An opportunity to be inspired by global lawyers

Elise Pulbrook recently travelled to the United States for Global Lawyer, a two-week study intensive taught in the Melbourne JD. She reflects on her experience.

Since returning home from Global Lawyer I’ve been asked on several occasions, ‘how was your trip?’ and, honestly, there’s so much to say to do this trip justice that I have found this simple question somewhat overwhelming.

We shared spaces with international lawyers at the pinnacle of their field at some of the world’s most impressive institutions. For me, this was amazing. I don't come from a family of lawyers or academics. While I’m in awe of the calibre of legal professionals at Melbourne Law School, to be in the presence of lawyers at the heart of word politics was deeply inspiring.

This subject was an opportunity to realise we could present ourselves with confidence in high political places, to collect an abundance of practical work advice from esteemed global lawyers, and to bring home a refreshed perspective of the potential of a legal career.

Each day, we met with back to back interlocutors with important narratives of what it means to be a global lawyer. We didn’t travel to the United States to speak with just one or two outstanding people; our itinerary was carefully curated so that we would engage with a wide spread of exceptional professionals working within NGOs, government, international institutions, firms and think tanks. On our first day, and every day thereafter, I often found myself in awe of who was in the room.

The program began in Washington DC, where we were graced with a broad group of brilliant legal minds. Washington DC is beautiful. The rich history and power expressed through strategically plotted architecture is reminiscent of Ancient Rome. Against this backdrop, we heard from experts working in trade and investment as well as peace and security.

Our experience in DC provided a unique insight into the diverse intellectual community working within this global city. Our visits included the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Australian Embassy, the Pentagon, the United States Institute of Peace, and law firms specialising in international dispute resolution. We also had a panel of speakers come to us at Georgetown University and George Washington University.

One of the first people we met was a former advisor to Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama on Guantanamo Bay. He initiated that week’s discussions concerning terrorism, the use of force, and the roles we would assume as legal professionals once we leave Melbourne Law School. I couldn’t help but think about the incredible life story informing the career advice we were receiving.

A common thread throughout the two weeks was career advice and the invitation to reflect on why we had chosen to study law. We were directed to consider to whom we will be of service and for who we will advocate.  Some of these questions were put to us at the Pentagon by a Three-Star General. When someone of this echelon enters the room, you stand up. When they give you life advice, you listen. He asked us, ‘what do you want to accomplish?’ and ‘what do you want to see when you’re done?’.

These were questions that, at least for me, emphasised the importance of having a global perspective towards career prospects. If we want to create the greatest impact, in which arena do we serve? Do we aspire to participate in decision-making that influences thousands, millions or perhaps our very existential being? Will we pursue careers with a global impact? Or, will we seek to touch a life at a community level?

Global Lawyer was an opportunity to be thoughtful and to consider where within the great landscape of law we might fit in. During our time in New York we visited the United Nations, a range of top law firms, New York University, and other esteemed offices. In New York, we gained a deeper understanding of the need to be agile for a successful and empowered career in law.

At one organisation, we heard an emotional story of a lawyer who had traveled throughout some of the poorest regions of the world during her position of service. We even spent time with a Melbourne Law School graduate who had grown up in my home suburb of Reservoir.

The narratives of the lawyers we met affirmed that law is an incredible field to be working in, especially in a constantly evolving global landscape. To say I’m grateful and fortunate to have been a part of this subject is an understatement.

Tania, Oz and Andrew are well respected at incredible institutions and firms. We’ve had a tremendous privilege borne from their hard work and impressive network. I’m also very grateful to have spent this time getting to know and learn from fellow Melbourne Law School students. A day didn’t go by without the opportunity for invigorating conversation with passionate people.

Global Lawyer exceeded my expectations and confirmed the value of studying law.

By Elise Pulbrook

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