“The less people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they’ll sleep at night.” This quotation situated above the kitchen sink in the Monash Law Chambers, has curiously popped into my head as I walk past Flagstaff Gardens on my way to uni. I am arriving earlier than usual in order to finish several chapters of reading for class, in classic Courtney style, before said class. After studying the Juris Doctor for the past 3 years, I am somewhat inclined to agree with Otto Von Bismarck on his views on sausages and laws. The course is not for those who wish to sleep peacefully at night. Maybe some lucky students don’t let the stress of knowing they still have to read hundred page law reports and High Court decisions interrupt their 8 hours every night. Heck, they might not even be anxiety-ridden by constant thoughts of assessments and clerkships and what they are going to be doing for the rest of their lives. However, occasionally when I observe an exhausted student napping between classes in the study area of the Chambers, right opposite a large-scale illuminated brail installation which reads “The old law ‘an eye for an eye’ makes the whole world blind”, I know that I am not alone.
If you are lucky enough to be accepted into Monash University’s postgraduate law degree, say goodbye to long, relaxing university holidays, which we all took for granted in our undergraduate years. You probably won’t finish your trimester three exams (yes, there are three semesters) until the final week of November and you will be back nice and early in the first or second week of January for the beginning of your trimester one classes. Students from other disciplines will no doubt feign sympathy when they hear how soon JD students go back to class after the summer break, whilst secretly being thankful that they have another two months to sit leisurely by the pool and not even think about the upcoming academic year.
Walking south on William Street, I make a quick stop at the crowded 7/11 for my usual super-sized coffee. This particular one appears to be a favourite of those frequenting the Melbourne Magistrates Court and I can understand why. In solidarity, we all awkwardly line up in the narrow store aisles for our 90 seconds at the coffee machines, crossing our fingers that neither of the machines are out of order. Walking into the Chambers every day with my super-sized coffee I like to think of myself as a non-conformist of sorts, rejecting the wealthy and pretentious private school stereotype of the average law student who spends $7 on their almond milk latte after a particularly gruelling few hours work at their father’s law firm. In reality however, I think I have just acquired a taste for 7/11 coffee and appreciate their generous cup sizes.
The Law Chambers are situated on the first two floors of a nondescript office building on Lonsdale Street in Melbourne’s CBD, suggesting that the façade matches the bland subject material. If you take the William Street route like myself, you might get to witness some excitement outside the Magistrate’s Court, with court reporters and camera crews desperately trying to capture fifteen seconds of footage for the 6 o’clock news. However, most of the time they are simply standing outside, waiting patiently for several hours before anything occurs. I do believe a Channel 9 cameraman once caught a glimpse of my shoulder as he ran after a high profile businessman down Lonsdale Street, which was all very exciting.
The Law Chambers are easy to miss. It’s not even on the Snapchat map. The levels occupied by Monash University are only accessible via M-Pass which I am incredibly thankful for each morning when I am juggling my coffee and phone whilst trying to extract my student card from my wallet. You would think I would have learned by now to have my student card at the ready but alas, I am a mess. You can take the lift up to level one or two and keep your head down sheepishly as you inconvenience the rest of the professionals in the lift who need to get to level twelve, when you could have easily just walked up several flights of stairs. However, should you choose to use the stairs, I recommend leaving yourself enough time at the end to steady your breathing before you walk into your almost silent nine am class gasping for air and revealing your lack of physical prowess to your peers.
The foyer of the Chambers is predominantly occupied by a modest auditorium that is regularly used for internal and external lawyer-ing events. If you are lucky, upon finishing a Thursday evening class you might walk right into a small crowd of professional looking people gathered around the entrance to the auditorium sipping champagne and eating canapes. Upon crashing such a barrister soiree with your soggy sandwich in hand, you have no choice but to awkwardly shuffle through the crowd, murmuring apologies whilst trying not to hit anyone with your bulky backpack.
As I enter the bowels of the Chambers (level one), it gets significantly darker, which is not completely unexpected for a building squeezed in between a carpark and other high-rise office buildings. The lack of natural light is somewhat made up for by the illumination of the stairwell and other post-modern light fittings. On the south facing wall of the stairs I am confronted with a large scale etching of a tree, spanning from the bottom of the foyer to the top of the second level. I am not sure if this is supposed to represent the tree of knowledge, tree of life, or perhaps serve as a reminder of the legal doctrine of the fruit of the poisonous tree. Such a doctrine essentially means that, contrary to the actions of Inspector John Barnaby in Midsomer Murders, illegally obtained evidence is not admissible in the court of law, nor is any subsequent evidence (the fruit) stemming from the illegal act which gave rise to the initial ‘tree’ of evidence. To be honest, I think there are birds, not pieces of fruit, attached to the physical tree in the Chambers but regardless, it is a lovely artistic take on an otherwise dreary blank wall.
The first floor of the Chambers is home to several seminar rooms on one side, a reception/office area and library node on the other. Note the use of the word ‘node’; this library is the smallest library in the history of libraries, of which I have visited enough to consider myself an expert in the field. The library node contains two tables and two walls of textbooks for three hour loans and law reports which I do not think have been touched in the past five years. I like to shake up the monotony of academia by requesting murder mysteries and gruesome true crime novels from other campuses. They always look out of place on the holds shelf and the library staff probably hold concerns for my academic performance.
Walking into the second level of the building, I spy the life sized portraits of Chief Justice’s of the High Court of Australia, mounted on one side of the building and snaking around slightly to accommodate more recent additions. As a law student, I am ashamed to admit that these faces are not exactly familiar to me. However, the names attached to these faces would no doubt induce some sort of physical response from law students, be it jubilation or post traumatic stress. Every law student has read an epic dissent by known badboy Justice Kirby. On the north facing wall, there are lockers available for students to use at the start of the week on a first come basis. Throughout the trimester you will get used to hearing the constant ringing of alarms when someone forgets their locker code or tries to open the incorrect locker. Eventually, you won’t even find yourself clenching your fist in annoyance at the disruption, it will just sound like the familiar background noise of trams and cars and people sniffing. The seminar rooms opposite have quite a spectacular view of Lonsdale Street and the flurry of activity below. At various times of the day the city might resemble John Brack’s ‘Collins St, 5pm’ or a bustling metropolis. It is only quieter when it rains and the floor to ceiling windows provide a perfect observation deck. More often that not however, your view for the next three hours will be that of a large concrete jungle resembling a carpark on another side of the building. On the flip side of this, last year our Evidence class witnessed a Christmas party being held in the carpark, complete with boom box and karaoke. This is definitely one way to break up the monotony of evidence in murder trials.
I usually make several coffees and tea throughout the day in the kitchen and despite my shaking hands and subsequent discernible heart palpitations, I cannot help but gaze at some of the lovely touches to the area to inspire the uninspired law student. Large letters on the east facing window spell out the phrase “The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eye.” Ironically, I walked past this window for three years before realising what it actually said. On the wall opposite is a quotation which states that “Justice is the firm and continuous desire to render to everyone what which is his due”. Several printed artworks are also hung around the Chambers, including a personal favourite of mine: a photograph depicting a young man lying on a couch surrounded by empty beer and wine bottles. I have always found this piece to be equal parts amusing and thought-provoking, particularly as Ethics class covers admission guidelines for prospective lawyers into the profession; which stipulate that drug and alcohol dependency may be a factor in considering whether someone is a ‘fit and proper person’.
Finally, I take my seat at the computers in the silent study area (which is seldom silent for long) where I spend the majority of my time watching the cars slowly drive around the multi-storey car park next door. It can actually be quite soothing and a good way to procrastinate any pressing assessments. Despite the partial exposure of pipes and cables on the ceiling, the study area is quite illuminated for a side of the building which receives almost no natural light. Each computer has its own lamp which provides a nice homely touch, almost as if you are sitting at your own desk in your bedroom, panicking as you realise you know nothing about the Corporations Act. Some small desks containing power points have cords going through the centre of them and into the floor, encased with a protective spine-like plastic. They have a sort of tired look, as though they themselves had been slouched over a pile of law textbooks for several hours. I finally start my reading.