group of individuals, commonly known as society. I thought I was beating to the sound of my own drum but it turns out that I was just as judgemental as the rest of them. That doesn’t mean that all lawyers or law students are saints. Every profession has a dark side.
In my defence, I was just doing what everyone else was doing. But, that’s not good enough. Under the Criminal Code ‘doing what everyone else is doing’ does not constitute a defence. Therefore, based on fact, I have no defence.
To the 17-year-olds, I’m sorry for judging you.
And although society has decided that Facebook is the devil dressed as a blue thumbs up, it gave me a diversion when the criminal law cases were too depressing to begin to read. It has also inspired my hope in humanity. For if a group of people seen to be the most obnoxious – high achieving teens who spend their lives glued to their phones, living off social media – can get their shit together and help each other out then surely the rest of us can pull our weight.
But if that’s not an option, I’ll use a mirror in the stereotypical sense and check out my latest outfit – Elle Woods style.
Even I can handle staying true to myself and dressing cute. It worked in Legally Blonde, I don’t see why it can’t work for me too.
PS Shout out to Bruce. He’s officially my fave. He had other posts but based on the content below I feel he could change the legal profession. No, *we* can change the legal profession because #yeswecan.