How did you become a solicitor?
Daniel had always liked the law and English, so he kept his options open at university by doing two degrees. He was especially interested in criminal defence, and this dovetailed with his politics: "If I was privileged enough to be a lawyer, I was ethically obliged to put that at the disposal of other people." He was also attracted to the intellectual skills law requires: debating, assembling large amounts of information, and arguing a case.
The next step was to do articles - this is like doing an apprenticeship with a law firm. Competition for placements is fierce, so Daniel did the seven-month Practical Training Course at the Leo Cussen Institute. This gave him concrete experience in many areas (such as wills, crime, commercial and family law) that specialist firms might not cover during an articles year. Criminal law can be hard to get into, so he had to keep his goal firmly in mind.
What was your career path?
Daniel got his first job at the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (now the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre) through a friend. He had volunteered there because he was interested in immigration law, so he knew people in that field with similar interests. In the long run, he says, doing things you're passionate about is more useful (and fun) than trying to network in areas that don't excite you. He found immigration work a challenging, but valuable experience. After a stint at the Department of Justice as an admin assistant, he moved to policy research. He says his skill with words helped here, and he liked seeing the policy behind the legislation he'd worked with.
After articles, Daniel had qualified to practise as a lawyer, but he needed more experience. When a short-term advocacy position came up at a community legal service, he took the risk of temporary work. Two years there made him "a viable lawyer", working on a wide variety of cases and seeing the inner workings of the police and legal systems. This is invaluable in his current position as an in-house counsel, where solicitors brief him for court appearances.
What's a typical working day involve?
Each day is different. Daniel reads through the day's case file, meets with the client, and double-checks the court information. As an advocate he operates like a barrister, appearing in court to run his client's case. As he puts it, "A criminal lawyer is a translator - explaining to the court who [the client] is and explaining to them what's happening in court." Simple matters might only take half an hour, and he then talks to the client about their appeal rights, if necessary. He may lodge an appeal, or apply for bail.
Contested matters (where clients plead 'not guilty') take longer, so he researches the law, speaks to the prosecutor, and works out a strategy with the client. There's lots of reading and travel on his own time, so hours can be long, and there's always paperwork. He sometimes gets frustrated too, "when you encounter how stupid the law is"; for example, when the court ignores a client's individual circumstances because of what the legislation requires. But helping people to avoid the frustrations of the law is rewarding, as is working on policy and getting people's voices heard.
What are some tips for breaking into the industry?
If you're considering law, Daniel warns not to fear the system. Do volunteer work, and don't expect much money early on - you'll need passion to get you through. He suggests developing street smarts, some cynicism, strategic thinking and "clinical empathy". This means putting yourself in your clients' shoes but still maintaining emotional distance: then you can do your job well, without burning out.
Find out more about this career path at myfuture.edu.au (new window) (Note: free registration is required to access the myfuture site).