Clerkship and graduate programs underpin our commitment to First Nations peoples

Clerkship and graduate programs underpin our commitment to First Nations peoples

Friday, 12 February 2021

Hayden Walker wearing a white shirt and blue jacket, Zack Smith wearing a blue shirt and grey suit and Charis Ballantyne wearing a black jacket and white skivvy
L-R: Lawyers Hayden Walker, Zack Smith and Charis Ballantyne

Our Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–21 commits us to being an employer of choice for First Nations peoples, and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Clerkship Program and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Graduate Law Program underpin this commitment.

The clerkship program has been successful in providing a pathway to our graduate law program for this year's participants, Zack Smith, Hayden Walker and Charis Ballantyne.

All three lawyers recently commenced our 2021 graduate law program with a six-day practical legal training intensive at Leo Cussen Centre and have now started their placements.

Charis has joined our Summary Crime team in Melbourne, Hayden will be based in our Ballarat office and Zack has joined our Parenting Disputes team in Melbourne.

Zack enjoyed the clerkship program as it gave him the opportunity to work across our teams and exposed him to a variety of tasks including clerking at court and preparing chronologies for family and criminal law cases.

‘The clerkship program was invaluable as I was able to work in the Morwell, Ringwood and Melbourne offices and experience a variety of casework.

'I was also able to assist on cases behind the scenes and see them through to completion in court, which gave me a better understanding of how a legal file is run, the court processes involved, how to effectively communicate with clients and how to manage my time, all critical skills for a courtroom lawyer.

‘Most importantly, the clerkship gave me the confidence and knowledge to apply for and commence the graduate program, which builds on what I have already learnt, and will allow me to delve deeper into the work we do while completing my practical legal training,’ said Zack.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Charis has also enjoyed her clerkship and benefited from the experience.

‘Working in the clerkship program during COVID brought with it unique benefits and challenges. My biggest learnings have related to communicating effectively with clients and communicating openly and honestly with my supervisor and host.

'I have learned to trust my own knowledge and skill set, and reinforced many practical skills, including letter writing and file management.

‘However, one of the most important things I have learned through the clerkship program is the value of debriefing, and taking care of yourself,’ she said.

Hayden too is looking forward to the challenges that will be part of his journey at Leo Cussens and our organisation. He says the clerkship and graduate programs play an important role in supporting First Nations peoples within our organisation.

‘I feel privileged and excited to be returning to the wonderful team at our Ballarat office and hope I can become a respected lawyer through their guidance and support.

'I am also honoured to be a part of Victoria Legal Aid’s commitment to closing the gap. We all win from these types of programs as I will be able to represent my mob as we walk together with the organisation on a journey toward a better future.’

More information

We will commence advertising for the 2022 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Graduate Law Program intake on Friday 26 March via our careers page.

For more information about the program, email Lauren Steers, Talent Acquisition Consultant at or visit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Graduate Law Program.

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