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Law enriches mayoral role

Victoria’s youngest mayor, Jake Keogh, says his Deakin law studies are ‘incredibly beneficial’ to his leading role in local government.

The old adage “if you want something done ask a busy person” is one that’s easily applied to Deakin law student Jake Keogh.

Now on the final stretch of a combined Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Criminology degree, Jake balances his studies with a number of high-responsibility roles that include Mayor of the Knox City Council (in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs), chair of the Eastern Regional Group of Councils, and member of the Local Government Mayors’ Advisory Panel.

Novel inspiration

Elected in November last year, Jake now holds the auspicious title of being the youngest-ever elected mayor of the City of Knox and the state’s youngest mayor; added to that, he’s also president, player and coach of his local footy club.

So what inspired him to incorporate a double degree into an already jam-packed workload? Interestingly, he says it was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel published almost 60 years ago.

‘I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in primary school and I loved Atticus Finch. Since then I have wanted to be a lawyer; the help and support you can give to people who truly need it, as exemplified in that novel, inspired me to do the same.’

Jake wouldn’t be the first law student who has invoked the inspiration and influence of small-town Alabama’s crusading attorney but he says it was a high school careers’ teacher who encouraged him to choose Deakin.

‘She really sold it to me as a uni of choice … it was close to home and also offered the freedom of online study at a pace which allowed me to continue doing work in my community … Deakin ticked every box.’

Online flexibility rated as ‘fantastic’

Describing the freedom of Deakin’s study flexibility as ‘fantastic’, Jakes says it’s been the key to successfully managing his multiple commitments.

‘The online delivery has been crucial in my time management. Instead of having to work life around uni, I can watch a lecture when I have time. Deakin’s Cloud Campus has allowed me to continue studying while holding the position of mayor.’

He also has high praise for Deakin’s law lecturers who he says have ‘gone above and beyond’ and are all experts in their field.

‘To have a lecturer come from court proceedings to teach a class is unique and amazing.

The focus on practical learning is also great … my studies have been about the real world.’

Every-day application

Already, Jake is finding real-world application of learning in his every-day local government responsibilities.

‘My course has been incredibly beneficial in my role. The understanding of the legal requirements and the appreciation of implications of decisions has been crucial. On top of that, a requirement of studying law is an immense amount of reading. This has proved very helpful as council agendas are regularly 500 pages. I’m accustomed to large amounts of reading for my law studies which has made the task much easier,’ he says.

As part of his electives, Jake has completed a work placement at the Moonee Valley Legal Centre in addition to an overseas study tour in the USA.

‘Both gave me a completely different experience that demonstrated the real-world of the law in a way that never could be achieved by simply being in the classroom. I learnt so much and it inspired me even more – especially the study tour of Washington and North Carolina.’

Finding the balance

So how does Victoria’s youngest mayor manage the challenge of his competing commitments?

‘It has been extremely difficult at times and the combined roles of uni, footy club and council have made for several sleepless nights and stressful times,’ he acknowledges.

‘However, the way that I manage to juggle it all is that I love what I do. Studying at Deakin has been a fun experience and I have learned so much; the role of mayor is a rewarding one where you can make a positive difference for so many residents, and being involved in the club is a grassroots way of giving back to my community.’

Jake’s advice for anyone contemplating combining study with professional and personal commitments is simple.

‘It’s the cliché of “do what you love”,’ he says.

‘I highly recommend taking on what you enjoy and what makes you happy. You’ll be amazed how easy it becomes to make time for the things you enjoy.’

Giving back

As for life beyond graduation, he’s looking forward to having the ability to contribute more widely and meaningfully.

‘Having the skills that come from a law degree allows you to give back in an incredible way and I want to utilise the experience I have gained at Deakin and council as much as I can.’

Jake recognises the path he has chosen differs from most of his contemporaries but he hopes in the future, more students will consider taking on civic roles that can ‘give back’ to the community.

‘The world today will be left to us in the not too distant future, so we have to stand up and make sure it is a world we want to live in.’

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