A holistic perspective provides opportunities for law students
Michael Pearce SC is grateful for his good fortune and has committed to helping provide financial assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who wish to study law.
Michael Pearce SC was a late starter to tertiary study. After completing secondary school, he completed only one year of an Arts degree at the University of Melbourne before deferring.
He travelled to the UK, where he taught French and English at a primary school, and to Germany, where he had previously spent time as an exchange student.
“I am a great believer in misspending some of your youth,” he says.
Michael originally planned to pursue a career in journalism, but jettisoned the idea following one of Australia’s seminal moments – the 1975 constitutional crisis. He was in the UK, observing the crisis with great interest and resolved to transfer across to law studies.
Upon returning to Australia, Michael resumed his Bachelor of Arts and commenced a Bachelor of Laws. This time, study was a more enjoyable experience and he graduated from the University in 1981. Michael ascribes much of his enjoyment of university life to maturity. He believes that the so-called Melbourne Model at the University of Melbourne – which leaves the vocational education component largely to postgraduate courses – offers contemporary students the opportunity to enjoy a similar study path.
“It gives you time to grow up a bit and get a good general education,” he says.
Michael believes passionately in the importance of a broad education. He argues that sound employability comes from possessing a well-rounded knowledge and a flexible mind.
“There is no doubt that graduates require specific qualifications, but there is value in more generalised skills too.”
Michael’s post-University life reflects this philosophy. The vocational skills received through law have formed the backbone of his career, which began with an articled clerkship at a Melbourne-based firm. In 1984 he was seconded to Canberra, where he worked in the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department. He then undertook postgraduate research in the area of international law through the Australian National University.
This period of Michael’s life emphasised the importance of travel and a curious mind, as he completed much of his postgraduate degree overseas. Michael returned to Germany (where he was a research assistant at the University of Hamburg), before heading to the USA and the world of commercial law. His career has been varied and successful since what he describes as the days of ‘misspent youth’ – he is currently a practicing Senior Counsel in commercial, administrative and employment law.
Michael’s fortunate journey across continents and careers motivated him to provide today’s students with outstanding opportunities. Funding circumstances have shifted considerably since the 1970s, when Michael benefitted from a free university education. He now wants other bright minds to thrive with the possibilities offered by a University of Melbourne education, providing regular gifts to the Melbourne Law School for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. While the funding mix from governments and individuals is complex, Michael hopes his support for scholarships will make a difference.
He has also pledged to extend this giving through a gift in his Will.
Professor Matthew Harding, Dean of Melbourne Law School, is delighted that Michael has made this commitment.
“Melbourne Law School deeply appreciates gifts in Wills, like Michael’s, as they ensure that talented students, irrespective of their background, can access MLS’s world class legal education,” he says.
“By leaving a gift in your Will, you are securing access to MLS for generations of students.”
In the meantime, Michael is looking towards life after work. Idleness will certainly not be a problem as he intends to do some writing and continue in his role as Honorary Consul for Germany, a position he has held for the past eight years. His connections to Germany run deep.
“I feel quite at home in Germany,” he remarks, citing not only his experiences there, but also his interest in its rich history, culture and language.
On learning a foreign language, he quotes Goethe who praised the endeavour: ‘Wer fremde Sprachen nicht kennt, weiss nichts von seiner eigenen’ (‘He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own’).