Sophie Capicchiano Young completed the RMIT JD in 2015. We had a chat with her to see what she’s been up to since.
When did you graduate, what have you been up to since then?
I graduated in 2015. Since then, I have completed my masters in international law in Geneva and I have worked predominantly in legal research, specifically in international human rights law and international refugee law. I’ve published a few academic articles on the European Common Asylum System and I have another forthcoming on the Australian offshore detention regime and customary international law. In September, I start my PhD in London in international law and human rights with a focus on litigation in refugee law. I also got married along the way and adopted a dog!
Tell us a little bit about your career journey and why you decided to pursue a law degree?
Since I was a little kid, I was fascinated with social justice. I remember being quite captivated with the images of the war in former Yugoslavia and of the Kosovar refugees coming to Australia. Although I was quite young, I felt deeply that there was something very wrong in the world and it needed to be made right. I was too young to identify it then as an interest in the law, but when I arrived at that realisation, it made complete sense to me that it was what I should be doing. I got towards the end of my masters in applied linguistics and I was searching for something to study next. My final unit was statistical analysis and it was framed by data collection in language minorities. I was stunned and outraged by the actions of some governments in repressing the use of minority languages. It was the same feeling I had as a small child, watching the TV, and it became obvious to me then that my righteous indignation should be channelled into becoming a lawyer and to try in some small way to make things right, at least for some people.
How well did the RMIT JD prepare you for your career?
I found the RMIT JD to be highly practical. Many of the lecturers are career lawyers and specialists in their field, and come with a wealth of practical knowledge and skills. The breadth of elective subjects with a strong focus on public law and social justice worked very well for me. I was able to tailor a program that would suit my career trajectory.
What involvement did you have with CIJ while studying?
I really do credit the CIJ with setting me on my path. In 2012, they sent me up to Canberra to assist (as best I possibly could!) with a refugee case before the High Court. That experience was my foot in the door of refugee law. It gave me a degree of credibility when I applied for other opportunities in the field, which in turn led to other opportunities, and so on. I am certain that it would have taken me a lot longer to get to where I am now if it wasn’t for the support and encouragement (and trust) of the CIJ.
If you had one piece of advice to give law students, what would that be?
I’m going to give two! Firstly, don’t rush. There is no point graduating in two years if you haven’t acquired the requisite skills and knowledge to do the job well. Take your time in your degree and you’ll be a better lawyer or social worker (and more employable). Consider it your duty to your future clients. Secondly, pay very close attention to your mental health. That goes for when you graduate and join the workforce, too. Lawyers and social workers are statistically more likely to suffer from mental health issues during their career, with anxiety, depression, and secondary trauma being common afflictions. Look after yourself and don’t be ashamed to ask for help when you need it.
Is there anything that surprised you about working in the legal sector?
What surprised me the most was the shift in perspective that comes with being a lawyer. You see the world through a different lens, and you can never switch it off. But it’s a good thing – it means you chose the right profession.