Student insights: Unique international focus of Juris Doctor

4 May 2021
Insights from a final year Juris Doctor student
Vinuri Gajanayake shares her experience as a Juris Doctor student at Sydney Law School and speaks about the ‘unique international focus’ of the degree.

Why did you choose The University of Sydney to study your Juris Doctor?

Final year Juris Doctor student, Vinuri Gajanayake.

After completing my Bachelor of Commerce in Perth, I was keen for a change of scenery. Sydney was a perfect cure for my ‘wanderlust’, and the USyd JD offered a uniquely international focus through its incorporation of both Public and Private International Law into the curriculum, despite neither being in the Priestley 11.

I took this as a reflection of how the Law School challenges students to approach their education with a sense of curiosity towards cross-cultural perspectives in our increasingly globalised society, a skill that I hope to embody throughout my career. 

Tell us about the International Bar Association internship you recently completed.

Whilst doing Public International Law in my first year, I was inspired to gain international work experience.

I didn’t get into the internship the first time I applied, so after applying the feedback I received and improving my CV, I applied again at the end of 2020 and was successful in getting an internship with the Internation Bar Association (IBA) Legal Research and Policy Unit.

Unfortunately, at the time I received the news that I had been accepted, the UK went into its second lockdown, so I wasn’t able to go to London. Despite this, my team was so lovely and communicative, which made me comfortable even though I’d never met them in person.

A highlight was helping to edit and review the Judicial Integrity Report, which is the culmination of years of research that the IBA has conduct on judicial corruption prosecutorial practices around the world.

Doing this internship whilst undertaking a full-time study load was challenging, but it taught me how to balance competing priorities without compromising the quality of my work by staying organised and communicating proactively.  

(Read the article Vinuri Gajanayake wrote during her International Bar Association internship, 'Sanity in the courtroom: mental health of lawyers in the adversarial system'.)

What would you say to students thinking about doing the internship?

Don’t rule yourself out just because you think you might not have the requisite experience, or you’re intimidated by the global level of competition. My cohort of interns was incredibly diverse in experience and cultural background, but we were united in our interest in how the IBA functioned as an organisation.
Juris Doctor student, Vinuri Gajanayake.

The most important thing is to read up on the reports that the IBA posts on their website and become familiar with which teams work on which issues. This will make you more competitive in the recruitment process, and affirm for you whether the work that the IBA does aligns with your interests.

What have been some study highlights?

I was a participant of the inaugural Summer Innovation Program (SIP) that the Law School ran in 2020. This involved a five-day ‘hackathon’ aimed at tackling global issues at the nexus of technology and the law. It was intense but intellectually stimulating, and I made some great friends and mentors.

I was also an intern to Dr Tanya Mitchell at the Sydney Institute of Criminology. This was a great opportunity to learn from Dr Mitchell and to build on my understanding of the criminal law and criminal justice reform, which is what I have based many of my elective units around now that I am in my final year. 

What were your perceptions of Sydney Law School before you arrived? And, what was the reality?

Given the national reverence towards the Law School’s LLB program, I was apprehensive that the JD program might be pushed to the fringes. Upon arriving, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the program was tailored so that JD students would have our own classes and just as much opportunity to engage with professors in a meaningful way. 

My classes are rife with debate and critical analysis, facilitated by some of the most impressive legal minds in the country.
Juris Doctor student, Vinuri Gajanayake.

It’s been all the more fun because my peers are from all over the world, many having been in the workforce for some time before starting the JD, so I have been exposed to many new perspectives through these classroom debates and obtained a really holistic education.

What opportunities are available for law students?

There is a huge range of opportunities to develop your skills and network.
Juris Doctor student, Vinuri Gajanayake.

The number of opportunities can feel overwhelming because you feel like you need to apply for everything to make your time here worthwhile. A great starting point is finding a class or a professor whom you feel really engaged with and striking them in a conversation about their speciality – my professors have been great at guiding me towards the right direction.

What advice would you give to those looking to pursue postgraduate studies in law?

The unique thing about postgraduate law is that people have taken so many different paths to get here.

Go into it with an open mind and a deep sense of humility. You will be surrounded by some incredibly intelligent people, but if you make friends and learn from them, you will find that some of that rubs off on you.

The best part of this degree, hands down, has been the amazing people I have met.

Thinking about studying a Juris Doctor? Find out more about the degree.

Explore the scholarships available to Juris Doctor students.

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