I Want Your Job: Interview with Ossian Elkington, Australian Human Rights Commission
Ossian Elkington. JD graduate, former Irish Bachelor of the Year contender, mixed martial arts aficionado, and the man who landed the job so many law student idealists would kill for: Senior Investigation/ Conciliation Officer at the Australian Human Rights Commission.
That’s right. He gets paid to help people through law. Cool law. Sexy law. Save the world law. So Survive Law, in the higher service of law student idealists everywhere, asked Elkington to spill his secrets on what he loves about law and his job, and how on earth he ended up in human rights law.
“Conciliations are the best part of the job by a long shot,” said Elkington. “Successfully resolving a dispute through the conciliation process requires a thorough understanding of the law and facts but also of people. Walking into a room and understanding the personalities, story and emotion behind the dispute is often central to helping the parties put the matter behind them. Anyone can make a complaint so you end up working with a very diverse group of people which can be a lot of fun.”
Elkington explained how he came to work for the Australian Human Rights Commission: “I worked as an advocate in the community sector for a couple of years while I was still studying. This led me to start working with alternative dispute resolution processes like mediation and conciliation. When a friend of mine gave me the heads up about positions at the Commission I had an advantage because of the experience. That…and luck!”
For those caught between striking the balance of human rights law (which one unnamed human rights lecturer once described as a ‘penniless’ pursuit) and commercial law salaries, he was (characteristically) circumspect.
“Sometimes complainants are represented by community lawyers and advocates and sometimes by corporate lawyers doing work on reduced fees or on a pro bono basis. Now, the corporate lawyers might only spend a small amount of their time and resources on human rights or discrimination matters but they are making a difference and I think that’s important.
“No matter what kind of job you do there are opportunities to assist in the promotion of human rights and prevention of discrimination. A passion for human rights doesn’t just shrivel up when you enter the corporate world and if it does then perhaps it was more an interest than a passion.”
When asked what he loves most about law, he stated (with a brevity baffling to anyone who’s ever had to read the Boilermakers’ case): “I love that everything is arguable.”
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