From the Juris Doctor to Judge’s Associate
JD Alumni Sepi Sadri talks to Rob Hulls about studying law at RMIT, the role of a Judge’s Associate and the value of mentors.
ROB SPEAKS: Hi Students, today I have with me RMIT JD Alumni, Sepi Sadri. Sepi is a County Court Judge’s associate and it’s great that she’s with me today, Hi Sepi.
SEPI SPEAKS: Hi Rob.
ROB SPEAKS: So Sepi, you had a career obviously before you became a judge’s associate, just give us a bit of your background and how you came into the law
SEPI SPEAKS: Yeah, so I started my career at the Australian owned internationally recognised bank, Macquarie. I commenced there through the graduate program after finishing commerce at Melbourne. In my first year there, I quickly learned that I couldn’t spend the rest of my working life chasing the bottom line and so I chose to enrol in law because I knew that law could offer me, would allow me something to give without really compromising what I think is a desperate need to be intellectually engaged with my work. So after I finished my degree, I moved to the west in search of some more meaningful work and I landed a position, I had the privilege of defending a very marginalised subset of the Victorian taxi Industry who were suffering an acute injustice. They had basically lose the right to fight, rights to earn a living for their families and their roles were being sued under the insurer’s right of subjugation, so I was able to assist them with that and remains thus far the most rewarding part of my career.
ROB SPEAKS: And how well did the RMIT JD course prepare you for the real world of the legal profession and the law?
SEPI SPEAKS: To be prepared for a career in law, you need to have understood, a basic grasp of the concepts in the JD itself and to have understood the concepts taught in the units, the lecturers played, especially at RMIT I found, they played a really central role in preparing us as students, psychologically for the sheer volume of reading that was meant to happen. So that when you are in practice and you’ve started your career in law, and you’re sitting there with, as I frequently did, during the course of my JD, I sat there with the textbook, the annotated case guide, the legislation and or the rules and regulations, a Latin and English dictionary, you aren’t overwhelmed when you have to decipher a piece of legislation as a lawyer, because they prepared you for it really well.
ROB SPEAKS: And are there any things you wished maybe you’d concentrated on a bit more when you were a student now that you’re working in the law?
SEPI SPEAKS: Absolutely, there’s only one answer to that and that is to, I wish I’d paid more attention to the invaluable advice from the librarians when they had some legal research lessons for us and because they were un-examinable they went basically went right off the top of my head. But I can’t stress how important it is to be able to find the answer for something that you’re looking for quickly and without having to rely on anybody else and the trick with legal research is to be able to, firstly determine the question and once you have the right question, to frame that in the right legal research lingo that say Jade or Lexus interface will recognise and once you’re able to do that, you’re able to get really more specific answers and the better the question the better the answer will be for you as well. And if you’re able to do that, then you don’t need to rely on anyone else for the answers and it’s very important.
ROB SPEAKS: And judge’s associate, what is a judge’s associate? What does your role entail and how did you get the gig?
SEPI SPEAKS: So, a judge’s associate they have tasks in court, specific tasks that need to be performed in court and also in chambers as well. So in court you might be responsible for arraigning an excused which means that you lay out the charges to an offender who has pleaded to a set of charges. You might be reading out a verdict to the accused after a trial and you need to prepare orders on the spot and then you have your duties in chambers. In chambers you might be involved in legal research, you might be involved in drafting sentences or judgements or you might be involved in getting a cup of tea for the judge, it really depends on the demands of the specific judge that you have. That’s basically the role.
ROB SPEAKS: And how do you get a job like that?
SEPI SPEAKS: Well you apply, generally they look for young lawyers, often lawyers with some community legal experience as well but having said that, there are lots of law graduates who aren’t admitted yet and people in their penultimate and final year of law degrees who are also judge’s associates. So if you have the intention of perhaps joining the bar one day, it’s a good option and they tend to attract those type of applicants.
ROB SPEAKS: Ok, so let’s say there are some students who are watching this who might want to go to the bar one day, what has this job that you have as a judge’s associate, taught you about preparation and about advocacy more generally?
SEPI SPEAKS: Preparation and in fact primacy are key. Preparation means not leaving the judge with any residual question marks. So if you can go into court and you know you’ve covered all your bases and…the thing is, if the judge needs to intervene and ask a question about personal circumstances of your client who might be an offender, say in a plea of mitigation, then you haven’t prepared. Similarly, in a civil matter, if the judge has to intervene and ask for the factual circumstances of the case, then you haven’t prepared. This is obviously unavoidable, obviously, because judges are smarter than us and they will invariably find things to ask, but if you can try to cover your bases before you go in, that’s key. And the second thing is, if your judge asks you what your client is seeking during or at the end of your case, then you haven’t applied to principle of primacy and primacy is where you channel all of your efforts into one case theory. So you don’t need to cross examine on everything or for the sake of cross-examining because that does in my opinion, dilute your case.
ROB SPEAKS: Again students who are watching this, not sure which way their career path’s gonna go but may well be intimated by the prospect of going to the bar, surely in your job as a judge’s associate you’ve seen advocates come and go, you must’ve seen some duds, you’ve obviously seen some good ones, our students shouldn’t be intimidated should they, about the prospect of going to the bar? Based on what you’ve seen?
SEPI SPEAKS: Absolutely not. The bar readers course has recently introduced an exam prior to that it was simply a matter of putting your name down and eventually you’re called to the bar and that meant that anyone could go to the bar. What students might find if they try it is that if they do go and sit in court and just watch any case that they might find, they will notice that counsel, sometimes they will walk out of the case thinking ‘I can do a better job than that’ and it comes again how passionate you are about your case and about the area of law that you’re advocating for and I find that in my experience, the more passionate you are about something, the more natural it becomes.
ROB SPEAKS: Ok, last question Sepi, if you had to give one or two pieces of advice to our law students, budding lawyers watching this, what would those bits of advice be?
SEPI SPEAKS: I would certainly advise to think about how to differentiate yourself, beyond having a law degree, beyond having a sound knowledge of the legal system, beyond having a sound knowledge of the law. And the reason for this is because you’re also being responsive to today’s day on age. So for instance, in my experience, when I was at the Western Community Legal Centre, what actually got me through the door was my Farsi speaking background and that part of me was what got me through the door to be able to communicate to Farsi speaking migrants and refugees and also to be culturally sensitive to that sort of the community, but whilst that got me through the door, I ended up where I really wanted to be which was in litigation and in advocacy for a very minor subset of the community that weren’t Farsi speaking, so to that end and because that remains the most rewarding part of my career, was helping that disadvantaged subset of the community, I would recommend other ways you can push yourself forward such as different languages, what your passions are. And my second piece of advice is to find a mentor that mirrors your values, find a mentor that mirrors your vision and find a mentor that inspires you and that you can aspire to be like. I can’t stress how important that is as well.
ROB SPEAKS: Ok students, there’s some great advice. First of all don’t be intimidated, there are some good advocates out there, there are some that I have no doubt you are much better than. Sepi also said that judges are mostly smarter than us, some are, I can give you that advice, some aren’t. But also try and differentiate yourself, get as much practical experience that you can to make it and you’re going to enjoy it
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