Presidents of Victoria University of Wellington’s Law Students’ Society
Jugjeet Singh, Meghan Grant, and Manraj Singh Rahi discuss their views on what it means to be president of Victoria University of Wellington’s Law Students’ Society (VUWLSS).
What is important to you in leading VUWLSS?
Manraj: As past and current presidents of VUWLSS, we are acutely aware of the importance of working in partnership with our representative groups. While VUWLSS works to enrich the experience of law students, groups such as Ngā Rangahautira, Pasifika Law Students’ Society, Asian Law Students’ Association, VUW Feminist Law Society, and Rainbow Law also do incredibly valuable work.
Meghan: 2021 was all about community, for VUWLSS to bring students back together in the halls of Old Government Buildings (“OGB”) after a tumultuous 2020. This year we looked at the representative groups in OGB and strove to meet their level of excellence.
Jugjeet: It’s important that student leaders at Law School focus on lifting the voices of marginalised communities. As president of VUWLSS in 2020, when the Faculty and the University were trying to adapt to COVID-19 on the fly, my priority was advocating for students from marginalised backgrounds, who were likely to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Law School can be a difficult journey at the best of times, but COVID-19 made things a lot harder. My priority was making sure no student was left behind. This wasn’t a matter of the majority versus the minority. I knew most students would adapt to online learning and assessments. My concern was for students who, in ordinary times, were struggling to manage the pressures of Law School alongside personal responsibilities, such as family caring commitments, part-time jobs or cultural/religious priorities. We continuously reminded the Faculty that we cannot assume every student at Law School has their own device, stable internet, or quiet study space. It would be naïve to assume that every student had the same luxuries and was in the same position entering the pandemic.
2. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we live, work, and study. What advice would you offer students, particularly those embarking on university study for the first time, in this new environment?
Manraj: COVID-19 has switched things up for all of us! Seek out people in your courses who you can reach out to when you need to—this might be by joining clubs, attending events, or speaking up in your tutorial. Take advantage of the online features available to you, such as re-watching lectures and learning innovative note-taking techniques. And I swear by it, always put your camera on in your Zoom tutorials!
Meghan: My Law School experience has been made better by the people I’ve met along the way. It’s important to find ways to reconnect with the Law School community when the pandemic has isolated us all into digital learning bubbles. I would encourage students to find ways to make friends, socialise, and study together. Go to your lecturer’s or tutor’s office hours. The worst thing you can do is get lost behind your screen.
Jugjeet: There is no substitute for the tight-knit and supportive community that can be found within OGB. While we are all used to working from home and can navigate a Zoom call with ease, don’t pass on the opportunities to make friends and build connections at the Law School. Your peers at the Law School will go on to be your colleagues in the workplace. You don’t need to go through the Law School alone. It can be difficult, scary, and exhausting at times. Reach out to the Law School community—your lecturers will listen, and your peers will relate. We are all going through this together!
3. Taking the step from law student to working as a lawyer can be a daunting experience. Is enough being done to ease that transition? What more needs to be done?
Meghan: As a final-year student, there’s a lot of information you have to find out for yourself or stumble across along the way. I’ve been lucky to have had mentors both formally (through the Wellington Young Lawyers Committee Bridging the Gap Programme) and informally who have answered my questions. Professional Legal Studies course providers do a lot of mahi in this area to support students but there are definitely students slipping through the gaps, especially as the job market continues to contract due to COVID-19.
Jugjeet: The jump from study to practice is significant. Five (or six) years at Law School teaches you how to find the ratio decidendi of a case but it won’t get you prepared for six-minute interval time sheet keeping or handling difficult clients or partner expectations. There is definitely not enough done to support students as they enter the profession, and that gap should be filled by law schools and workplaces collectively. One example is the added workload of students completing their Profs qualifications part time, while also working full time. The workload on these students or graduates goes unnoticed and leads to burnout. The onus falls on Profs providers and employers to work together to find a solution.
4. Do you believe the students in the Law School are representative of the New Zealand population? If not, whose faces are missing and what would you like to see done about it?
Meghan: No. There have been significant improvements but we still have a long way to go. The problem begins before law school. Most students who make it through to second year have received a private or high-decile public education. Steps need to be taken to address institutional problems in our education system that disproportionately disadvantage particular groups like our Māori and Pasifika tauira so that every New Zealander has the chance to succeed in tertiary education.
Jugjeet: While the representative groups at the Law School are getting busier with new events and initiatives to support their students, the Law School roll is not as diverse as it ought to be. Māori and Pasifika students are still a minority in our lecture theatres and when students do make it to the Law School, the bureaucracy does not make it an easy path for them. Māori and Pasifika are systemically disadvantaged by New Zealand’s legal system. Law schools across the country need to increase their Māori and Pasifika student numbers and ensure they have the right support and resources to excel once they make it into law school.
5. Who makes a good lawyer?
Manraj: Anyone with a Victoria University of Wellington Law Degree. :)
Jugjeet: A good lawyer understands and recognises the importance of their degree. It is a privilege to have a law degree and to be a lawyer. It is my hope that all LLB graduates in Aotearoa recognise this importance and use their skills and knowledge to uplift the voices of marginalised communities and work to actively dismantle the racist and colonial structures that underpin our legal system.
Access the full version of V.Alum 2021 here.