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Resilience and contribution shape Supreme Court Prize winner

2019 Supreme Court Prize winner Matthew Bucki-Smith took on international study, community legal service volunteering and full-time work on his way to securing the top award for his law studies.

International opportunities were high on his agenda when Matthew elected to study Arts and Law at Deakin. Inspired as a youngster by his uncle’s study trip to China, he had developed a lifelong passion for Chinese language and culture. So, once at uni, he seized the opportunity for an exchange semester at the University of Hong Kong and even deferred for a year of Mandarin study in Beijing.

“As for law”, he says, “well, I was terrible at mathematics and couldn’t tell you the difference between mercury and applesauce, so sciences were definitely off the table.” But, his debating abilities and enjoyment of methodical argumentation led him to choose the Bachelor of Laws. “Law seemed to me to be a great way to turn these interests into a career – and as I discovered at Deakin, it was. The structured, highly analytical process of legal argumentation is something I find really interesting“.

Focusing on practise

Matthew quickly tuned in to the course’s focus on the role and practise of law in the real-world. He says, “The course material, the teaching style, the exposure to industry and opportunities for study abroad were all designed with an eye to engaging us with, and preparing us to tackle the complexities of the modern day.”

Industry placements are another facet of Deakin’s practical approach, and Matthew took one as a volunteer paralegal at the Disability Discrimination Legal Service (DDLS). “I had the opportunity to contribute to the important work of the DDLS I n representing people with disabilities in discrimination complaints, and in submissions to law reforms relating to the rights of people with disabilities.”

Community is a commitment

From this, he took away skills as well as a commitment to giving back, “In addition to honing my legal drafting and client relationship-building skills, my time volunteering at the DDLS taught me something even more important: we’re all members of a community that we have a responsibility to give of our time to.”

So, he kept going, “Although my placement was only for 8 weeks, I decided to stay on as a volunteer for another year and a half after that.” And he doesn’t intend to leave it at that, “In my career, I’m excited about the prospect of continuing to turn this fortune to the benefit of my community.”

Matthew is currently at Norton Rose Fulbright doing a graduate rotation in banking and finance, which is proving to be a dynamic field, “Advising on an area of law that can change literally one day to the next is not only fascinating, but extremely exciting”, he says. Moreover, it delivers significant community benefit due to the many layers of contracts that facilitate infrastructure developments such as wind farms, train lines or hospitals.

Fallibility and fortune

Even as he’s “very surprised – and incredibly honoured” to receive the Supreme Court Prize, and grateful for his “great fortune, receiving “an education at a top university, in a discipline that has great employment opportunities”, he recognises that there are challenges on everyone’s path, his included.

He says, “My international study experience – particularly in Beijing – taught me a great deal of humility, and the importance of making mistakes as a path to learning”.

Fortunately he was able to build the resilience he needed to thrive, “Life is about falling down and bouncing back, and my international studies – although humbling in many respects – have greatly improved my ability to do so”.

“Nothing has quite taken the wind out of my sails like my first day in Beijing, where I was barely capable of telling a taxi driver the address of my university in Chinese (much less understanding what he was saying back!) By the same token, nothing has quite shown me the importance of resilience and persistence like leaving Beijing a year later, being able to chat animatedly with a taxi driver about a shared dislike for Uber.“

Always reach out

So, drawing on experience, he offers heartfelt counsel to students, “Take care of your mental health! Keep your friends and family close, and never be afraid to reach out for help if you’re not okay. Make the most of the support services Deakin offers, and the opportunity to connect with your peers through extra-curriculars and university clubs. Some of the best times I had at Deakin were getting involved with student groups and mentoring initiatives. The friends you make doing these things are so important for your mental wellbeing, and great connections to have as your careers