The Crown Solicitor's Office provides legal services to the State Government of NSW in matters relating to the function of government. This service covers a range of areas, including constitutional law, native title law, criminal law, property law, administrative law, child protection law, employment law, commercial property and litigation, community law and of course, government law. The Office is headed by the Crown Solicitor, Ian Knight and the Inquiries Practice Group is headed by Assistant Crown Solicitor, Cate Follent.
How did you come to be a Senior Solicitor within the Inquiries Practice Group at Crown Solicitor's Office?
I came to the Crown Solicitor's Office from a top tier corporate firm where I felt a little disillusioned with the direction of my career. I had heard good things about the reputation of the Crown Solicitor's Office and so in 2006 applied for a position. I started in the Criminal Law Practice Group, doing regulatory prosecutions, advice and inquiry work. I am now in the Inquiries Practice Group which primarily does a lot of inquest work, in addition to representing government agencies and personnel at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Police Integrity Commission and other bodies, and at Special Commissions of Inquiry. The work is very diverse and always interesting!
What’s the best part of your job?
It's honestly difficult to choose one aspect. One very appealing side of the job is exposure to great people. In my role, I work closely with families, police, lawyers and judicial officers – for example, when assisting in an inquest. In the inquest jurisdiction, I very much enjoy the sense of being part of a team striving to improve society by investigating matters of public safety and, potentially, through a Coroner's recommendation, preventing unnecessary deaths. For example, I worked on the inquest into the deaths of four people arising from the collision on Sydney Harbour in March 2007 between a recreational vessel and a ferry. There were numerous recommendations made by the Coroner following a lengthy hearing, which will ultimately make Sydney Harbour a safer maritime area.
The collegiate spirit within the Office is also exceptional – there is an open door policy at even the most senior levels, and it makes for a great learning environment. And whilst there are some undoubtedly stressful periods, you will never be short of a colleague willing to grab a coffee with you and share the load!
As the Crown Solicitor's Office services the entirety of NSW, there are also some great opportunities for travel – I've been all over the state, including Bega, Tathra and Tweed Heads for regulatory prosecutions, Nimbin for a temporary closure application (during the Mardi Gras weekend!), and Albury, Mullumbimby and Bathurst for inquests.
Describe an average day.
Each day is very different, but to take a day last week, it started with a conference with a barrister in chambers about preparing a matter for hearing. On returning to the Office, I conferred with an expert forensic pathologist about the likely cause of a person’s death and preparing an expert report. I drew some correspondence, and liaised with the police officer in charge of an investigation in relation to obtaining further evidence for an inquest listed for hearing soon. I then attended a view of the scene of a death, together with the junior and senior counsel assisting, and the investigating police, so as to better understand matters raised in the brief of evidence and the issues to be explored at the inquest. Usually, I'd also find some time to duck out for a quick lunch with friends, or even a brief gym session.
Currently, I'm assisting a Deputy State Coroner with the disappearance of Rahma El-Dennaoui in November 2005, which will explore her abduction and review the avenues of investigation undertaken thus far. My other matters include a number of critical incidents, which involve deaths arising in the course of police operations, and a range of medical misadventure inquests.
Would you recommend your job to others?
Absolutely (and I often do)! The Crown Solicitor's Office is an excellent place to practise law, as in my experience, the quality of the work is unparalleled. The conditions at the Crown Solicitor's Office are also great – flex time, over-time and great in-house health initiatives (such as yoga, pilates, massage etc). As a new mum, I've also been very lucky to have the support of the Office in allowing me to work flexibly as required – at the moment, I regularly work at home on Thursday, but can also change arrangements as necessary if my son is sick or I have childcare issues.
The Crown Solicitor's Office also has a very generous study leave policy, and supported me through to completion of my Masters of Criminology (University of Sydney) from 2007-2009.
What skills would a person need to become a Senior Solicitor at the Crown Solicitor's Office?
The specific skills required for each position will vary, depending on the job. Someone at a Senior level, for example, will need to have a particular expertise in the relevant area of law. Generally, however, to work at the Crown Solicitor's Office, you need to be a legal practitioner with sound legal and communication skills, who strives for legal excellence. The Office has in place great programs to facilitate the development of new practitioners (including rotations through advisory, transactional and litigation practice groups).
Find out more about the Crown Solicitors