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Interview with 2023 UNELSS President, Lara Jennings

On Thursday, September 21st, 2023, UNE Life held its fourth annual Student Awards Night, a special evening to recognise outstanding students and clubs. One of the most prestigious awards of the night is the Club of the Year Award, and in 2023, the well-deserving winner was the UNE Law Students Society (UNELSS). We spoke with 2023 UNELSS President, Lara Jennings, to learn more about the club’s success and what it meant to her to lead this award-winning student club.  

What was the need that led to the creation of the UNELSS? What mission and purpose drives the club today? 

Established in 2010, the UNELSS provides opportunities for UNE law students to connect with each other, beyond the academic classroom setting to enhance their student experience. The UNELSS began with a healthy on-campus presence but has adapted to its changing cohort, which is predominantly online. The UNELSS now has monthly meetings via Zoom, an interactive Moodle page, and a strong social media presence connecting its members. Our activities, including the yearly Law Ball, Careers and Trimester Guides, Online Workshops, and other social and academic events are delivered as part of our mission to further the interests of law students at UNE. 

How did winning the Club of the Year Award feel for you and the rest of the UNELSS team? What does it mean to be recognised as the best student club on campus? 

It was a surreal moment! Being crowned the best student club on campus was especially remarkable, noting our events are predominantly online. It is an achievement that recognises our hard work, and we are extremely proud. I’m so grateful to every single person on the committee who worked so hard this year to turn our big goals into a reality, with our dedication and success recognised with this incredible award. It truly is a testament to the impact our efforts have had on the UNE law school cohort.  

In an increasingly online world, how has the UNELSS helped students connect with each other, the university, and their studies? 

All my university connections and friendships have been forged via my involvement with the UNELSS. These connections have strengthened over the course of my term as President as I had the opportunity to work closely and collaboratively with a group of inspiring and talented fellow law students.  

 The UNELSS 2023 committee hosted three fully online trivia nights where students had the opportunity to work in teams, competing against each other and teams of lecturers. For the first trivia night, I had personally entered as a single participant and ended up with a team of other people who had also purchased single tickets. Our team won the trivia competition that night, and we were able to form a bond which then continued into the following two trivia nights. Students who have shared feedback from this event have highlighted similar bonding experiences. Our law ball event, in Sydney brought us all together in person, further solidifying these friendships.  

As a law student yourself, how has the UNELSS helped you to grow academically and professionally? 

Interestingly, I think my grades have improved as a result of my involvement in the LSS and being able to form study groups with students who are now friends. Having that support from others in the study cohort has been incredibly valuable. There is also an element of healthy competitiveness between myself and some of my peers, in particular Jordanna, the 2024 President and my dear friend,  that helps drive me to do my best in each of my subjects. 

Before I decided to study law, I ran my own business for 5 years. I am grateful that I could bring so many of the skills I learned running my business to the UNELSS. That said, my involvement in the Club, has significantly improved my leadership skills. As President, I took a democratic and egalitarian approach to leadership, and I know that the skills I developed during my time in the committee will come in handy when I run my own law firm one day.  

How has the UNELSS helped you to build a strong professional network? What value has that given you so far, and how do you see it helping you and your clubs members in the future? 

I have been very lucky to have met some wonderful people in the legal profession through my time with the UNELSS. My wonderful committee of law student peers has granted me a strong foundational professional network. Beyond these super stars, I have also had the opportunity to connect professionally with members, alumni, and professionals in the legal field. This network enabled us to pull together our impressive suite of events for 2023, build an impressive sponsorship income, and strengthened the capacity of the UNELSS’ governance.  

 I had the opportunity to attend ALSA as an executive delegate, connecting with legal professionals and law students, including other LSS presidents on a national and international level. This is one example of the many experiences that being a part of the UNELSS has given me to enhance my professional network, since I am now connected with a number of these individuals via social media and networking channels. 

The benefits such interactions provide to our club members is evidenced in the educational and social events, the guides published, and the improvements to governance that the club has experienced. This stemmed from having attended the ALSA conference in December 2022 and being able to learn from other LSS/As.  

What was your favourite event or initiative of the year? 

This is a tough one! We had so many amazing events and initiatives delivered this year. But, if I had to pick one, it would have to be the Law Ball, which just so happened to win Club Event of the Year. What made it so special is that not only did it bring together online law students in a central location (Sydney), it also took a colossal effort from our fabulous Committee – and their efforts paid off. The event had two amazing key speakers including James d’Apice of the popular podcast Coffee and a Case Note , and President of the NSW Court of Appeal, Justice Julie Ward. As an online student, opportunities to engage with your peers can feel limited, so it was definitely rewarding to run this event and enable so many online students to connect with their peers, academics, and some alumni in the one space.   

What advice would you give to other clubs that are striving to win the Club of the Year Award in the future? 

Set clear goals and objectives, develop your leadership, and build your engagement with your membership base. Remember that winning Club of the Year is not just about the award itself but also about the positive impact your club has on its members and the community. Stay true to your club’s mission, and success will follow. 

What exciting plans does the UNELSS have for 2024? 

I have it on good authority that the new leadership team elected in early October are looking forward to announcing a fresh suite of events and activities in 2024 very soon. More opportunities to network face to face via social and academic events hosted in Armidale, Sydney, and hopefully another major capital, and a bigger law ball. I have accepted the position of Immediate Past President, supporting the 2024 committee to continue along their path of growth, innovation and success. I am genuinely looking forward to the many exciting opportunities and initiatives planned for 2024.