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Legal Aid NSW

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Danielle Captain-Webb

I think generally to be a successful lawyer in Legal Aid you need to be open, transparent and non-judgmental given the disadvantage of our clients.

1. What’s your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate? Who are your mob? Do you identify with a particular tribe? 

 My name is Danielle Captain-Webb (previously Danielle Hobday). I am a Wiradjuri/Gomeroi woman, my mob come from the Narrandera/Narrabri areas. I completed a Bachelor of Criminology & Criminal Justice/Law at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2016 and I am currently a graduate lawyer at Legal Aid NSW within the Bob Bellear Career Development Program.

2. Where did you grow up? Important stages of your life (school, education, experience abroad, jobs etc.)

I grew up in the small country town of Mangrove Mountain on the Central Coast of NSW (Darkinjung country) and attended St Philips Christian College from K-12. During school I wanted to join the NSW Police Force and in Year 11 I attended an Aboriginal Careers Fair, where I became aware of alternative entry paths into University - particularly for degrees such as Criminology and Policing. It was during this time my father suggested I apply for alternative entry into a Law degree.  I never considered this to be an option due to my academic capabilities and what I then believed to be an inability to study law and become a lawyer.
Despite this, I successfully applied for and attended multiple alternative entry pathways – for both Policing and Law. I successfully completed UNSW’s month long, intensive Pre-Law Program. It was during this time that I realised my potential and realised that my ambitions to become a police officer would be more fruitful as a criminal lawyer. At the conclusion of the program I accepted an offer to study a Diploma of Humanities (law), which is used as a transition/bridging course and upon my successful completion transferred into a Bachelor of Criminology & Criminal Justice/Law.

During my studies I successfully employed by the Australian Federal Police within their cadetship program, where I gained experience within their procurement, high-tech crime operation and missing persons teams. I was further employed by the Australian Government Solicitors as an Admin Assistant for a period of time and at NSW Juvenile Justice as a Youth Officer.

Following university, I completed my practical legal training at the Public Defender’s Office (which confirmed my passion for criminal law), and in March 2017 I was admitted to the Supreme Court of NSW as a Solicitor. Before gaining my current position I spent 12 months at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre under the AGS Indigenous Secondee Law Graduate/Lawyer Program, whereby I was involved in strategic litigation and community outreach within the human rights and social justice paradigm.

3. How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

My current position was secured through my successful entry into the Bob Bellear Career Development Program at Legal Aid NSW. This program comprises rotations over two years in two varied areas of law. I started my first and current rotation in March 2018 within Gosford’s Local Court Practice as a criminal lawyer.

5. Did you face any obstacles as an Indigenous student?

I believe that everyone has their own individual obstacles as a student. Mine were primarily encompassed by academic, financial and residential barriers, in addition to family commitments.

Tertiary levels of education were not familiar to my family - both my parents were farmers and completed school in year 9/10. Being the first to complete the HSC in my family and even consider tertiary education was daunting. It was an unfamiliar paradigm which I entered completely blind. This was compounded by my level of academic capabilities, it took me approximately 12- 18 months to catch up academically to my counterparts.

In addition to this, I had added pressures as my family and I could not afford the accommodation costs associated with university/Sydney. This meant I was commuting 5-6 hours a day to attend university 4 days per week and working a part time job on weekends to financially support myself and universities demands until I successfully gained a residential scholarship midway through my first year. It was particularly hard for me during the first semester as I was incorrectly accessed as ineligible for Abstudy, and therefore not receiving and government assistance.

After successfully completing my second year of university, my now husband and I had our first child, who was followed by our second child two years later. Although I don’t see this as an obstacle, it was definitely an added life component that I continuously had to factor in as I continued to study full time throughout both pregnancies, without any break. I am now a mother of three.

Applying for your job

1. How did you choose your specialisation (compared to others)? / Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?

My interest in the law commenced when I thought I wanted to join the NSW Police Force. This was in attempt to alleviate the structural discrepancies Aboriginal people face by the force and consequently the over-representation within the criminal justice system. I quickly realised that I would be more influential as a lawyer as opposed to any internal position within the system itself, thus prompting me to study law. At university I was always interested in criminal law, and upon completion of my degree I was lucky enough to complete my practical legal training through the Aboriginal Graduates Program at the Public Defenders Chambers. This opportunity exposed me to the complexities of crime, but most importantly embedded my love for criminal law.

It was after my completion of the program that I joined PIAC, whereby I was involved in an array of strategic litigation- particularly for Aboriginal people and communities. During this time I worked within the Indigenous Justice Project which encompassed police torts – this gave me exposure to criminal law within a civil law setting. Despite my initial uncertainties of leaving crime I quickly fell in love with this area of law, as I could see the real and tangible impact it had for Aboriginal people and communities. However, since practicing as a criminal lawyer it has confirmed the specific and real interest I have within the area, which I hope to eventually specialise in.

2. What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?

In 2017 the NSW Legal Aid Graduate Program received over 200 applications for the Legal Aid Graduate Program. With the high number of applications, the interview process was highly competitive. The interview process was strictly structured by the following: 15 minutes reading time to prepare for the following- 7 minute oral presentation, 15 minute interview regarding legal hypotheticals and 20 minutes dedicated to a written task. I was asked about recent developments in the law, examples where I dealt with a challenging client/colleague and the area of laws that Legal Aid assists with.  I was one of five successful applicants to receive a position.

3. Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?

I think that the most valuable experience you can gain is life is from practical application. My advice would be to expose yourself to the law as much as possible while you are a student, by working/volunteering in a range of different services within various sectors and areas of law. There are a number of benefits from doing this. The first is that you will establish firsthand what you enjoy and what you don’t – this will assist you later on if you decide you want to specialise. Also the more experience you have, the more competitive you can been when applying for graduate jobs, and lastly you start to build up your networks early- which is really important in may sectors, but specifically the legal field.
Overall gaining this experience will also initiate the process of developing the core skills you require as a lawyer, which will progress your overall development and success, making you a well-rounded advocate.

Your work

1. What does your employer do?

Legal Aid NSW provides legal services to disadvantaged clients by provide information, advice, minor assistance, representation and community legal education to clients in the practice areas of crime, civil and family law.

2. What are your areas of responsibility?

I am apart of Legal Aid Gosford Local Court Crime Team. As we are within a regional area we cover the whole Central Coast and provide a daily duty service at both Gosford and Wyong Courts.
I personally provide criminal law advice, assistance and representation to people who have charges before the local court.

3. Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?

A typical work day for me will see me at court from 8:30 am - 4 pm. This allows me to get the files ready for my day ahead, see clients before court opens regarding their plea or mention and see clients who are in custody refused police bail and awaiting to be brought before a court to make a release application. As my court experience grows I will be conducting sentences and defended hearings.

4. What sort of person succeeds in your career?

Success is in the eyes of the beholder. However, I think this also varies depending on your area of law and sector. I think generally to be a successful lawyer in Legal Aid you need to be open, transparent and non-judgmental given the disadvantage of our clients. You have to be patient, passionate, a good communicator/problem solver and also open to continuously learning. The law is not stagnant and therefore it is important to continue your learning and also ask questions, because as a lawyer you will learn something new every day.

5. What are the career prospects with your job? / Where could you or others in your position go from here?

The Legal Aid NSW Graduate Program encompasses positions in two practice areas over a two year period. For example one year in criminal law and one year in civil or family law. At the end of this program one should have enough experience to then be a solicitor in any one of the areas they have practiced in, both within or external to Legal Aid. After gaining more experience working in the Local Court, I would like to expand my knowledge in criminal law and gain experience working in the Children’s Court and in the more serious criminal cases known as indictable matters. I have my goals set high, one day I want to become a criminal barrister – even returning to the Public Defenders where I first started my criminal law career.

6. Could someone with a different background do your job?

I think that everyone has the ability to become a lawyer. It is then dependent upon their characteristics as to what area of law is best suited to their passions and personality. Studying the law is the obvious requirement to being admitted to the courts, however it is how one applies the law and navigates the legal system as to whether they do that successfully or not – and success encompasses running the best possible case and argument possible for your client.

 A word to the wise...

1. How important is it for Indigenous youths to stay connected with their communities?

It is vital. Your community is a part of your identity and influences what you do and why you do it. You will also be a role model to many young people, so keeping connected also positively influences others around you. Your community will always be there for you, and re-energise you when you need it, they will be your biggest supporter.

2. Which three pieces of advice would you give to Indigenous students nearing graduation? They don’t necessarily have to be related to your role, or even be career-focused.

  1. Keep yourself grounded: don’t forget where you come from or why you started your degree or career in a certain field. It can be so easy to get lost once you start working – maintain your passion.
  2. Acknowledge your worth: never feel like you are not good enough to do something, or not entitled for a certain position. Don’t let other people intimidate you, just because you are in an identified position. These positions have been developed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, because it is important that we bring our voice to the table - we contribute a varied and different perspective which encourages an inclusive, well-rounded system.
  3. Don’t overwork yourself: As an Indigenous person, there tends to be a number of things going on at once- especially back home and in the community. This extra weight can take its toll. So when you need a minute, put your hand up and tell someone. Help can always be afforded, you just need to ask for it and continue to be resilient.