Clerkship Program delivers insight into legal profession

Clerkship Program delivers insight into legal profession

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Clerk Zack Smith tells us what he enjoys about his work in Victoria Legal Aid’s (VLA's) Aboriginal Clerkship Program and how it has helped provide clarity on what he would like to do after he completes his Bachelor of Commerce/Law.

Clerk Zack Smith
Above: Clerk Zack Smith

How long have you worked at VLA and what attracted you to work for the organisation?

I have been working at VLA for over six months now.

I applied for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Clerkship position after visiting VLA during a ‘Leap into Law’ event that I was assisting with. At this event, I spoke to VLA staff and learnt more about the organisation. I discovered the organisation’s focus and values were closely aligned with my own, and believed I would enjoy working in an environment that aimed to serve those values. I have always enjoyed helping those who are in the most need of assistance, and working at VLA affords me the opportunity to do just that.

What are the prime d​uties in your role and what does a normal day involve?

There is no typical day in my role and I have had the opportunity to perform a variety of different tasks around the office and at court. I have drafted affidavits for clients and prepared chronologies for cases and different court documents. I have also spent a lot of time clerking at court and shadowing some of VLA’s lawyers and barristers.

What are the challenges you face in your role?

I look forward to every day I work at VLA as each day brings new and different challenges. I have enjoyed being given different tasks and responsibilities, as this has not only made the job more interesting, but has also enabled me to learn so much more than I thought possible. I have loved being occasionally thrown in the deep end. It has been a challenge, but it has taught me so much. I was given the opportunity to instruct in a final hearing in the Family Court in Melbourne which was incredibly exciting, but challenging at the same time.

What pers​onal qualities do you need to succeed in your role?

In my role, you obviously need to have a passion for the law and helping people. Aside from that, I think the most important qualities required are to be outgoing and proactive. There have been so many different opportunities that have opened up in this role, and to make the most of them, you need to take up as many of them as possible.

How does your role make a difference in the community?

My role at times has direct contact with VLA clients. I have been able to spend time on client’s cases and see some of them through when they have been at court. I have also made the already huge job of the duty lawyers that much easier by clerking at court, and freeing up their time so they have more time to spend with clients and cases.

What satisfaction/rewards do you get from your work?

I love knowing that what I do has a direct impact on people’s lives and their dependants. Being at court and having the opportunity to see a client’s case run has also been very satisfying. You can really see the difference our assistance makes in their lives.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in a legal field?

Prior to working at VLA, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in accounting or business. I hadn’t given a legal career too much consideration, but I studied law because I knew that no matter where I ended up, it would be very handy to have a law degree.

Now that I have experienced the law, I know that this is what I want to do, and it’s where I want to be practising if given the opportunity in the future.

What advice would you give to people wanting to practise in your area?

This role has given me a great insight into the legal profession and has changed my mind on what I would like to do once I graduate. It has been a great opportunity and one that I would highly recommend to anyone who wants a taste of VLA or the legal profession.

If you are studying, the best thing to do is to experience as many areas of the law as possible before you complete your degree. Try different areas of law at different organisations to see what mix you most enjoy.

What has struck you most about working in rural Victoria?

I worked in the Morwell office for two weeks at the start of my Clerkship and thoroughly enjoyed this placement as I was able to experience all the different areas of law that are offered by VLA.

In the two weeks I was there, I really became a part of the Morwell team, and as it is a smaller office, I got to know the staff quite well.

I was also able to visit the Bairnsdale office and courts for a day which was an experience in itself, as the court and the way it works is completely different. I was also able to have a look inside some of the holding cells at court, which was an interesting experience.

Can you give an example of a day where you have gone home and thought to yourself, 'I’ve really made a difference in that person’s/client’s life today'?

When I was working in the Melbourne office I looked over a client’s case and subsequently saw it run at court. While at court I was able to meet the client and answer some of their questions which helped alleviate their concerns. This also allowed the barrister to focus fully on running the case at hand.

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work I am in my third year of studying a Bachelor of Commerce/Laws at Australian Catholic University. I am a very keen basketballer, so I love to play whenever I have a chance. I also enjoy the TV show Suits, am a big Richmond Football Club fan and I love watching my Tigers play.

Anything else you wish to add?

I have enjoyed the opportunity to appear in the Independent Children’s Lawyer Pilot Program Moot at the Federal Circuit Court. This was an incredible experience as I was able to moot with one of the lawyers who I had shadowed and spent considerable time.

This was incredibly nerve-racking at the time, but I am grateful for the opportunity and received positive feedback from the judges. I have also made some great friends from each of the different VLA offices and learnt much from them.