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NSW Crown Solicitor's Office

  • 100 - 500 employees

Clare Skinner

As a graduate solicitor, I have rotated through four different legal practice areas. I’m now in the final rotation of the graduate program, working in the inquiries practice group.

What's your name and job title?

My name is Clare Skinner and I am a graduate solicitor at the Crown Solicitor’s Office (CSO).

What did you study? When did you graduate?

I studied Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (Hons) at Australian National University (ANU) majoring in international relations and sociology, and graduated midway through 2014.

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

I heard about the CSO’s Graduate Solicitor Program while I was working at the Supreme Court and liked the sound of it immediately. I applied through the online jobs site for NSW Government and interviewed shortly after. I’ve been a graduate solicitor for about 18 months, and will complete the graduate program in mid-2018.

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

I first had a short interview with three senior solicitors and then I had to complete a written assessment. The interview questions were focussed on establishing my responses to situations and my general legal skills.

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

It’s important to focus on what you’re passionate about in your studies, which for me was public and international law. I have found that solicitors at the CSO tend to be driven by their passion for law, as well as a desire to contribute to the wider public interest. On a more practical level, studying subjects that help you to understand the rules and procedures of civil litigation would be valuable, as many practice areas at the CSO involve litigation.

Can you describe a typical work day?

As a graduate solicitor, I have rotated through four different legal practice areas. I’m now in the final rotation of the graduate program, working in the inquiries practice group.

I’m currently working mainly on inquest matters, in which the crown solicitor is instructed by the NSW state coroner. My work is quite varied day to day, but it’s generally similar to preparing for litigation: I prepare briefs of evidence, review subpoena material, prepare chronologies and other court documents, attend conferences and liaise with counsel assisting and the officer in charge of the relevant police investigation.

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

The people that tend to excel at the CSO are those that have a genuine passion for, and interest in, the work that they’re doing. There is quite an academic environment here, which suits hard workers who take pride in producing high quality work.

The CSO encourages staff to balance hard work and high performance with openness and collaboration, so those who are willing to share and learn can do really well here; we don’t nurture the intense competitiveness that you may find at some private-sector law firms.

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

There is plenty of scope to advance your legal career and progress into more senior roles within the CSO, or to undertake a temporary secondment with government agency clients. There is also opportunity to develop your legal experience by moving between practice groups on a temporary or ongoing basis.

Within the graduate program, I’ve worked in the Constitutional & Administrative Law, Criminal Law, and Child Protection practice groups, and I’m now in the Inquiries practice group.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Someone with a different background to me could definitely do my job, provided they are genuinely interested in the work that the CSO does, and have a drive to perform to a high standard. The CSO has a diverse staff of people with different backgrounds and experiences, which I think provides more opportunities for everyone to learn and develop.

What do you love the most about your job? Which kind of task do you enjoy the most?

What I love most about my job is the range of matters I get to work on. The work the CSO does is often topical and sometimes quite high profile. It can be exciting to see a matter I’ve been involved with reported in the media.

I particularly enjoy litigation work, because it’s very dynamic and fast-paced. I have learned a great deal from the solicitor advocates and barristers involved in the litigation matters I have worked on. As part of the Inquiries practice group, I have opportunities to work closely with the barrister appointed as counsel assisting and the magistrate appointed as coroner.

I have also enjoyed working on matters across a number of different state and federal jurisdictions.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? Do you bear a lot of responsibility? Do you have to work on weekends? Are the stress levels high?

As I’ve rotated through the different practice areas within the graduate program, my level of responsibility has varied. I have had some late nights and spent the odd weekend in the office, particularly when preparing for a hearing, but it’s not a normal occurrence.

One of the best things about working at the CSO is that staff are encouraged to maintain a work-life balance, and are not expected to spend significant amounts of time at the office outside regular working hours. As a general rule, as my responsibilities increase, so too does the potential for high stress levels, but I don’t think that’s unusual in law. Ultimately, the work itself is incredibly rewarding and I appreciate the challenges and achievements that come with it.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?

My three pieces of advice are as follows:

  1. The most valuable career advice that I’ve received myself is that you can either focus on ticking every box as you progress your career, or allow yourself to be drawn to interesting opportunities as they arise. I’ve found that by being a bit more flexible about what I want, I’ve gained valuable experiences along the way and ended up doing work I genuinely enjoy.
  2. You never know where or when the next opportunity might arise, or who might help you to get there, so keep an open mind about the next opportunity to cross your path.
  3. It can be easy to forget that there’s life outside university when you’re focused on getting your degree, but remember that the life skills gained through experiences such as travel and volunteer work can be just as valuable in a workplace as your legal knowledge and qualifications.