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Staying the course

Think you’re busy? Try completing a law degree around a full-time job and a family of five children.

Managing a full-time role at work while parenting five sons at home means life carries big commitments, regular bouts of fatigue and very little time. 

So how do you throw a law degree – along with the huge responsibility of being a single parent – into the mix and still come out smiling at the end? 

This remarkable achievement belongs to Deakin Law School (DLS) graduate Rebekah Henry, who recently completed a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) degree.

Now working as a lawyer with Australian law firm Clayton Utz, Rebekah had a long career as a legal secretary in both Australia and the USA and says that when the opportunity arose to pursue a law degree she jumped at it.

‘Given how much I'd enjoyed working in the legal industry for so long, studying law seemed like a natural progression for me,’ she reflects.

But with a calendar crammed with work and family commitments, Rebekah’s only option was off-campus study, and this became the biggest deciding factor for her choice of university.

‘I was a mature-age student with five sons at home and a full-time job, so I needed the flexibility of being able to decide when to study the readings, listen to lectures and work on assignments. Of all the off-campus LLB options I explored, Deakin's program was the most practical and highly-regarded in the industry. My Deakin alumni colleagues at Clayton Utz were also testament to the quality of the course,’ she says.

When she began her law degree in 2014, Rebekah was working full-time in the legal profession and says her studies felt like a natural extension of working life.

‘I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who helped me to maintain the drive to finish my degree and to finish well. My colleagues were able to give me practical input into the issues I was studying, which really helped my understanding of the course material.’ 

Rebekah’s position eventually transitioned into a paralegal role before she undertook two clerkships in her penultimate year of study. 

She says one of the best aspects of being a Cloud Campus student was the effort made by Deakin to ensure her learning experience equalled that of her on-campus peers. 

‘We listened to the same lectures, received the same assessments, had access to the same tutors and were made to feel very welcome to attend lectures if the opportunity arose.’

And how did she juggle the hefty work-family-study load? By being exceptionally organised, turning spare time into study time, and keeping her focus fixed on the goal of graduating.

‘Because I worked full-time throughout my course, I studied during my commute, over my lunch break, and after the kids went to bed, and I used annual leave days for revision and exams. It was certainly not easy, especially when faced with significant personal challenges, but it was do-able with the support of family and friends – and a strong power-up playlist on repeat!’

Rebekah is now completing her second rotation at Clayton Utz and is based in the corporate law team.

‘This team advises clients about issues such as capital raisings, IPOs and corporate structures. As part of these processes, I help with preparing board materials, reviewing company information and verifying due diligence documents,’ she says.

Her next rotation will be with the firm’s construction team.

Rebekah’s key piece of advice for others considering a career in the legal profession is to gain as much experience – either working or volunteering, and in any capacity – as soon as possible.

‘This is the best way to see the law in practice and work out whether it’s the right career choice. It's also a great opportunity to build a more informed, marketable and transferable skillset that could be a determining factor in landing a competitive legal role.’

And when it comes to studying law, she says it’s important to accept that part of its challenge is learning ‘how’.

‘I found that my study techniques changed over time as I learned both the law itself and how I best absorbed the material. It’s important to resolve and know that you will achieve your goal, and then all that's left is to work out how you're going to make that happen. My journey has shown me that with organisation and perseverance, a working mother can get the skills and career she wants.’

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