Life-changing experiences for a lawyer at Oxford

15 July 2015

David Heaton Graduation Oxford

Later this month, 2013 Menzies Scholar in Law, David Heaton, will come back to Australia to present part of his thesis at a Constitutional Law conference at the University of Melbourne.

As the Menzies Foundation puts out its annual call for the legal leaders of tomorrow to apply for our law and international law scholarships, David told us a bit about his experiences at Oxford.

When David (pictured with his wife Penny Yewers) was awarded the 2013 Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Scholarship in Law, he took up the option to study the world-renowned Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) and Master of Philosophy in Law (MPhil) at Oxford University.

Like many Menzies Scholars before him, he’s found the time at Oxford challenging, humbling but ultimately the perfect preparation for a career at the Bar. And not surprisingly, it’s a beautiful place to be.

Here are some of his thoughts:

“The BCL is regarded as one of the most challenging law masters courses, rightly so, as I discovered last academic year.  It's an incredibly humbling experience, as your ideas are pulled apart by lecturers and tutors who are uniformly expert in their fields.  It's also excellent preparation for a career at the Bar, due to the tutorial teaching style and the encouragement to surface and question the assumptions underlying and rationales for legal rules.

“For me, study at Oxford has pushed me to question assumptions that I was making in a way I hadn't been pushed before - and this is as much because of the top academics from Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere who teach and supervise here as because of the BCL cohort itself,” David said.

Oxford is one of the few places where you can do a two-year masters program with one year of course work (the BCL) and one year of research (the MPhil).  It was also a major drawcard for David because he says his MPhil supervisor, Professor Anne Davies, was undoubtedly the best person to supervise his work given her past research.

David says despite various and increasing divergences, English and Australian law remain fairly close and share a common genesis. “Study in the UK represents a chance to engage with the development of English law, which remains useful for antipodeans.”

David Heaton atn Oxford with his parentsWhile the study is clearly engaging and consuming, there are many distractions on and off campus.

“Oxford itself is a great place to live. The city is charming and everything is at most 10 minutes away by bike. In addition, both through St John's College and the Law Faculty, I've met many, many fantastic people who are all studying very interesting things. Because all students come live and study at Oxford, the University has a really exciting atmosphere, and people are universally open to discussing interesting ideas - within and beyond their own disciplines - and to forming new friendships,” David said.

He has also been challenged in finding enough time to read all that Oxford's fantastic libraries offer. “Some of the original manuscripts here that I have looked at date from the 15th century.  The other major challenge has been avoiding distraction through the many interesting lectures and other activities that constantly happen in Oxford.”

David says the Menzies Scholarship has enabled these life changing experiences at Oxford. “I suspect having the scholarship also helped me in my application to St John's College, which has provided a further community for me in Oxford, and excellent living and other facilities.  The stipend of the scholarship also made it possible to travel during the BCL, which has added greatly to the experience.

“Another benefit of being a Menzies scholar has been the opportunity to meet other past and present scholars, as well as the Australian High Commissioner to the UK (currently Alexander Downer) at a dinner in London.  Additionally, through joint Menzies-Monash scholarship events, I've really enjoyed getting to know current Monash scholars in Oxford. Both groups are energetic and very engaging, and forming friendships with them has been a highlight.”

If you would like to apply for the Menzies scholarships in law, they are open for online applications now until Monday 31 August.