19-year-old qualifies to practise law in Australia

19-year-old qualifies to practise law in Australia
Leo Cussen Centre's Mrs Judith Dickson said Ms Chen Liuzhuo was "quietly determined" but not afraid to ask for advice.

When Ms Chen Liuzhuo was almost four years old, in China's Hunan province, her parents noticed her ability to memorise large numbers of Chinese characters and decided to send her to an accelerated learning school.

By age 10, she had shown an interest in current affairs and had accepted her father's suggestion that she pursue a career in law. By age 15, she had completed high school and moved at age 16 to Australia to study law.

Now, at age 19, she has made headlines in Australia after becoming the person believed to be the country's youngest fully qualified lawyer.

She was qualified in the state of Victoria, where archivists say she is likely to be the youngest lawyer on its 140 years of records; other states have found no other younger lawyer.

But Ms Chen has taken her remarkable achievement in her stride. She insisted that while she was grateful for her early career start, she did not think becoming the nation's youngest lawyer "changed anything within me".

"No matter what others think of me, it would not affect my thought and my values," she told The Straits Times.

"I know exactly who I am, where I want to go and I clearly know there's still a long way for me to go. However, I do appreciate all people who have taken an interest in my story."

Most of Ms Chen's fellow 19-year-olds in Australia who aspire to careers in law would currently be in their early years of study and pondering their still-distant future careers.

Instead, Ms Chen, who hopes to work as a lawyer in Australia, has long been surrounded by older classmates. She says this has been a benefit rather than an impediment.

"I have been brought up in an environment where everyone is older than me - I think it's just such a wonderful thing and I appreciate this difference," she said. "I will probably experience some pressure by working with colleagues who are significantly older than me, but it is a good thing because pressure makes you grow and improve."

Ms Chen attended school in Changsha in China and then went to Bond University in the state of Queensland, which allows students to complete a law degree in two years and eight months. But Ms Chen finished the degree a semester before most of her peers.

She then applied to complete her obligatory practical qualification in the state of Victoria at the Leo Cussen Centre for Law, which received her application and thought it must be a mistake.

Eventually, she was accepted and completed her training in less than six months. On Aug 13, she was admitted as a qualified lawyer by the Victorian Supreme Court.

Last year, American student Gabrielle Turnquest became the youngest barrister in British history. She was aged just 18 - the youngest person to be called to the Bar in 600 years of the profession. The youngest American lawyer is believed to be Ms Kathleen Holtz, who qualified in California in 2007 at age 18.

Ms Chen said her parents, who live in Changsha, encouraged her to finish school quickly but she made the decision to pursue her fast-tracked legal studies.

"Although they always try to provide me with the best education, they seldom put any pressure on me," she said.

The director of practical training at Leo Cussen Centre for Law, Mrs Judith Dickson, said Ms Chen was "quietly determined" and had little difficulty mixing with other students, whose average age is 25.

"She's very conscious of her advantages, of having had parents who supported her. She feels a sense of obligation to make something of her advantages," Mrs Dickson told The Straits Times.

She said Ms Chen recognised that her relative youth could be a "challenge" but tried to overcome it by seeking mentors.

"She is not afraid to ask for help or advice," she said. "She doesn't think she knows it all."

Ms Chen is now about to embark on what promises to be a very long career. She said she hopes to work in the areas of international trade and human rights.

"My next goal is to dedicate myself to the area which I am enthusiastic about, specialise and use my knowledge to contribute to the community," she said.

"You never know what will happen next, but my plan for at least the next five years is to practise and specialise in Australia."

This article was first published on Sep 29, 2014.
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