Life outside of the law

Not every law student gets to attend briefings on terrorist organisations with US Senator John McCain, or work with one of President Barack Obama's campaign speech writers.

For Melbourne Law School students Sheldon Oski, Sally Knowles-Jackson and Felicia Quatela, though, it was just another day working within the US Capitol in Washington D.C. as part of the Uni-Capitol Washington Internship Programme.

Third-year Juris Doctor students Oski and Quatela and second-year JD student Knowles-Jackson undertook their placements throughout January and February.

Quatela said her internship with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe was everything she had hoped for.

"It opened me up to networking with a range of individuals and allowed me to develop my legal skills in a policy-oriented environment," she said.

"It also allowed me a rare insight and exposure to American politics and global issues that are pertinent and topical."

She also had the opportunity to attend a hearing on US defence strategy, which was chaired by Senator McCain and attended by three former Secretaries of State: Madeline Albright, George Shultz and Henry Kissinger.

Oski said despite the challenge of being away from home for an extended period of time, the internship offered a unique experience he would be unable to get in Australia.

He said a highlight for him was attending a portrait unveiling for the ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, which was also attended by Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Knowles-Jackson used the internship to learn more about the US legislative process and compare it to Australia's system.

She listed attending a briefing on Islamic State chaired by Senator McCain and a round table discussion with one of President Barack Obama's campaign speech writers as among her most memorable moments.

She said the excitement of working "within the machine that is Congress" was, at times, overwhelming.

"Sometimes I would just stop and think, 'Wow here I am, unbelievable.'"

The internships added to an already busy schedule for the three students, who have now returned for another year of attending lectures and completing assignments, whilst trying to mix it up with hobbies and part-time work.

"I believe you need a healthy balance," Oski said.

"Law demands a great deal of time, but it is fruitless to spend every waking moment on it. You need some down-time to give you brain a chance to recover."

Oski dedicates about 40 hours per week to his studies, as well as working up to two days each week during semester.

He also volunteers during summer and winter breaks, and entertains his passion for football when he can.

"I believe it is important to maintain other interests outside of the Law School," he said.

"For example, I am an avid Melbourne Victory fan, so I make an active effort to attend as many games as possible."

Knowles-Jackson agrees that a healthy study-life balance is beneficial.

"Last year I struggled to maintain a balance," she said.

"I learned how important having a balance was, though, and intend to try and do better this year."

Besides working part-time, Knowles-Jackson takes her focus off the books and puts it into exercise, watching movies and catching up with friends.

"It broadens my mind and refreshes me," she said.

"I can become really stale and demotivated if all I think and talk about is what I am studying and what grades I am trying to get. I have found that if I keep doing things that interest me I come to see how the law applies in lots of different areas, and this keeps me interested."

Quatela battles the pronounced increase in intensity from undergraduate to post-graduate studies with aplomb.

"It is really important for me to be physically healthy; I go to the gym regularly and play tennis. I spend a lot of time with family and friends and love to travel," she said.

"It can be hard to find that sweet spot between studies and other interests but it is absolutely vital to live with a healthy balance, and for me that is a priority."

Find out more about the Melbourne JD here.

By Andy Walsh