A lucky break

A broken leg proved to be a life-changing experience for our first Leith Trust Indigenous Scholar. Matthew Ferrari's unexpected accident set him on a path leading to Melbourne Law School and the beginning of a career in law.

Matthew Ferrari 

After he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne, Matthew Ferrari took a year off and was planning to get a job in the public service. But he found that all the jobs available were "really general" and did not require a particular skill set.

"I came to the realization that I didn't have an express set of skills, particularly analytical skills," said Matthew.

That realization was the first step to embarking on a career in law.

Sometime later Matthew broke his leg and ended up spending a lot of time at home watching Judge Judy on TV while recovering. His housemate at the time happened to be studying law. The pieces fell together and Matthew decided that he wanted to study law, but he thought it was "too late". Then he discovered the Juris Doctor course at the University of Melbourne.

He applied, all the while convinced that he would not be accepted.

"I signed up for the LSAT test and was totally despondent. The test took seven hours; I did it, but still didn't think I was going to get into Melbourne Law School."

"I eventually received a large envelope – A4 sized – and I remember thinking, 'Wow, that's a really big rejection letter.'"

"But it was paperwork advising me that I'd been accepted into the course. I was so happy."

Born in Reservoir, Melbourne, Matthew grew up in Bendigo, where he attended Spring Gully Primary School. He returned to Melbourne aged 11, attended school in the west of Melbourne and completed a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology and History) at the University of Melbourne in 2008.

He is the University's inaugural Leith Trust Scholar.

The Leith Trust Indigenous Scholars program aims to encourage talented Indigenous students across the country to consider becoming lawyers, to get them to Melbourne Law School, and to give them the support they need to complete their professional graduate Juris Doctor (JD) degree.

Matthew, 24, was awarded the three-year scholarship in 2010.

"My scholarship means I can devote myself 100 per cent to my studies, and achieve an excellent work-life balance," said Matthew.

"Without the added financial security of the scholarship, my attention would be split between my studies and working part-time."

At this stage, Matthew has not decided which area of law he wants to specialize in but he is enjoying studying Indigenous law and is looking forward to studying criminal law and military law.

Commenting on the landmark Mabo decision, Matthew says it was a great decision by the High Court, but it came a bit late.

"In Canada, they've had recognition of indigenous rights for a long time. And their tests for getting land are much looser."

"Canada and the rest of the world are ahead of Australia in that regard. Mabo is great, but it's very limited."

Melbourne Law School wishes to acknowledge the generous support of The Flora and Frank Leith Charitable Trust which has made The Leith Trust Indigenous Scholars program possible.

Image: Matthew Ferrari is enjoying his first year at Melbourne Law School.

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 4, November 2010.