Life in the shoes of a judge’s associate (Part 2)

3 mins

Apart from having a great experience, let’s look at the actual reasons for why you should become a judge’s associate. This post is about THE BIG WHY.

1. The best prep for the Bar

I would go so far to say that becoming a judge’s associate is essential, if not mandatory, if you’re considering the Bar. This is the perfect place to find out whether barrister life is for you. On a very rough estimate, about 30-40% of associates in my year went to the Bar, or at least sat the exam.

As an associate, you will change your opinion over the course of the year. As you spend a significant amount of time sitting in court, you will quickly work out whether you like the idea of appearance work. Trials can be long and (while there are occasional inflections of humour) are physical and mental marathons. Barristers can be on their feet for hours making submissions and responding to questions from the judge. You will have to be on your toes when cross-examining witnesses.

Hollywood only shows you the glamorous side of advocacy work. As with many jobs, there are parts of barrister work that is not at all glamorous. For example, there is only so much excitement that an insolvency matter can elicit if you are citing the Corporations Act.

There is another important reason for why you would consider being a judge’s associate. It is the ‘foot in the door’ reason. If you have decided that the Bar is for you, then your judge will help you work out the best barristers to read with. You would have knowledge that you would not otherwise have as an outsider looking in.

2. Understand how judges really think

The next best part, along with all the best parts I’ve mentioned so far, is that you get a rare insight into how a judge thinks.

There are two parts to this. You will get an insight into what they see as substantively important. This includes legal submissions, the use of procedure and litigation strategy. You will also get an insight into what they see as presentationally important. This includes counsel’s written and verbal advocacy and their manner / style / interactions with the judge.

After every hearing, you have the opportunity to discuss thoughts with your judge. This includes the merits of different arguments and whether the barristers were convincing. These chats will show you what judges like and dislike. They are important lessons for your future practice as a lawyer or barrister.

3. Work with the most brilliant minds

As an associate, you have the privilege of working with your judge, who has decades of legal experience. You will also invariably encounter other judges. Some associates have the opportunity to work across Chambers. This can happen when another judge needs extra hands on board when their associate is away. You will also meet other motivated associates who will become a peer at the Bar or in the profession.

Your learning will grow over the year, along with the cases that your judge hears. Your judge will ask you to advocate for your viewpoint based on good research and substantiation. In short, prepare to be challenged, pushed and pulled in all sorts of different directions.

4. Become a better lawyer

Even if you choose not to go to the Bar, your experience as an associate will make you a better lawyer. There was one thing that horrified me as an associate. It was the realisation that a great deal of ‘legal work’ done by law firms was not always relevant, important or necessary to winning a case. You will see this from the judge’s perspective.

Another benefit of being an associate is seeing a cross-section of cases and their evolution over time. You will see how parties start actions, how they use litigation strategy, and how issues play out at trial. This sort of perspective is rare. Most practising lawyers on large litigation matters will never see the start and end of a case.

5. Get a lifelong mentor

Finally, for many associates, your judge will become a lifelong mentor. This is a real privilege. For most associates, a judge becomes almost like a parent (in the law). They are always a good source of insight and wisdom because they have been around the law for so long.

What are you waiting for? Put in your application now!

(Note: Positions come up all year round, so keep your eyes peeled for vacancies when advertised. If you’re in Victoria, check the Careers.Vic website.)

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