If you are a law student, and you have recently graduated or are about to graduate: congratulations, you are extraordinary. Not only have you completed or are you about to complete a program in one of the most academically rigorous disciplines, that of law, you have managed to do so as your university, the nation and the world are struggling to come to grips with what has turned out to be the great crisis of our time. But now, we are going to ask more of you.
Whenever I welcome a new cohort of law students to law school, I deliver an address where I compare the journey through law school with the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is the narrative structure that lies beneath nearly every great myth and legend, as well as many works of fiction and pretty much any Hollywood blockbuster, from the Wizard of Oz to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to Harry Potter to Moana and Mulan. It is also a narrative structure that is very helpful in making sense of the journey through law school.
The story of the hero’s journey begins with the hero at home living a ‘normal’ life in Kansas or the Shire or Motunui … just as you were living an ordinary life – for many of you, a long way from law school – when you made the decision to study law.
There is a call to adventure, something that gives the hero a purpose or a mission … just as you were inspired to come to law school by a family member, an experience with the law, a much loved novel, or popular culture.
There is the mission itself: destroy the ring, defeat Voldemort, restore the heart of Te Fiti … or complete the law degree.
The journey to complete the mission is not a straight line from start to finish. There are twists and turns and unexpected plot developments and things never, ever go according to plan … just like your journey through law school.
The hero meets friends and allies and mentors: Glenda the Good Witch and Yoda and Galadriel and Hagrid and Li Shang … your peers, your professors and your tutors.
The hero also makes enemies; there is always a Draco Malfoy in there somewhere, and no doubt you have had your own Draco or two at law school.
There are obstacles to be overcome along the way, and there are tests and challenges that the hero must overcome.
And then … Well, think about the last movie you watched or the last novel you read.
There is a good chance that at some point just before the end of the story, something really bad happened. Something that seemed so awful it looked like the bad guys were going to win or the hero was going to fail or give up or even die. Something that made you think: ‘Oh no! is this it? Is this how it’s going to end? That’s terrible’.
But just when it seemed all hope was lost, the hero managed to tap into some well of fortitude, by remembering or being reminded of what they had forgotten or drawing upon their new power, and as the music swelled and the audience cheered, the hero stood up, and renewed the battle, and ultimately won.
That’s you. Just as it looked like you were done with your studies and the finish line was in sight, 2020 arrived with its pandemics and bushfires and drone strikes and police brutality.
But you didn’t give up. In the face of extraordinary, unprecedented adversity, you have persevered and prevailed and slain the dragon, destroyed the ring, restored the heart of Te Fiti … and finished that law degree.
That’s the hero’s journey. The hero always prevails, and by the end of the journey, after all their struggles, they have been transformed into a different person, a better person, who finally returns home – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally – having achieved their mission and committed to using their newfound skills and gifts to help others and heal the community. Just as I hope you are committed to using the extraordinary qualification you have been or are about to be awarded, and the knowledge and skills you have earned through your hard work over the last few semesters, to serve justice, to do what is good and right, and to help others.
And make no mistake, the world needs heroic lawyers right now. Your studies will give you a qualification that leads to more than the possibility of a lucrative and rewarding career. The reason why such a disproportionately large number of leaders and reformists, Prime Ministers and Premiers and Governors and Presidents are law graduates is because legal training provides the skills, the abilities, the confidence and the resilience that informs great leadership.
When you leave law school with your legal qualification it is almost inevitable that you will rise to a position of leadership within your firm, organisation or community. And what the world needs now, and is going to need in the months and years to come, are leaders who have the vision and the confidence to make difficult decisions informed by credible, reliable data, by scholarly research, by disciplined reasoning and critical thinking, and by a commitment to ethics, fairness and the public good.
We need heroic lawyers and we need heroic leaders.
We need you to be heroic.
(This is a revised version of a speech delivered by the author at the Bond University Faculty of Law graduation ceremony on 12 August 2020. For further detail about the journey through law school as the hero’s journey, read this and watch this.)