I knew I wanted to be a public prosecutor from an early age, and since starting law I frequently stalked the Office of Public Prosecutions in the hope of getting a job. This year my uni advertised a four week work experience program with Queensland’s ODPP. I applied and was thrilled to be offered a placement with the Gold Coast office. So instead of going on a trip, seeing neglected friends or catching up on new literature, I spent my first day of mid-semester break trying out my dream job.
Firstly, this was not an episode of Crownies. The office looked the same as any other I had worked in: no magic chocolate fountain or flashing, glowing secrets. Strewn with papers and filing, I realised quickly that administration was going to be on the top of my to-do-list.
While in Crownies the characters would pass on files such as fraud and robbery, assaults and the like because they were not ‘juicy’ enough, that didn’t happen here. The majority of complaints were assaults and glassings, and no details were held back.
My colleagues were all hardworking people with strong mindsets aimed at making the world a better place. Spending all day looking at crime is not easy and reading victim statements or seeing photos is not something you can be prepared for. It’s not for the faint hearted.
An average day at the office would start between 8:30 and 9am (no 10 hour days in the government sector) and opening files, case management, emails, police requests, letters and phone calls would keep you busy to lunch. After this, the process would repeat. One thing I took from this experience was the need to have experience in administration, a knack for typing and methodologically sorting out hundreds of pages of documents into a user-friendly system for the legal officers. This was also my reality check; no running between important court cases and fighting for justice between client meetings! Eighty percent of my, and other officers’ days were spent in front of the computer.
I think this is an important lesson for most law students. When we are dreaming of our future careers we often forget that we won’t be starting our careers at the top. Instead, we’ll be thinking back to first year client letter writing exercises or struggling to find a resource. However, we all have to start somewhere.
While the program was a steep learning curve, it was also a great experience. When I was first accepted I was worried that it would not live up to my expectations and I would no longer have a reason for four years of law school. I was not let down and I felt it was where I belonged. Though most of my tasks were administrative, knowing I was working on cases with real people made it worth it.
What surprised me the most was the amount of time and resources put into training workplace students. Video conferences were held for regional students to be in contact with Brisbane while experts in criminal law lectured on the workings of all departments including forfeiture and mental health. I found this particularly useful in providing an insight into the sub-branches of criminal law and how they worked, including how to gain access for work experience.
No task was off limits to students, and anyone willing to give something a go could. Everyone was lovely and very helpful: from the legal officers providing students with opportunities to learn new things to crown prosecutors sharing jokes and anecdotes with clerks.
Before starting my placement I was not sure I could work in criminal law and I really didn’t know what to expect. Be yourself and do not be afraid to put yourself out there for a new opportunity; those who put in the extra effort were recognised. Though the office was laid back and friendly, given the nature of the work you will be exposed to, sensitivity and tact is a must. Be prepared to witness things you did not think possible as students are granted exposure to all aspects of the criminal law.
If you’re thinking about working in criminal law, my advice is to just go out there and get experience. It’s not like Crownies, but that’s a good thing.
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