HAD Khayshie Tilak Ramesh been told back in high school she would go on to become one of the state's leading law students, she would have been surprised.
Her sister was then the aspiring lawyer. Khayshie was determined to study medicine.
"I wanted to help people," the 22-year-old said.
She hadn't associated studying law with that objective. But Khayshie was proud when, this year, the Law Institute of Victoria recognised her for both her academic achievements and for community-based advocacy.
Khayshie is mayor of the inaugural City of Greater Bendigo Youth Council.
She is the Victorian Multicultural Youth Commissioner and sits on the Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services board.
When she's not working on her honours thesis, she's volunteering at the Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre.
And that's just to name a few of the initiatives in which Khayshie has been involved.
The La Trobe University Bendigo student was last month named the joint winner of the Law Student of the Year Award at the LIV's 15th Victorian Legal Awards.
Khayshie shares the honour with Deakin Law School's Beau Arnfield.
"Both of the winners this year are people who have done community work," Khayshie said.
Knowing the LIV had placed such importance on community-based advocacy and highlighted the achievements of a student in a regional area was important to her.
Khayshie said the opportunities available to law students in Bendigo differed from those presented to Melbourne-based students.
In Melbourne, there were mooting clubs and competitions - simulated courtroom environments in which law students could practice their skills.
"The reality is we don't have those in Bendigo," Khayshie said.
She said there were efforts underway to provide more of those opportunities locally, but there was still work to be done.
Short-term work experience programs called legal clerkships were also more prevalent in Melbourne.
In Bendigo, Khayshie said law firms were more likely to engage with students about long-term employment.
"Here, you get a job at a firm and you stay there," she said.
Khayshie said Bendigo-based students had opportunities to use and develop their skills in the community.
"I've experienced real-world advocacy," she said.
It was a placement at the Bendigo Law Courts that helped her realise how much learning about the law could help people.
Khayshie was working with people who had experienced family violence.
"The lawyer who was my supervisor was so empathetic," she said.
Seeing him at work challenged her perceptions of what it was like to practice law - expectations Khayshie said were more in line with portrayals on TV and in movies.
"This is like being a counselor, but in a legal sense," she said.
"You can be that lawyer."
Khayshie started studying law because it was the sole Bendigo-based course she'd preferenced in Year 12.
She'd stacked the rest of her list with courses related to medicine - which, as it turned out, was the path her elder sister pursued.
"As a 'ha-ha' to my sister I put down law," Khayshie said.
"Dad had a stroke on the day I got my results. Someone had to stay here."
Khayshie likened the law to an invisible thing everyone was bound by, but few people were familiar with in detail.
Part of what she enjoyed most about her work was helping people understand the system.
"It's taking a big concept and simplifying it so the worst day of [someone's] life is easier," Khayshie said.
"There's a certain motivation when you see that penny drop moment.
"For me, that's important because I know exactly what it feels like."
Having never planned to pursue a career in law, Khayshie didn't have the benefit of VCE studies in related subjects to help ease her transition into university.
She had to teach herself the basics of the legal system while she was in her first semester of studies.
"It was a really hard learning curve," Khayshie said.
While she hated feeling like she was behind her peer group, Khayshie hoped never to forget what it was like not to be familiar with the law.
She feared it would be easy to forget, the more she learned.
Khayshie's course fostered in her a particular appreciation for alternative dispute resolution - helping opposing parties come to an agreement on an issue outside of the traditional litigation system.
The subject was compulsory when she was in her first year of studies.
"I never would have touched it if that wasn't a thing," Khayshie said.
She is now an accredited mediator and teaches dispute resolution at La Trobe. Khayshie said she would like to see a higher value placed on methods of alternative dispute resolution.
"Dispute resolution is a good way to bring two people together," she said.
She believed it was a more accessible way to resolve an issue for many people than the traditional litigation system.
Affordability was one factor. Khayshie was conscious of how many people struggled to afford legal representation to have their matters heard in court.
"The large majority of people don't qualify for legal aid, but can't afford a lawyer," she said.
Other considerations included the backlog of matters waiting to be resolved in courts.
Khayshie traveled to Canada on a scholarship in 2017 to explore and develop ideas for the future of dispute resolution. It was an opportunity she treasured as much for the ability to take away knowledge as bringing an insight into how dispute resolution was working in her community.
As she works towards completing her thesis on conflict of interest regulations and whether they put regional boards at disadvantage, Khayshie is considering her options for the future.
She'd love to have more opportunities like the one she had in Canada.
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