By Jack Townsend
I returned from a subject taught in China late Saturday night. It had been a long, tiresome fortnight filled with an unnecessary amount of stress and illness. Safe to say, I was not at my best when I walked through the doors of the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority (MMRA) at 8:45am Monday morning. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fellow interns were not all law students. Rather, seated around the table were a diverse group of engineering, accounting, media, urban planning and HR students.
Tasked with building two nine km tunnels through the city centre and delivering five new stations, improved signalling and new high-capacity trains, MMRA was established to deliver the state’s largest ever transport infrastructure project. The Metro Tunnel project is necessary to take trains out of the city loop, thus creating higher capacity throughout the network, so that our aging public transport system can meet the needs of a rapidly growing city. Needless to say, a nerd like me was excited.
It had been a while since I’d worked in an office, and when I opened my emails for the first time I was shocked to discover the sheer volume of meetings I was required to attend. I spent a day dazed and confused at the barrage of train-related acronyms that were being thrown my way. At the end of the first meeting I attended (my major contribution to which was nodding politely, pretending to understand the ins and outs of the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009) I was told I’d be preparing papers for the Governor-in-Council. Terrifying.
Yet, at no time did anyone ever doubt my competence or treat my lack of experience with condescension. HR invested time and energy in developing our skills, providing us with nearly weekly training sessions on topics ranging from mindfulness and resilience to applying for grad programs. What I relished most was the opportunity to engage with such a wide variety of work. Not only did I further engage with areas that I’d enjoyed at Law School, such as property and administrative law, but I was able to come to grips with areas I never dreamed I could be interested in such as procurement, construction law and contract management. I left feeling confident and assured in the skills I’d developed and grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful team.
Law firms seem to love to tell you how dull and stagnant working for government is, as if government agencies were bureaucratic wastelands devoid of innovative or creative thinking. This was far from my experience. Delivering such an enormous and complex project simply isn’t possible without novel solutions to tricky technical, logistical, geographic and legal issues. Working for government isn’t without its drawbacks, but the work I was given was engaging, exciting and consequential.
I took a chance applying for this position. I didn’t really know what it entailed, and I didn’t really find out until I’d started. I’d spent hours and hours preparing for clerkship applications, attending interviews and awful cocktail parties but throughout the whole process I’d never really stopped to think about what I felt passionate about or what kind of career would make me fulfilled and satisfied, instead of cashed-up and miserable. I did a clerkship at a commercial firm after MMRA. In comparison, it seemed bland and ungratifying. The work I did was nothing of the calibre I had been doing. More importantly, I never felt that I achieved anything. It just didn’t suit me. MMRA showed me that there were a wealth of opportunities and careers available that could actually engage and inspire me. If you’re a law student reading this article, I encourage you to take a chance on something a little different, to try and find something you’re passionate about. It could be trains; it could be multi-billion dollar IPOs or anything in between. Find something that excites you and pursue it – you’ll regret it if you don’t.