Lucy Tatham was selected, along with three fellow VU law students, to participate in the 2020 Willem C. Vis Moot in Vienna. When travel restrictions came into effect the moot went virtual and Lucy had to cancel her 6-week European trip.

The seven booking companies she’d booked through refused to provide refunds, but she persisted - thinking creatively to design a solution that was awarded grand finalist in a national legal tech pitch competition. She also secured a virtual internship with one of the world’s most influential academics on private international law. 

Q&A with Lucy

We caught up with Lucy to learn more about her study journey and her positive approach in unpredictable circumstances.

Why did you decide to study law?

I attended school in Tasmania and in my final two years of schooling I had a serious accident which affected my mobility (before the days of online learning). I left school and worked in concerts and events, construction, scaffolding and editing. I worked in construction for five years. At school and while I was working, I always knew I wanted to study law because I loved debating and public speaking.

I started at VU in 2018, studying a Bachelor of Legal Services and by the end of the first semester, I had already competed in four moot competitions. I transferred directly into the Bachelor of Laws after the first semester and received credit for the four units I had completed.

How did you get selected to compete in the Willem C. Vis Moot in Vienna?

I applied for the Vis Moot and I was selected to compete with an outstanding team, including Bethany Taylor, Manepha Kozoolin and Mohammad Rohani. Both the Willem C. Vis Moot and Deakin ICA moot have broadened my knowledge of the law beyond Commonwealth and Victorian legislation and provided a global view of what’s possible as a lawyer. I have now been active in private international law for about a year and a half. And, as an additional benefit, every time I compete in a Moot, my grades improve. (Except for one time when I competed in 3 Moots concurrently. I do not recommend this.)

The moot couldn’t take place in Vienna because of COVID restrictions – what was that like and did it lead to other opportunities?

At first it was devastating that we could not compete overseas when we had worked so hard towards a common goal for eight months. However, the virtual moot was fantastic because in the lead up to it we had the opportunity to network with teams all over the world. We were competing with teams from Brazil and Italy and there was some camaraderie in facing the challenges of the pandemic together. All of these things have a domino effect. It opened up other amazing opportunities.

For example, Mohammad and I had planned to travel in Europe for 4 weeks after the moot. We had booked travel through 7 different booking companies in 7 different countries and not a single booking platform would refund us. We were concerned because we were out of pocket a significant amount of money (for students!). I researched EU legislation and began to wrap my head around debt recovery overseas. I ended up writing 50 letters, and while the process was successful, it was very time consuming. I started to think about how to automate the process using Zapier.

I developed a project called ‘Repay my holiday’ to automate letters where a company refuses to issue a refund. My process had a 95% success rate at achieving higher refund levels. I entered my pitch in the ALTA Altacon legal technology pitch competition and I was awarded grand finalist and granted honorary membership.

Why do you think you responded in such a positive and productive way?

First of all, I want to acknowledge that we are all in different situations right now. People are continuing to experience different levels of hardship. It’s not a level playing field.

As for how I approach things – I am quite flexible because my life and work experience has meant that I am used to adapting at short notice. I believe that when you try new things it  can be fun to give yourself permission to be bad at it initially. There’s a sense of freedom in that; having the time to see if a new skill appeals to you, and to work towards improving. I think it’s a good time to build skills indirectly relevant to law, such as coding, computer literacy, math, or to learn a new language.

You then completed a virtual research internship with Prof Dr Schwenzer and Prof Dr Munoz in Basel, Switzerland – how did you apply for that and what was the virtual internship like?

Prof Dr Schwenzer is one of the world’s most influential academics on private international contract law. Her book, the Global Sales and Contract Law (GSCL) is the most extensive comparative law book in the world and compares private commercial law in 60 jurisdictions. Our internship was focused on conducting research for Professor Schwenzer’s new book, the 2nd edition of the GSCL. The internship was a summer internship for European students and you needed to have competed in the Vis Moot to apply. Because of the amount of work that was involved and the fact that we would be completing it during our university semester, Bethany and I decided that  the best way for us to succeed was to apply was together as a team rather than as two individuals. Professor Schwenzer and Professor Munoz liked our teamwork approach and we were successful.

Throughout the internship we had six hours of Masterclass with Professor Schwenzer, where we learnt about legal families and how to progress with a future in private international law. Our first task was to document every change in commercial law in Australia since 2010. Our databases are not designed to do this efficiently so it was a lengthy task. Bethany and I had worked together before so we had already established a way of working. We submitted our research and were some of the few interns globally to complete the research successfully. We were then asked to complete a second task, which was to make changes directly into the manuscript of the GSCL. We had online meetings with the head researcher at 10PM our time to check in, ask questions, and share our progress. We are grateful for the experience which will be invaluable for the next stage of our careers.

Do you think we’ll continue to see law practiced online, even after the pandemic?

The law is very collegiate by nature and I expect we will see a return to face-to-face  meetings and many of the things we know. There are some areas of the law which are likely to return to in person: trials, witness hearings, children’s hearings. However, many areas of law will benefit by the shift to virtual and it will probably become the norm, where possible.

In private matters, virtual meetings allow you to connect people in different time zones without the expense of travel, which is very lucrative. We’re seeing a focus on automation and smart contracts, and that can only be positive. Some of the tasks that are being automated are things that are painstaking to carry out manually. Therefore, this shift cannot be a bad thing.

What advice would you give other law students during this time?

If you’re having difficulty gaining practical experience, take a look at Forage (formerly known as InsideSherpa). The site has 24 different law programs, each with several modules – everything from commercial law to human rights – from top-tier and mid-tier law firms. You can complete modules and then you see how a partner would have approached it. You can trial areas of law and see whether you enjoy that type of work involved before you make a lengthy commitment.

Also, if there is an area of law that you really like, talk to people working in that space. The difficulty at the moment is that some people prefer to speak to people in person. I am in that category – I’d much prefer to speak to someone in person than on LinkedIn. But you can still make a personal connection online – research someone’s work and write a polite, respectful and personal message and see if they might be willing to make a time to speak with you on Zoom. More effort is always better than less effort.

It’s also a good time to enter an essay-writing competition or any other extra-curricular activity that can be undertaken virtually. There are more accessible essay and moot competitions running now than any previous year. Without the costs of travel and hosting an in-person event, access has really improved.  

One of the biggest tips I learnt through VU and my own experiences is that if you can get ‘two bangs for your buck,’ – go for it. For example, if you enter an essay writing competition, enter that same essay in a law journal. In my first year, I did a variety of disconnect extra-curricular and activities and then I learnt how to make the most of the work I had completed. The staff at VU are amazing, encouraging, supportive and creative and chances are they will be open to discussing suggestions. For instance, you might approach them to see if you can submit an entry to a relevant legal essay-writing competition in lieu of a subject assignment.  

I am so grateful to VU for all the opportunities and support they have provided.

Prior to social distancing requirements, the VU Vis Moot team (from L-R): Lucy Tatham, Manepha Kozoolin, Bethany Taylor, and Mohammad Rohani.