“Mum, Dad – I’m going to be an artist.”
“That’s nice dear.”
“But seriously – it’s my calling. Doesn’t this bother you?”
“Wouldn’t you rather I became a lawyer or a doctor?”
“I’d rather you became a plumber; you could come and sort out all our problems.”
My parents have always been pretty supportive of my ideas. Through every change of mind and new declaration of having “found a calling” (be it dancing, helicopter flying or marine biology), they have only ever expressed a desire for me to be happy and successful in my field, if maybe also sourcing some practical skills that can help them with renovation projects.
But setting aside the parents, there has always been another source of pressure for the ambitious student: their own anxiety. We plague ourselves, fearing in our lack of self-esteem that we are not good enough to succeed in the more daring, less financially secure channels of employment. And so we accept a path that might be tough, but at least secures a pay-out in the end. We have to make those tough decisions of comfort versus ideological commitment, asking ourselves in the middle of the night: will I be able to actually fulfil that bohemian dream of living in a garden shed in France with only my canvasses to keep me company and end up eating my own bitter and toxic paints like Van Gogh?
The comfort versus commitment argument occurred to me recently in observing the mass migration of people I know to the ambition of the law conversion. I firstly felt confused: is this what the whole crowd of you wanted to do all along? Or is this another example of someone lacking the confidence to push the boat out and commit to pursue the dream?
I decided to do a bit of research on all of this before leaping to making any vast generalisations. In my quest to understand, I clicked on a website about law conversions and was immediately faced with a pop up in the centre of my screen telling me “We knew you’d show up…”. I started back from the screen – but, but, it’s not what you think! I’m just doing some innocent research, just checking out my options! The creepy insinuation that at some point we will all consider the law conversion as a life choice disturbed me: has it become the option, the fashionable conclusion of all of our career conundrums, whether we are fit for or interested in studying the law or not?
Maybe this website exists for our realising that there is a law of attraction for finding a way through the next few years of our lives without having to fill our coffers with even more borrowed money. And the law profession is very good at projecting itself as a mirage on the horizon, gilded seductively as it takes students out to big dinners for free, or puts on swanky events with champagne and canapés.
To understand how all this stuff works, I decided to discuss the options with a couple of college career queens. They explained the necessity of finding a training contract with a firm, which will fund them through the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Again, that pesky F-word – funding – was cropping up again with renewed ferocity. Law converters need to deal with the fact that there are no grants, local or state, that can get them through the training they need. One of the key paths into these training opportunities is the internship – get the internship, get a contract interview – to obtain a purpose for the next couple of years. With this contract, the promise of job security and the big cash payouts suddenly becomes a potential reality. In an economy fuelling our heart palpitations and constant fear of rejection, the law conversion is a difficult but satisfying door that isn’t closed to a funded student.
There are those among the conversion masses who are there for both comfort and commitment, breaking the balance of the theory, and we can heartily salute them without reserve towards a hopeful prosperity.
However, for a considerable number of students the law conversion is still an escape from fear. The old adage of being your worst enemy applies too often. The best and worst conclusion is compromise: the bohemian dream must be realistic. Paint tastes bitter and canvas never makes a good blanket. But decisions must be made in knowing that our hunger for both bodily and occupational fulfilment must be satiated.