Christian Lane is a final year Monash law student who was president of the PLN in 2019. We sat down with Christian to discuss why he is so passionate about creating spaces for law students to share their mental health stories. Christian also shared his tips for law students who are wanting to follow a social justice pathway.
How did you first get involved with the Progressive Law Network?
My first experience with the PLN was when I attended one of their panel events! I remember finding it really interesting to see how the event was facilitated so that people from different backgrounds shared their opinions on the same issues.
I met the president of the PLN there and I signed up at the next meeting as a general representative.
I really liked finding a group of law students who were intellectually on the same wavelength, at least in terms of not being interested in the commercial law pathway.
The PLN gave us a way to engage with academics in the area and gave us a platform to jump off in terms of reaching out and in actually making change.
You also were a co-creator of A Reasonable Standard – a website dedicated to mental health issues and law students. What inspired you to create this resource?
It all started because I just wanted to create a more honest discussion about mental health.
A Reasonable Standard was a project I did with the Law Ambassador Program which is organised by the Monash Law Faculty. I was placed in a group with four other students and we had to create a resource that would make life for law students better.
At this point, I decided I wanted to work on mental health for law students, having had experiences with mental illness during the first part of my law degree. I felt it was a subject that was quite taboo for law students, one that no one really liked talking about. To be honest the way that law students, and I’m talking inclusively here, talk about mental health is in a very self-degrading way. We thought the best way to go about changing this discussion was to create a space where law students could share their stories in a really raw, personal way. It eventually turned into a one-stop resource with mental health as its grounding feature.
For example, we had an article on what to do if you’re moving from a rural area and another one on where to buy second-hand textbooks. All the articles were quite practical but it all comes back to mental health. At the heart of the project was to help students address these issues early on in their degree.
It ended up being really well received by the law student community! For me, having students tell us the stories were hitting home was the most fulfilling part of the project. It was rewarding to know that students were having more honest conversations about their own mental health because of the resource we had created.
How do you think University students have a voice in areas of social change?
I enrolled in a law degree because I wanted to get involved with social justice and affect real change in a positive way. This was an interesting journey for me in terms of how I actually wanted to do that and in what way it could happen.
It is important to understand that as law students we learn a skill set at university in a very specific way, such as case analysis and written arguments and this means students can use these skills to affect positive change in that particular way. This may mean joining a legal community centre or an NGO and using these skills. As this is the obvious way to affect positive change, it is also the most cluttered in the sense that everyone wants to do it.
Keeping that in mind, it is important to remember there are a lot of other positive ways to affect social change as a student.
You can ask yourself; what are the areas that I really care about? Also try not to think of yourself as a law student, try to think of yourself as someone who wants to help people and someone who actually wants to put time and energy into making someone’s life better.
And when you do that you will find that a whole range of opportunities will open up to you because you’re not restricting yourself to applying for places where the lines are long and competitive. Students who are interested in helping people have their own set of skills and abilities and can bring their own soul to the work they are doing to make it powerful, interesting and meaningful.
I think that this is why I went down the Law Ambassador route and this has been the most rewarding and fulfilling pathway I’ve taken at Monash; it has led me to all these opportunities and people and it has been so important for my personal and professional growth as well.
Lastly, how would you answer the PLN essay competition question – what is the most important public interest issue of this new decade?
You can have two minds about whether mental health is a social justice issue or not and it is often not the first thing people consider. I personally think it is a social justice issue that transcends class, race, culture, countries; everyone feels mental health. For me it is something that I care deeply about and I am personally invested in doing something about it.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Reasonable Standard, click this link.
Interview by Imogen Feder.