The Importance of Resilience

By Professor Nick James

The following is an extract from an address by Professor Nick James, Executive Dean of the Bond University Faculty of Law, at the Faculty of Law Executive Dean’s Awards Evening, on Monday 10 July 2023:

It is traditional at this event for the Executive Dean to give a brief address on a topic of contemporary relevance. Yesterday I flew back to South-East Queensland after spending the past week in New Zealand. I was in Christchurch attending the 2023 Annual Conference of the Australasian Law Academics Association. Most of the law academics in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific are members of the association, and the annual conference is the opportunity to present and listen to papers about legal education and a wide variety of legal topics. Bond Law was well represented at the conference, with six Bond academics and three Bond PhD students all delivering papers. It should come as no surprise that my own paper was about the impact of AI upon the teaching of law … but that isn’t what I propose to speak about this evening. This evening I would like to talk about resilience.

Resilience is, according to the American Psychological Association definition, ‘the process and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially through mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility and adjustment to external and internal demands’.

This topic has been inspired by my visit to Christchurch. Christchurch is a city that has experienced unimaginably ‘difficult or challenging life experiences’ and is yet emerging stronger, more sustainable, and more vibrant than ever before. For those of you too young to remember this, in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch was struck by two devastating earthquakes. The first earthquake hit on 4 September 2010, with a magnitude of 7.1, followed by a series of aftershocks. Then, on 22 February 2011, a second earthquake hit the city with a magnitude of 6.3. This second earthquake caused significant damage to buildings and infrastructure, and the tragic loss of 185 lives. The earthquakes resulted in the collapse of numerous major buildings in the CBD and outlying areas, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. The quakes also caused extensive damage to roads, utilities, and homes throughout the city.

The destruction and the loss of life caused by these earthquakes was catastrophic. But the people of Christchurch were resilient. They came together and they worked together and they rebuilt their city. And 12 years later the city is thriving. There are still many, many empty lots in the CBD where there were once buildings. But the renovations to the old buildings and the variety of new buildings have created a city that now combines the best of old and new. The citizens of Christchurch have shown us not only what resilience looks like but how resilience can lead to adaptation and renewal and growth, and ultimately success in unexpected ways.

If you are here tonight to receive an award, you have already demonstrated an impressive capacity for resilience. If your award tonight is for academic performance, your ‘difficult and challenging life experiences’ have included mastering an extraordinarily complex academic discipline, learning effective study skills, balancing your university commitments with your work and personal commitments, and confronting challenging assessments in multiple subjects … that all seem to be due at the same time. And if you are here tonight because of your success with mooting or with clinics, your challenges have included sometimes overwhelming workloads, dealing with entirely new experiences, rapidly developing new skills, and balancing your extracurricular obligations with maintaining your grades and, somehow, actually maintaining a social life.

To do all of that so well that you are actually recognised at a Faculty awards night shows that you already have a capacity for resilience. Where other students use adversity as an excuse to do less, you have used adversity as motivation to do better.

Over the months and years to come your capacity for resilience will become increasingly valuable to you and increasingly important to those around you. Your journey through law school and as a legal professional is not, regardless of your intentions, going to be a straight line. You are unlikely to move directly towards the precise destination you set for yourself before you came to law school. Instead, your journey is going to be a winding path, often towards an uncertain destination. I have spoken to many, many law school graduates who all tell a similar story: ‘I came to law school wanting to do X, but then I decided to try Y, and now I have ended up doing Z … and I love it’. It takes resilience and adaptability to navigate all those twists and turns.

And the challenges will continue. Law is a high-stress profession. You will have to stay calm under confronting circumstances, you will have to make important decisions with life changing consequences for others, and you will have to effectively advocate for clients … even when you are feeling overwhelmed.

You will be continue to be called upon to cope with uncertainty and change. The legal landscape is constantly evolving, with new laws, new regulations, and new precedents. The external landscape – the climate crisis, AI, global economic conditions, shifting political contexts – will also be constantly evolving. You will have to be flexible and adaptable.

There will be times when your workload will seem overwhelming, when personal illness or family tragedy threatens to ruin everything, when your careful plans are disrupted by unexpected events. There will be times when you are going to feel inadequate, you are going to feel underprepared, you are going to feel anxious. That is both inevitable …and completely normal. And it is your resilience that will see you through.

Don’t get me wrong. Academic performance is important, and developing your legal skills through extracurricular activities like mooting and clinics is important. But do not overlook the work you need to do now to ensure your resilience in the years to come.  It is resilience that will carry you through the tough times, enable you to learn from failures and disappointments and disasters, and empower you to rise again, just like the people of Christchurch. Resilience includes embracing setbacks as stepping stones to success. Every time we face down a challenge, and refuse to let it break us, we set a precedent for ourselves that will make it easier for us the next time we face adversity. We begin to view challenges not as roadblocks but as opportunities for growth and development. We see begin to see failure and disappointment not as the end of the road, but merely as course corrections on the road to success.

Congratulations to all the award recipients here tonight. May your resilience continue to be unwavering and your determination unyielding. The fact that you are here this evening is clear evidence that you are already well on your way to being a resilient, determined and successful lawyer.

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