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From classroom to courtroom

From classroom to courtroom

By Rebecca Johnston

Interviews Students Wellbeing 


It wasn’t just the luck of the Irish that made the difference for aspiring lawyer Rebecca Johnston. In 2013, I moved to Australia in search of an adventure and, like many of my compatriots, to escape from the austerity that had taken hold of Ireland. I arrived as a high-school teacher and believed that teaching was my career for life. A few years ago, however, I felt I hadn’t reached my full academic potential and I was unfulfilled working in the classroom. I had spent my undergraduate years at University College Dublin, heavily involved in the university’s Literary and Historical Society – Ireland’s oldest debating society. My love of carefully structured arguments was realised, to some extent, in my teaching career through the coaching of school debating teams, but I found myself yearning for more. Unfortunately, in early 2017 my husband became ill and we made the difficult decision to move to the UK where he grew up, so he could recuperate with the support of family in close proximity. This was a difficult and traumatic time, but I realised I had been given an opportunity to break away from teaching and to pursue my interest in the legal system. Within nine months I completed an accelerated law degree, graduating with commendation, also working on pro bono projects, representing my class on various committees – all while supporting my husband through his illness. The distraction of the degree allowed me to maintain a sense of identity and purpose during an otherwise tumultuous time. Thankfully my husband recovered and we returned to Melbourne. This time the adventure I sought by moving to Australia was in gaining employment in the legal system within Victoria. What I hadn’t fully anticipated was how difficult this was going to be. Although I was fortunate to have an interview at a leading law firm early on, thanks to having a friend who worked there, I was heartbroken to receive what became the first of many rejection emails. I applied for countless positions, and more often than not I didn’t even receive a rejection letter; I simply didn’t hear anything. My confidence was shot.

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