Paying it forward: a professional privilege

By Alicia Patterson

Melbourne Law School's newest scholarship, the Philip Solomon SC Scholarship, will provide a bridge from campus to chambers for law students with a keen eye on advocacy.

When commercial barrister Philip Solomon SC (LLB(Hons) 1991) first applied to further his legal studies at the University of Cambridge, there was no internet to facilitate the ambitions of bright young law graduates to study overseas. Back in those days, such a student would have to write a letter to find out how to apply. Then mail an application. Then work out how scholarships might be sourced. And then wait.

Even if a bright young law graduate was from Melbourne Law School, they might still be a world away from the land of the legal profession in their hometown, including what it really meant to be a lawyer in practice. And another ocean away from that particular terrain inhabited by barristers.

Closing the gap is a big part of what motivated Philip to establish a new scholarship at Melbourne Law School: the Philip Solomon SC Scholarship. "I can still remember February 1993 when I rang the Cambridge admissions office to see where things were up to, and found out I was admitted to the LLM course. Back then, you sent a letter into a vacuum and waited. I heard nothing at all for five months. It seems bizarre now."

Reflecting on his own 'happy years' at Melbourne Law School, Philip is struck by the fact that throughout his learning, as he explored the vast possibilities the law offered him, there were no mentoring opportunities available. And even the internet can't replace talking to real people.

Like many, Philip learned about the profession as he went – as a solicitor at Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks, then joining the Bar in 1997 (he took silk in 2010). It is why a key aspect of the scholarship is mentoring with Philip, as well as the financial element. The aim is to reward academic achievement (particularly in the subjects Evidence and Proof, and Advocacy), but also to satisfy curiosity about the profession – and to foster ambitions to become a barrister at the Victorian Bar.

"A new law graduate can't be expected to know how practice works: the very practical aspects such as the hours you work, how it fits into your life and particularly family life, how great it can be, but also how to manage the pressure – and where the pressure will come from," he explains.

He hopes the scholarship means he will one day have recipients as colleagues, and that he can play a part in connecting them to others in the profession – particularly into the collegial environment of the Victorian Bar.

The actual idea of the scholarship came with his involvement in the re-establishment of the Melbourne University Law School Foundation last year. He is one of ten board members drawn from across the profession with the purpose of encouraging and promoting excellence in education, study and teaching at the Law School.

This scholarship is, in a sense, part of Philip's advocacy for advocates – he wants law students to be exposed to the opportunities the Bar offers. But he's also very keen on the idea popularly described as "paying it forward".

"My law school years were happy years. I liked the law. I liked studying. I liked the freedom university offered me. I love being a barrister; it is challenging, satisfying and intellectually stimulating. I want now to assist others to have the same opportunities." 

Banner image: Philip Solomon SC
Credit: Peter Casamento

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 8, October 2012.