Legal Eagle “Falconer” Edition No 3: Sophie Stafford
Sophie Stafford is a La Trobe Law School graduate and is currently a solicitor at criminal law firm Doogue O’Brien George. In her spare time Sophie volunteers at Liberty Victoria and Northern Community Legal Centre and is also the Vice President & Secretary of the not-for-profit, volunteer run organisation Road to Refuge. Without further ado, it’s our pleasure to introduce Sophie, who kindly took the time from her busy schedule to sit down with Legal Eagle.
What attracted you to start your career by studying law at La Trobe?
La Trobe has a proud reputation for producing lawyers with a strong focus on human rights and social justice; it’s an attractive proposition to be counted amongst them. There is a collegiality at La Trobe that is mirrored in criminal law, and many of the main protagonists in this space are La Trobe law school alumni. Particularly in criminal defence, employers want students who have relevant, transferrable skills and experience. Practical subjects and placements at La Trobe provided some of the best (read: only) training for my day-to-day work as a lawyer.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do at Doogue O’Brien George?
As a defence lawyer, my work involves daily appearances in the Children’s, Magistrates’ and County Courts across Melbourne and wider Victoria. It is enormously varied, from running a busy summary crime practice to instructing in Supreme Court trials, from ASIC examinations to Royal Commissions. You’re never truly able to predict what your day will be like, and it is endlessly challenging and rewarding. It’s a job entailing significant autonomy, so I’m grateful to have brilliant colleagues who provide a wealth of knowledge, experience and hard-won wisdom.
What interests you most about criminal law?
Since the first semester of my law degree, I have been relentlessly fascinated by criminal law. I was lucky to have the legendary John Willis take the subject; his passion was contagious. It can sometimes be thankless work that exacts both a mental and physical toll, but it is a privilege that isn’t lost on me. You stand between the state and an accused person, protecting and upholding their rights even when it is politically unpopular to do so. Pressure comes from a wealth of different sources: your client, their family, the prosecution, the bench and the public, but nothing is quite like the feeling when you achieve a just result for your client.
You are at times a human rights lawyer, a case manager, a political observer and social commentator. TL;DR absolutely everything is interesting about it.
If you had to give some advice to law students applying for grad jobs, what would it be?
It can be a disheartening and soul-crushing process. Be kind to yourself and invest in your mental health. Don’t let a fear of rejection stop you from pursuing every opportunity you can think of, the worst thing that can happen is that someone doesn’t return a call or an email. Think creatively and consider taking on a different role in an organisation you ultimately want to work for as a lawyer. On a more practical note, if you are looking for a job in criminal defence, be prepared to undertake your GDLP and get admitted to practice before applying for a ‘graduate’ position, as most firms don’t offer traineeships.
Can you tell us a little bit about Road to Refuge, the work they do and how you got involved?
Road to Refuge is a not-for-profit organisation that generates informed, constructive and inclusive conversation about people seeking safety. We run community engagement events and educational workshops which complement our interactive website (www.roadtorefuge.com) where you have the opportunity to place yourself in the shoes of an asylum seeker, and navigate the journey free from any social or political commentary. I was a close friend of the founder, Dana Affleck, and so started out assisting her in whatever way I could, before formally taking on the positions of Vice President and Secretary.
If you could have anyone over to dinner, past or present, who would it be?
Nick Cave. Lucky you didn’t ask why.