Sir Anand’s words of wisdom to student prizewinners

Law News recently had the opportunity to attend the University of Auckland Law School’s Law Student Awards evening on Tuesday 2 May 2017.

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Dean Andrew Stockley welcomed everyone to this year’s celebration of what the Law School’s “best and brightest” have achieved, and thanked those who have sponsored prizes to enable the students’ accomplishments be recognised in this setting.

He commended the commitment and perseverance of the prizewinners who have lived up to what they have learnt at the Law School, truly understanding the meaning of hard work, application and the importance of giving of their time to different sectors of the community.

Prizes were given out to student leaders and the winners of academic subject prizes at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Dean Stockley noted that Auckland Law School offers the largest number of undergraduate electives out of all of the country’s law schools, and also has the largest LLM programme in New Zealand (and more LLM students than all of the other universities combined).

The premier award of the evening, given to the best law student of the graduating class, was the “ADLS Prize for the Top Law Undergraduate”. This year’s prize was taken out by Linda Sullivan, who also received a Faculty of Law Dean’s Academic Excellence Award and a Senior Scholar Award.

The winners of a wide range of competitions (both local and international) were also applauded, with mooting and commercial mediation teams from Auckland Law School once again featuring particularly strongly overseas, and in several instances achieving top rankings against stiff competition from other countries.

This year’s student prize-winners were fortunate to hear insights from “one of the Law School’s most notable alumni”, the guest speaker for the evening, Sir Anand Satyanand. Highlights of Sir Anand’s long career of service to the law in New Zealand include his time as a District Court judge, his 10-year term as Ombudsman for New Zealand, and his service as Governor-General from 2006 to 2011.

But Dean Stockley also commented on Sir Anand’s commitment to the Law School as a Distinguished Fellow – “He hasn’t just taken the title, but he has lived it” – coming in every month and speaking to students, judging competitions and taking part in initiatives such as the Equal Justice Project (or EJP).

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Sir Anand told the assembled students that he had almost finished writing what he described as “an orthodox speech by a senior member of the legal profession”, which would have included the usual messages to young graduates about making the most of what they had learned while at law school, keeping in contact with their peers, etc.

However, while writing the peroration, he said that he was inspired to go beyond what might usually be said in such situations, and to rewrite his speech in light of a book he had been reading by American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher, Atul Gawande (Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End).

Sir Anand took five challenges posed by Dr Gawande to graduating medical students, and decided to reframe them in the context of giving food for thought to law students beginning their journey into the legal profession.

The first challenge posed by Sir Anand was, “Ask an unscripted question.” “Lawyers should never lose the ability to ask questions, nor the faculty of being inquisitive,” Sir Anand said. “Asking questions and being inquisitive can only lead to trouble in very limited circumstances.”

“Don’t complain,” was the second suggested piece of advice. “As lawyers and law students, you have acquired the skills to identify flaws and mistakes,” Sir Anand told the assembled crowd. But he reminded them that they have also acquired skills which will help them resolve such issues. “Instead of complaining, do something about securing redress,” he suggested.

“Count something,” was his next recommendation, describing this as “shorthand for observing and recording” issues that arise, and considering the appropriate action to take if they recur.

Next was, “Write something.” At law school, students acquire skills in legal writing and will find many opportunities to write formally (briefs, submissions, correspondence, etc.) as they progress through the profession. But Sir Anand encouraged them also to consider “writing for journals and blogs”, as the essential legal skills of writing and documenting “benefit from continued polishing and improving”.

Finally, “Change.” “The world in front of all of you is one where you will apply your skills in a number of ways,” Sir Anand said. “Do not feel hidebound by the choices you have made to date. Be willing to back yourself and make change resolutely if it is warranted.”

In closing, Sir Anand quoted two other inspirational figures who had words of wisdom on making the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.

First, champion New Zealand motor racing driver, the late Bruce McLaren, who said: “It would be a waste of life to do nothing with one’s ability, for I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”

Secondly, he echoed the words of the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

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