BA 1999, LLB 2000, MA 2003, MPhil 2006
Damien is a writer, lawyer and philosopher. He has recently published three book, including Roddy’s Folly: R P Meagher QC - art lover and lawyer, a biography of the late and legendary Roddy Meagher, launched in April 2012 by The hon Tony Abbott MP at the Sydney Law School’s St James Campus.
What made you decide to study law, and why did you choose Sydney Law School?
I always had an abiding interest in the law: I still do. The romance of sandstone attracted me to the University of Sydney: good outcomes are often the happy consequence of poor decision-making.
Where has the study of law taken you in your career and/or life in general?
As a student, I volunteered at the HIV/AIDS Legal Centre, and continued my involvement as a member of the Centre’s management committee and then as its Secretary after I graduated.
When I left the law school, I was engaged by the NSW Crown Solicitor as a legal clerk, and was seconded to the Office of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Glenbrook Rail Accident.
Thereafter, I served as tipstaff to the Hon Justice K R Handley AO at the NSW Court of Appeal, and did some law reporting for the Environmental Law Reporter during this time.
After my admission, I went to London, where I served as private secretary to Lord Brennan QC at Matrix Chambers, Gray’s Inn. I subsequently returned to full time graduate study at the University of Sydney and Magdalene College, Cambridge. I currently teach at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Recently, I have published three books: Mao’s Toe, Art’s Emotions, and Roddy’s Folly. The first is about a Reuters correspondent, David Chipp, the first western foreign correspondent to be accredited by the Communist government in China (in which capacity he once stepped on Chairman Mao’s toe). The second is a work about the philosophy of art, and the contribution that the emotional experience of art offers to human flourishing. The third is a 500-page study of the life and work of one of the Law School’s graduates: R P Meagher QC.
What is your fondest memory of your time at Sydney Law School?
After I left, I was invited back to a ceremony at the law school, at which I was to be presented with the Prize for Roman Law, and was invited to bring guests. At the time, I was working for Justice Handley, and teaching Hebrew to Justice Meagher after Court (we were reading the Book of Judges). It is a fond memory to think that my student, the former Challis Lecturer in Roman Law, was pleased to watch his teacher receive the prize for my rather humble achievement in Roman law.
What one piece of advice would you give to law students today?
Students, no doubt, go into the study of law with the intention of gaining the means of obtaining an honourable livelihood. At the law school, no opportunity is lost to impress upon them the need to ‘make a difference’, to ‘save the world’, and generally to improve society and make it more equitable. This is important. No less important, however, is the disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. There is a long tradition of maintaining that this is the principle purpose of a university. Law students should always be mindful that the analysis of legal concepts as an end in itself is important. A law student ought to be concerned equally with earning a living, making a contribution to society at large, and engaging in the disinterested pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.