Creating opportunity

By Lianne Hall

University is about more than simply gaining a qualification. We talked to two law students who are embracing the opportunities of law school thanks to support from alumni.

Kalia Laycock-Walsh 

During the recent Essendon Football Club v ASADA trial, many football fans followed proceedings through the tweets of a volunteer reporter. The clear, plain English messages about the court case generated 1.3 million views and helped a riveted community understand the sometimes complex legal proceedings. Melbourne JD student Chris Kaias was the tweeter. The enterprising student with a passion for sport and law approached the judge with his innovative idea for community engagement and then dedicated three days to covering the trial.

Chris is a second-year JD student who is determined to make the most of the opportunities afforded by the study of law. He is also the recipient of a scholarship and his story is a powerful reminder of the difference support can make to the lives of talented law students.

Asked where his interest in law began, Chris laughingly points to late-90s TV. Legal dramas such as The Practice and Law & Order fascinated him, even as a young child. "I always wanted to be a lawyer," says Chris, "and luckily the passion has stuck with me."

Chris was on the road to his legal career when a serious illness in the last year of his arts degree turned his life upside down. He continued to study throughout his treatment but the challenges of that year meant the need for time to recharge. One year later, he returned to study and commenced the JD at Melbourne Law School where he was awarded the Melbourne Law School Scholarship.

"It's prestigious and it's fantastic and I'm really appreciative. But for me, when I heard I'd been awarded the scholarship, the greatest sense was relief because I was really financially stressed after the illness."

Chris is now embracing law school. He is on the editorial board of the Melbourne University Law Review, recently tutored 100 first-year law students and regularly tutors at college. He also works part-time as a paralegal, volunteers at a Community Legal Aid Centre and, as a cancer survivor, participates in the Cancer Council's "Cancer Connect" Program.

"Because of the job market, there's so much pressure on students nowadays to do so much more than study," explains Chris. "Finding the time to do it all, that's the hardest part. The scholarship has taken the pressure off and allowed me to focus on the stuff that is important."

First-year law student Kalia Laycock-Walsh agrees that a scholarship can equate to an invaluable gift of time at law school: "I really want to give it the time it deserves by working really hard."

Kalia moved from the town of Castlemaine in regional Victoria to pursue her degree in international studies before undertaking the Juris Doctor at Melbourne to develop further her critical analysis skills and broaden career options.

Hearing that she had been awarded the Melbourne JD Harold Ford Scholarship, which supports academically outstanding students in financial need, was a "fantastic vote of confidence," says Kalia.

"Coming from a public school in a little country town, Melbourne Law School can seem elite, with its Latin motto and everything," says Kalia.

"So the scholarship was also about there being a place for me at Melbourne Law School. I was someone they wanted there, which was very encouraging."

"I was very proud to receive it," she says.

With the scholarship offering relief from some of the financial pressures, Kalia is enjoying the opportunity to focus on academic achievement.

"Going to law school itself is a privilege. Society puts a lot of resources into creating these institutions and I feel lucky to have the benefit of that," says Kalia.

Image: JD student Kalia Laycock-Walsh
Photographer: Fred Kroh

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 12, October 2014.