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A Day in the Life of a Judge’s Associate

law books on a shelf

Ditching the textbooks for full time work is as magical as I ever could have imagined. Okay, sure, I miss my midday naps and I’m way behind on Revenge, but as far as ‘real jobs’ go – mine is pretty amazing. I was fortunate enough to be appointed as a Judge’s Associate for 2013. For those who don’t know (hey me-fourth-months-ago, how you going?) the role of an associate is extremely varied.

Each judge has their own preferences on what their associate does, but at its most basic level, an associate is the judge’s assistant, both personally and professionally. My judge explains it as me being the 99 to his Maxwell Smart, though that could just be a hint that I need to rethink my work wardrobe.

My morning begins by preparing the courtroom and making sure that all the necessary books, textbooks, pens, staplers etc, are easily available to Judge during proceedings. I collect all the files from the registry (often done the afternoon before) and make sure all the reading material is on Judge’s desk to read prior to proceedings.

Typically the rest of the day is spent in the courtroom and will completely vary, dependant on the nature of proceedings – be it a trial, sentencing, pre-records, hearings etc. An associate needs to constantly keep a record of what is happening in the courtroom, on both the court order sheet and the associate notebook. The things that need to be recorded are things such as counsel appearances, pleas, exhibits, orders, jury empanelment, adjournments and anything else that you think that somebody could run into your office at some point and ask you about!

Once court is over for the day I revise any transcripts that have been transcribed and begin preparation for the next day. On top of that there are quite a few administrative tasks such as processing Judge’s claims, organising circuits, hounding counsel for things they haven’t done and whatever other bits and pieces that pop up.

To be fair, writing it down, it doesn’t sound THAT amazing. I mean I’m not a skydiving instructor or a physiotherapist for the Wallabies, but it’s a real legal job and it’s a blast!

I essentially get to (lawfully) stalk a judge. Everyday I get to watch barristers and solicitors battle it out at the bar table. Not only do I get a front row seat to the action, I also get behind the scenes access to Judge’s commentary (think highbrow Roy and HG).

My favourite part of coming to work is the people I get to meet and, more importantly, hearing about their backgrounds in the legal profession. For the number of years we’re at uni, there’s comparatively little guidance on job opportunities. Think of all the possible ways to use a law degree and then multiply it by a BILLION!!! Now you’ve got a small slice of the legal profession. If you think that you’re never going to find a job in law that’s right for you – think again.

Every judge and barrister that I’ve spoken to has had a unique background, from top tier, to legal aid, to Norwegian farmhand (not even kidding about that last one). But what they all have in common is a willingness to make the most of absolutely every opportunity, and knowing what the right moves for them were.

At the end of your degree, it’s hard not to be in a massive rush to get to where you’re going and for some, a 12 months placement as an associate might seem fruitless. I assure you, it’s not.

Have I won you over? Applying for the position of a Judge’s Associate is a tad different to the usual clerkship/graduate application process. Judges start hiring very early on in the year, as early as late February (one of the first jobs you do as an associate is find your replacement). That means that to give yourself your best shot of becoming an associate, you want to have your applications in around the end of January, early February.

My strongest piece of advice is to post in hardcopy applications to each judge you wish you apply for. I know it’s a nightmare and it’s much easier to send in a bulk application, I’ll let you in on a little secret; I know that most judges seem super hip and down with all the new fads, but truth be told, with a nice white A4 envelope on their desk, you can guarantee that your application is going to be read!

The next vital tip is this – change the style of your cover letter. Instead of a JFK kind of approach of ‘it’s not what your firm can for me, but what I can do for your firm”, ditch the talk of your achievements. At the end of the day your resume tells them all your accomplishments and experiences, and your academic transcript tells them whether you’re bright enough for the job. To be perfectly honest, and with no disrespect, it’s not a difficult job. It’s mostly administrative/procedural and your law degree (high GPA or not) will have you well and truly equipped to cope with the tasks.

What judges really want to know is whether you’re somebody they will get along with. You spend 12 months living in each other’s pockets so the main goal when you’re writing your cover letter is to put your personality on a piece of paper so that each judge can say “this sounds like my kind of person!” It’s very strange but completely true. Trust me when I say; with such a close personal relationship, you yourself want to guarantee that you’re going to get along well with your judge too!

Whether you think this job is up your alley or not, what I want to say is this: You have an amazing, exciting and varied career ahead of you. Don’t stress about the first grad job you land and whether it will lead you in the direction you want to go. It’s just a doorway to more doorways that have even more doors…

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