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The law professor who changed lives and inspired a $195,000 gift

18 September 2018
A Sydney alumnus gives back

Tom Yim says he would never have got through University without the help of Emeritus Professor Colin Phegan. Now he is honouring his former lecturer by making a gift that will help a new generation of law students.

Emeritus Professor Colin Phegan

The lectureship is named in honour of former Law School dean, Emeritus Professor Colin Phegan.

In honour of the professor who helped him through law school, philanthropist Tom Yim has donated $195,000 to support law students.

It is Yim’s second major gift to support the Colin Phegan lectureship, a teaching position at the Sydney Law School that the Yim family helped establish with an initial $180,000 gift in 2013. The lectureship is named for former Law School dean, Emeritus Professor Colin Phegan.

When Yim first arrived at the University in 1969, he struggled. He had grown up in Hong Kong and English wasn’t his first language. “I had to use a dictionary for every paragraph I read,” he says. “It was a challenge and I wasn’t a good student.”

Phegan noticed Yim was having trouble, pulled him aside and talked him through some of the complexities of case law. “It was just a 20-minute talk, but without it, I would never have made it through,” says Yim.

When Yim told current dean and head of school, Professor Joellen Riley that he wanted to make a gift in Phegan’s honour, she suggested he help establish a new teaching position.

In 2014, Andrew Dyer was appointed as the inaugural Colin Phegan lecturer. His first task was to create a course that would help first-year students in the Juris Doctor graduate-degree program gain the skills and confidence needed to study law.

Dyer’s Legal Reasoning course aims to help students read cases and other legal material, and answer questions with the precision required in law exams. “A lot of people who come into law have a hard time because they just haven’t read this sort of material before and they’re not sure how to interpret it,” Dyer says.

I’m so grateful that I had an education and I’m so grateful that I have an opportunity to give back.
Tom Yim
Colin Phegan Lecturer Andrew Dyer with philanthropist Tom Yim.

Colin Phegan Lecturer Andrew Dyer with philanthropist Tom Yim.

Dyer came to law after a stint working in television, acting in and writing sketch comedy for Channel Seven. When he won the lectureship, he was familiar with Phegan’s name because both his mother and his uncle had studied at the University during Phegan’s time as a lecturer.

“They both said he was one of the lecturers who really stood out as an excellent teacher,” Dyer says. “So it was a real honour to take up the position in his name.”

Yim’s latest gift will ensure Dyer can continue his work. The new course has been a hit with students. Dyer is particularly pleased about the feedback from international students of non-English-speaking backgrounds.

“Many of them have said the tutorials have been particularly helpful because they’re coming from totally different societies where there is a different legal culture,” he says. “They’ve told me it’s really helped them understand what’s required at law school in Australia.”

As for Yim, after graduating, he practised law then moved into business and investment. “Having some background in law is extremely useful in business,” he says. “I’m so grateful that I had an education and I’m so grateful that I have an opportunity to give back.”

He is thrilled with the progress Dyer has made at the Law School. “He’s giving students the opportunity to talk through issues of case law and helping them get through the mist, so to speak.

“That’s exactly how Colin Phegan helped me in that 20 minutes all those years ago.”

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