Joanna Gu | Melbourne JD

Having completed the Melbourne Juris Doctor (JD), Joanna is beginning her law career at MinterEllison.

Why did you decide to study the Melbourne JD?

What really attracted me to law is how broad it is. The JD program, in particular, has so many potential career pathways and I was like, "I don't want to be stuck in one particular area. I'm still figuring out my life." The program offered a lot of different electives, so if I wanted to not practise as a lawyer and go into consulting or maybe work for the United Nations, those options were still available to me. It wasn't one path for the rest of my life.

What’s it like to study at Melbourne Law School?

One thing that I've really enjoyed about my cohort is the diversity. Not just in terms of culture, it's more the background. I came from my undergraduate degree in behavioural psychology and politics, but my friends came from biotechnology engineering. So, we had all these different mindsets coming to the Law School, but we kind of ended up in the same place. Class discussions are really interesting because you hear views or ideas that you've never thought about because your mind never went there, but someone saying, "Oh, what about this perspective?" sparks something else in your studies.

Photo of Joanna
Joanna was offered a graduate position at the firm where she completed her clerkship.

What extracurricular activities have you been involved in?

I did a lot of witness examinations, client interviews. I met lots of my friends in those competitions because you spend hours preparing for it. You go get coffee while you’re preparing and then you celebrate with dinner afterwards. I also did a Women's Moot and National Women's Moot. We met women from all over Australia, and it was also a nice opportunity to get practical experience.

Being on student associations is another great way to get to know your cohort beyond classes. You get people with different passions coming together, putting on events and partnering with law firms and other student societies.

That's why I joined the Melbourne China Law Society. It's a student-run society, and I served as vice president. One of the society's aims was to bring diversity to the Law School. For example, one of the activities we organised was a dumpling-making class which we opened up to everyone, and was really just an excuse to bring students together and be like, "Look, come to uni one night, don't do work. Let's just talk about how life's going."

Can you tell us about the financial assistance you received?

I received the JD Bursary, which is open to Australian and New Zealand citizens. The bursary helped me to move to Melbourne and continue my dream of pursuing law. Having the opportunity to showcase my abilities and having that recognised by the faculty has been really appreciated.

As a University of Melbourne student, if you have financial troubles, there are additional scholarships you can apply for throughout the year. It shouldn't be a barrier to you furthering your studies.

What do you like about living in Melbourne?

Melbourne is a great city to live in. When you finish class for the day you can go into the city with your friends, go to an art gallery, get some food. There's just so many choices beyond the campus. You're not just studying and then going home. There's so much to do, your life is actually quite vibrant beyond just studying at Melbourne Law School.

Tell us about your clerkship.

I completed my clerkship, which is a four-week internship, at MinterEllison. There are a wide variety of clerkship opportunities you can choose from depending on the area of law you’re interested in. I did a corporate law clerkship and I was lucky enough to rotate through two different practise groups. I was able to use what I learned over the last three years and apply it in a practical way. I worked with real clients, putting the knowledge that I accumulated through the course into a format where I can present it to a client, which actually deepens your learning as well. After completing my clerkship, I was actually offered a graduate position, which I’ll be starting soon.

How do you think your studies have prepared you for the workplace?

One thing which was helpful during my clerkship and part-time work is that we’re taught to produce work of a high standard. We've constantly been taught, from the beginning of our degree, to produce excellent work. We've seen great examples from students and professors producing that work, and there’s an open dialogue around feedback. For example, I could write an essay and email my professor asking, "Can I get some feedback?" and they might then spend 30 minutes sitting down with me going through the points. I think having that feedback system really helped me during my clerkship to have seen the standard of work that is expected, not just of a student, but of a legal professional. So having that sort of excellence embedded is really important.

The University of Melbourne has a really good reputation for consistently producing students at a level where the work is excellent. And I think that is appreciated by employers who say, “these students may not have any work experience, but they know what they're doing”. So, being able to have that confidence before you start because of where you're studying, I think that's rare. Not every student at every university would have this experience.

What advice do you have for future students?

If you’re thinking about studying at Melbourne Law School, whether it be the Juris Doctor or a masters program, you should keep an open mind, even if you know what you want to end up doing, because you never know what might pop up along the way. For me, it exceeded my expectations of what I wanted to do, and helped me identify commercial law as the area I was most interested in working in.

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