La Trobe law student Heath Mitchell discusses running the Law School race, the shifting face of the economy, and his recent experience at the United Nations

By Heath Mitchell

Being a dedicated law student is a tough up-hill battle, there is no avoiding this reality. Yet, if you have the stamina to pull through the challenges, and get back up time and time again, opportunities and progress eventually open up for you. For me, being rejected from the gruelling penultimate year clerkship application process was a case in point. Yet, a short time later, I was lucky enough to be selected to participate in a Working Group at the United Nations headquarters in New York as a student delegate.

The particular working group I attended was Working Group I: Micro, Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises, (MSME’s) falling within the mandate of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).

While MSME’s have always been the greatest contributor to economic activity, in the age of innovation, technology, and micro-entrepreneurs, MSME’s are increasingly becoming the lifeblood of developed and underdeveloped economies alike. The continued prosperity of MSME’s also plays a crucial role is empowering certain members of society who have traditionally struggled in accessing the workforce.

Yet, for MSME’s worldwide, there remain significant legal barriers to market entry. In addition, stubborn legal hurdles exist, inhibiting a MSME’s evolution. One of the effects is that a significant portion of MSME’s remain in what is known as the ‘informal economy’ where tax obligations are not met, limited protections are afforded to stakeholders (including for example employees and creditors) and the business are otherwise unmonitored by the government. It is a well-settled fact that the benefits to society of more businesses transitioning towards the formal economy are enormous.

One of the barriers to entry is the act of business registration itself, which was discussed at length over the working group’s duration. It was during this agenda item that the realities of international law reform became apparent; it is an extremely time-consuming process; particularly so when contrasted against the Artificial Intelligence (AI) the UN is looking to recommemd to speed up the business registration process! In fact, some of the UN’s conventions, model law’s and legislative guides have taken almost a decade to produce. Herein lies one of the primary criticisms of the UN; it is failing to respond effectively to the rapidly changing world.

Nonetheless, it was fascinating watching delegates and experts from around the world, ostensibly working together towards a common goal, yet still delicately balancing the interests of those they represent. Indeed, the art of diplomacy is no walk in the park, unless of course negotiation literally had taken place, outside of hours, over a walk around Central Park!

It also dawned on me that international law is not as complex as one may anticipate; people are often intimated by an impression of contradictory and confusing legal principles. In reality, legal principles stemming from competing jurisdictions are actually very similar, albeit phrased in a slightly nuanced form and with their own idiosyncrasies and cultural backdrops to consider. It is the positive and collaborative individuals who seek common ground, yet still appreciate these slight variances, that often make the best international lawyers.

My interest in international trade law developed progressively over my law degree, in large part due to my extensive study abroad. I have La Trobe to thank for its incredibly open mind, supportive culture, and generous financial assistance.

I first engaged with UNICITRAL’s work in 2014 through studying their Model Law on international commercial arbitration and the effect of the New York Convention. During that time, I was studying for two semesters on exchange at Copenhagen Business School. One year later, while on exchange at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I extended my understanding of these legal instruments.

As my time at La Trobe Law School as an undergraduate draws to a close, I look back at the last five and a half years and see a large debt and dissatisfied take on the world around me.

The hope is that one takes some of this negative energy out into the big bad world, and changes things for the better. My advice to current and future students is to surround yourself with people and experiences in which make the sacrifices worth it and to be self-aware as to how your new-found personality traits may affect the things most important to you, whatever they may be.

Heath Mitchell is studying a Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) combined degree at La Trobe University. He shares his recent experience at the UN headquarters in New York and reflects upon his time at law school.

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