Eye on Alumni: James Norton | Law

Eye on Alumni: James Norton

James attended secondary school in the Riverina, graduating as Dux of Wagga Wagga High School. Thereafter, he completed a Bachelor of International Studies (Distinction) and a Bachelor of Laws (First Class Honours) at UNSW. During his studies, James served as Executive Editor of the UNSW Law Journal and enjoyed success in mooting and witness examination competitions. He also studied abroad in Germany and interned at the Australian Embassy in Berlin. Passionate about education, James is a volunteer tutor in a program empowering Australian Indigenous children and a sessional academic at the University of Sydney. At Oxford, he hopes to gain the knowledge and skills essential to shaping ambitious policy in Australia, while continuing to live out his love of cricket.

Firstly, congratulations on winning the 2018 Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University. You are joining an illustrious group of previous recipients. What does becoming a member of this community mean to you?

The receipt of the Rhodes Scholarship presents an incredible opportunity to develop further, both intellectually and personally. Alongside the courses I complete across two years at Oxford, I will be challenged by and learn from the other Rhodes Scholars. The prospect of being surrounded by so many inspiring people is an exciting one.

A very special part of receiving the Scholarship has been the reactions of friends and, in particular, close family. It is tremendously fulfilling to see those who have provided me with so much support enjoy the moment.

Will winning the Scholarship change the path you were on after graduating? What area will you plan to focus on after completion of your Scholarship?

After studying at Oxford, I hope to shape government policy on issues of national significance to Australia. The Scholarship will certainly shift my path in ways that I cannot yet anticipate, but a major impact will be to accelerate a trajectory that I had already planned to follow. Due to the Scholarship, I hope to be in a position to pursue key policy roles earlier in my career with the valuable experience of the Bachelor of Civil Law and Master of Public Policy behind me.

What are you most looking forward to about living in the United Kingdom?

Aside from the university-related aspects, the ability to explore British towns and to get a feel for modern British culture.

During your UNSW degree you spent time overseas, studying and completing internships in Germany and Cambodia. How did these experiences shape your studies and career aspirations?

My time in Germany – across three exchange semesters and an internship at the Australian Embassy in Berlin – had a large impact on my overall study experience. I gained a much deeper understanding of modern German and European politics, on which I had focused in my Bachelor of International Studies degree, and returned with an associated envy of the quality of political debate that Germans enjoy.

In terms of career aspirations, the internship at the Australian Embassy in Berlin was crucial in affirming my desire to pursue a career in policy. I found myself excited every day by topics of national and global importance: the G20 was held in Hamburg during my time at the Embassy, while the German Federal Election was just around the corner.

Comparatively short, the internship at Destination Justice – an NGO promoting development and the rule of law in Cambodia – exposed me to the impact that reasoned policy proposals can have on economic prosperity. Particularly valuable was being able to participate in the process of policy making, presenting proposals to various government bodies.

Germany and Cambodia are two markedly different countries. What were the biggest differences you noticed in the legal systems and/or the profession itself in these countries?

Cambodia is still very much in the teething phase of a (hopeful) progression to a system based on the rule of law. The institutional structures that are key to establishing and safeguarding the rule of law are yet to fully develop, but there are many actors working towards this. In relation to the legal profession, I was in fact working on a proposal for a set of legal professionalism rules during my time in Phnom Penh; interestingly, no such rules existed at the time.

Germany, on the other hand, shares a great deal with Australia. Although there are some clear differences due to the civil/common law divide, Germany has a strong rule of law tradition like Australia. The biggest difference in terms of the legal profession – and one that has always fascinated and bewildered me – is that recently qualified legal professionals may immediately become judges (i.e. in their 20s).

What are your favourite memories of your time at UNSW Law?

First and foremost, the friendships with other law students. With these friends, I had discussions that deepened my understanding of countless issues and, even more importantly, an enjoyable time at law school. The quality of the teaching at UNSW Law, particularly in private and constitutional law, was another fantastic aspect. Finally, the annual law ball was always a highlight.

What advice would you give to students about making the most of their time at university?

Embrace the opportunities to get to know your fellow students, particularly in the early years of university. You will find many like-minded people amongst them and they will make you both a better and happier student.