Law Soc is a well known society on campus, running some of the biggest social events such as the Galway getaway, Law Ball, the annual Maples Law Ball and the European getaway. Despite being a society focused on a specific course, it boasts a membership that stretches across campus. With sponsorship from some of Ireland’s biggest law firms it is a responsibility to be an auditor of a society.
Jessica O’Neill is a fourth year law student and auditor of Law Soc. O’Neill did not necessarily fit the profile of most leaders on campus as she spent the first two years of college understanding her subject before launching into society life. At the end of second year she ran for Social Secretary, with no previous experience in Law Soc. O’Neill herself advise to “never think it is too late” to get involved. Describing society life that can have a tendency to be like a “cult” she was eager to encourage students to get involved.
In O’Neill’s role as Social Secretary she was given the opportunity to run several of campuses largest events. “I don’t I think really I settled into college properly until I had something that I was able to get really involved in.”
“I signed up for everything during freshers week but I didn’t really know what that entailed.” Her motivation to get involved was due to her decision to not go on erasmus, realising that a lot of her year would be leaving she decided to occupy herself through society involvement.
O’Neill ran for auditor when she was in third year; the election was contested by one other person and she explained she didn’t enjoy the process. It begins with submitting a manifesto, and then there is “three days of sort of lecture shout outs”. Last year for the first time they held hustings, O’Neill disliked the event and doubts it will take place during the elections for the 2018/19 Law Soc committee. She felt the law school is “intimate” and the close proximity of everyone can make it awkward. Often times someone you are up against in hustings you then “go to class with them, and then probably go to a party with them that night.”
Interestingly, O’Neill has not taken a year out for her role as auditor, saying “I don’t think I would have done it to be honest if I had to take a year out for it… I’ve gone to school and college in Dublin so ten years of education in Dublin is nice, but it’s enough for me”. It seems surprising that a role with such heavy responsibility and expectations falls on the shoulders of someone who has to study full time.
She cited her gratitude that in Law the final grades for their degree is 50% in third year followed by 50% in fourth year, meaning she already has a substantial amount behind her. She was of the opinion that society involvement can be a nice break from the academic side.
“The semesterisation is something we talk about all the time because next year I don’t see how, definitely from a Law Soc point of view, running a society of that size with so many people and so much coming up to Christmas… they definitely won’t be able to run Law Soc while still studying”. If they want the same level of speakers and events which predominantly take place from October to March, students will struggle.
The bias towards arts students was clear as she mentioned the lesser hours helping her facilitate her role. O’Neill is able to focus during the academic day on society work and leave her weekends for academic study.
Speaking about her role as a leader of a society filled with ambitious and driven individuals, in particular a large committee of 18 members, she said that management has been “the biggest struggle this year”. An interesting note was the difficulty of having her friends on the committee, there may be a confrontation in the committee room but then you have too put that aside when you “go for lunch”.
O’Neill laughed stating that as a law society students involved are used to voicing their opinions and getting their idea across. She has learnt as a leader that you need to allow students “to put their own stamp on it”. While it might not always be your way of doing it, it has been a learning curve to be able to take a step back and allow them to do it. The committee seems to be one that supports each other, as she remarked that she has been able to rely on the previous auditor, Hilary Hogan, for help and said “There’s always someone to ask for advice”.
Regarding the question of the TCDSU presidential election seeing no women running, O’Neill stated she was “disappointed” but “not surprised”. She feels that women who run get a harder time than men do. She cited her own issues this year of the comments people have made about her role being focused more on her appearance than her capabilities. “Any girl that runs is putting themselves forward to be judged.” It could be argued that equally so do men but O’Neill’s point was that the criticism women face is largely different to the male student body. When there’s criticism of men “it’s not about their character, but about their ability”.
O’Neill pointed out “I’m just a law student, trying to finish my degree” and it can be easy for the student body and media to distort this. Everyone involved are simply students, not superhumans. In terms of encouraging women in leadership roles, O’Neill felt it was important to highlight women’s involvement not just during weeks like International Women’s Week. At the same time countering this with not praising someone for being successful “because they’re a girl” but “isn’t she doing a great job as that role” not because she is a women, but purely doing a good job and gender is out of the equation.
O’Neill’s advice to students in balancing academia and society life was “You just have to prioritise in the moment.” Admitting that “There’s a lot of pressure, you have a good cry” but last year she received her highest results despite being most involved. She felt there was a direct correlation, as being busy focuses her and she knows she has to be self disciplined.
As a law student, her academics has benefited from society involvement as she’s learnt a lot from interviewing speakers, “I learn more practically from the society than I do in class”. Furthermore, society life “Will make working life less daunting” as it prepares you to work in a team and under pressure.
For the future of Law Soc, O’Neill would have liked to have had Amal Clooney but recognises the long term work involved in getting speakers to Trinity. In her own life she feels in need of a break and after exams is planning on taking time off until Christmas. To “just enjoy even a nine to five job, a relaxed easy going lifestyle”. Following this in 2020, O’Neill will begin her training contract in McCann FitzGerald.
Jessica O’Neill seems quietly ambitious and a student who is truly involved in society life to make our time at university more memorable and more enjoyable. Her ability to focus on the task at hand has done her well as an auditor and as a student, complimented by her friendly and engaging personality.