Food diary
Monday, October 16, 2017
Justinian in Barely Legal, Food, Internships, Law students

Barely Legal's constant hunt for free nourishment ... Sustenance on a student's miserable stipend ... Exam time and destitution ... Failing to live off the fat of the law 


I'M walking across campus at lunchtime, past the lawn sectored off by linear ponds full of algal water and shifty-eyed seagulls, when I see the sign. 

Sticky-taped to a trestle table surrounded by undergraduates, it reads: Free Food Here! 

A tug in my chest. It's almost exam time, which means making the inevitable tradeoff between study and work. You need to pay the rent, but the more hours worked, the less time to desperately saturate the pages of Modern Criminal Law of Australia in highlighter. 

The grocery list must be stripped back to rice and home-brand pasta; just enough to stretch over swotvac and the exam period you'll be spending as the most destitute and antisocial of monks.

I remember overhearing a kid boasting about getting through the week on his last fifteen bucks merely by patronising law school events with free catering. His friends laughed, I smirked, and we all avoided thinking too hard about endemic student poverty.

It must be noted from the outset that Barely Legal has more than fifteen bucks left to her name. That said, there are TVs currently on sale at JB Hi-Fi worth more than the sum total of my assets.

Why not try it? I thought to myself. Why not mooch off the catering of every journal launch, wellbeing focus group and public lecture I could find at the law school? 

Just think: if I saved enough money this week, I could splurge on a mango during swotvac!


I need to avoid my corporations law lecturer. Suffice it to say that, if she sees me she will ask me questions about share capital that I cannot possibly answer. 

My solution is to hide in a main campus library for the morning. A poster in the foyer is offering a free coffee voucher for an hour of unpaid labour. I stop in my tracks and examine the fine print. The voucher is worth $3.50, perhaps the cost of a coffee in 1997. No dice. 

At the law school there's a lunchtime launch of a new careers guide, whose release seems propitiously timed to coincide with clerkship rejection season. I duck my head into the room in search of the lollies customarily hurled at students to keep their attention during these things. 

No luck, but I pick up a guide anyway and Google the fibre content of recycled paper.

Tonight there's a panel discussion on courtroom advocacy promising "light refreshments", which is code for "we'll only feed you afterwards". 

I sit rigidly in my seat and stare down the esteemed barrister-panelists, mentally dividing their hourly salary by the cost of a Hass avocado at Coles. They are very rich indeed. 


I barely resist reporting a local cafe to the ACCC for debit card surcharge violations when they shake me down for an extra 50¢. I decide I've been reading too much Stasiland and need to start stealing coffee from the office like a normal person.

My legal internship is at a venerable organisation with three floors of a building in the legal precinct. Its facilities are both enlightened and swanky, by which I mean there is not just one panini press but two, so that the vegetarians don't have to share.

I wait for the morning tea rush to subside and skulk into the communal kitchen looking for scraps, though there isn't so much as an errant Nescafé pod. 

Even the ruddy teabags are under lock and key. Who even likes tea? I slouch back to my desk and remind myself that I'm surrounded by overworked public servants who only took me on because they can't afford to hire a paralegal.

I see on Facebook that a top tier firm across the road is hosting the grand final of one of my law school's many many mooting competitions. The organiser promises that the catering will be "ledge". I click attending.


I drop by to see one of my teachers with an essay proposal I'm hoping she'll think is endearingly out of the box and not completely batshit insane. 

She offers me coffee from a pot she's brewed herself - narrowly saving me from having to sneak up to the masters' student lounge to steal theirs.

That evening it's my old law school committee's let's-get-blotto-together-one-last-time dinner in Chinatown. When I catch her in the lift, I ask our ex-secretary sotto voce if the dumplings are on the corporate dime. 

"Of course!" She laughs. "Funny, you're the third person to ask me that today."

Funny indeed.


There are days when one's poor decision-making manifests itself in the form of deep fried macaroni and cheese cubes or patronising a cafe willing to deep fry pasta as a breakfast side.

An inventory of my week of attempted law school parasitism must be made, regardless: barrister-grade brie, instant coffee, two varieties of long life juice, several deflated samosas, half a guava. Thriftiness now blown to bits by a fatal weakness for espresso and hipsters.

Barely Legal may have failed to live off the fat of the law, but she will not be cowed. 

There must be other ways the law school can help me economise. After all, my student card gives me 24-hour access to a building with an unlimited supply of electricity and wifi. 

Never mind all the packs of free, highly absorbent paper towels in the bathroom and the cornucopia of quality computer chairs in the basement storage cage that no one ever locks. Even showers, rumour has it, and couches aplenty. 

Hell, I practically live in the building anyway. I might as well make it official. 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (
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