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Monday, July 24, 2017
Justinian in Barely Legal, Law students

Barely Legal's part-time job in retail ... The humiliation of a top law student having to wear a uniform and a name tag ... How to work on a Torts essay while serving customers ... The pleasure of being sacked 

Barely Legal has worked at Australia's Favourite Department Store for two years. It wasn't until I started law school, though, that people started asking me if I worked there for the money. I was thunderstruck. People worked retail for anything but the paycheck?  

Turns out it's an unofficial law school axiom that you won't get a graduate job if you have the temerity to "just study". Yes, even if you live rent-free with your parents and spend all your Centrelink money on novelty socks, don't expect to get so much as a clerkship interview if you haven't studded your CV with part-time work and unpaid volunteering.

"I always like to see that applicants have maintained other employment while studying," a graduate recruiter told us during my first year. "It shows us that they can juggle commitments."  

*   *   *

A couple months back I ran into a classmate at a networking event. We'd never spoken before - I'd been calling him Fish Face in my head for over a year. Our boilerplate chit-chat inevitably turned to clerkship applications and extracurriculars.

"I used to have a part time job," Fish Face explained. "But it was taking too much time away from study, so I quit to focus on my readings."

Oh right, Readings. Those things I hadn't had time to do all semester.

"I have five part-time jobs," I boasted. "And I play sport three times a week."

Later at home I was mildly disgusted with myself for buying into the bullshit that you were a failure unless you'd filled your every waking hour with resume fodder. If Fish Face didn't need to work to afford food and could instead spend his bountiful free time on maximising his average, then bully for him.

*   *   *

Once during my twenty minute break I was reading my Contracts textbook in a public food court adjoining the department store. Someone sat down in my peripheral vision and snorted. I glanced up. A stranger was staring at my uniform, and when our eyes locked she asked me if I worked there. 

"Uh-huh," I said. 

"What are you studying?"

"Law."

"Law?" She looked back down at my uniform, trying and failing to reconcile the two. She snorted again. "Really?"

*   *   *

Inevitably, a shift would sometimes coincide with an assignment deadline. One of my more distasteful roles at work is dobbing in colleagues who fail to remove security tags from clothing, thereby making customers suffer the unforgivable humiliation of beeping on their way out.

After prostrating myself in apology, I'm obliged to record the team member's name on a ruled ledger - which also happens to double as a handy essay plan template.

I was working on my Torts paper when someone called my name. I looked up and found myself face to face with a high school-era friend, arm-in-arm with her mother. 

"You work here now?" my friend asked, eyeing me with shock. Whether she was more surprised that I was wearing lipstick or by the sight of my violently orange uniform kerchief was a mystery for the ages.

I confirmed that my name-tag was indeed not for show.

"Full time?" her mother prompted, not bothering to disguise the oh-so-disappointed undertones: but you had so much promise!

"Just on weekends." With difficulty I resisted the temptation to add that I was a graduate law student at one of Australia's most prestigious schools. Flashing that particular badge of elitism was tantamount to calling my colleagues, the ones who'd made retail their career, low life schlubs. 

*   *   *

It's desirable for law students to pad their CVs with retail humiliation

You don't need to read the news to know that Australia's Favourite Department Store is currently in a financial hole. Shifts we'd been promised started evaporating from our roster last week. When pressed, our manager spoke of "streamlining" and "pulling back". Then my schedule went blank entirely.

We'd been screwed over, yet all I felt was a secret, shameful gratitude. Being fired meant an extra day every week that I could spend frowning at the Corporations Act. It meant no more weekend shoppers seeing my uniform as tacit permission to treat me like a subhuman nitwit. Most of all, it meant people would stop shaming me for working in the service industry, not because I wanted to beef up my clerkship applications, but because I needed to pay that arcane thing called rent.

*   *   *

It usually happened once a shift, so, like clockwork, it happened during my very last one.

"Where's your hairdresser?"

This time the asker was a woman in her forties. My eyes roved to the tufts of static blonde hair jutting from her scalp. Trying to jump ship? 

"Sorry, we don't have one."

"Yes, you do!"

"Not for fifteen years." 

The woman stormed off.

"Have a lovely fucking day." 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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